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Cornel W du Toit Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

Perspectives on an ethics of power sharing in Africa Cornel W du Toit Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa The link between African elections
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Perspectives on an ethics of power sharing in Africa Cornel W du Toit Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa The link between African elections and power sharing deals Many elections in Africa s young democracies are still marked by controversy. Often the victorious party is accused of corruption and election fraud, the outcome is refuted, there is a stalemate. The peaceful way out is via the negotiation table and an attempt to thrash out some kind of power sharing deal. Having an election is easy. The problem comes when the result is not accepted and it becomes a matter of time before violence erupts or governments are toppled. Elections and power sharing agreements appear to be inescapably linked. One cannot avoid the impression that many elections expose the underlying tensions, divisions and dissent in African democracies. Are these attributable to diversity, ethnicity, nepotism, oppression, dissatisfaction with the form of government? Do some African countries merely accept democratic government because it favours a numerically preponderant group? These issues are examined by focusing on power sharing in Africa and the ethics (if any) underlying it. The assumption is that an elected government is committed to a numerically dominant group and to privileging that group. Thus power sharing is dialectically linked with elections and the question of justice. As a rule power sharing only appears on a government s agenda under some form of pressure: armed struggle (guerrilla fighters), the possibility of a coup, opposition pressure, civil disobedience and protest marches, media pressure, regional political pressure (AU, African development communities like SADC), and foreign pressure (including sanctions). Such duress, in whatever form, is undeniably the evolutionary motive for political and other change. Without it there would have been no development from one-party government to representative democracy. As long as the disadvantaged are not empowered to exercise pressure unjust government structures will prevail. That seems to be the pattern of African governments. The mechanism of negotiation is invoked when it becomes apparent that business cannot proceed as usual and negotiation appears to be the best option. From this one infers that fairness and justice are not the foundation of government but concessions made under protest and pressure. Ethics (political justice) is therefore not the basis of (government) power but a product of prolonged struggle. That is the focus of the present paper. If the 21st century is to be the age of Africa, taken to mean the age of Africa s Renaissance, then it will certainly have to be a tale of successful power sharing. Unless a culture of fair elections and fair power sharing deals is established, Africa s development is foredoomed. Successful power sharing between opposing groups in African countries and effective involvement by African regional councils, the African Union (AU) and the like are preconditions to realise the dream of a united Africa. Of course, Africa is not the only continent where regional conflicts erupt regularly. 1 It is not tautologous to say that conflict usually relates to transitional processes. One thinks of the wars that preceded the birth of European states, regional conflicts following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and African conflicts associated with the postcolonial era. In other words, conflict is not typical of the continent s entire history. It is a growth process triggered by a particular historical event. The history of democracy in Africa (and elsewhere) cannot be viewed in isolation. Nor can one advance abstract ideas about the kind of ethics that ought to underpin power sharing without considering the specific context. It would be absurd to expect fair elections in African countries if the country and the groups involved are trapped in a situation where ethical values such as those contained in human rights simply do not exist. Hence the article will deal with such real forces as the operation of power, economic power and the like. The approach is not to propound ethical ideals as a solution to fair elections and the problems of power sharing, and certainly not to moralise about these. Indeed, there are ample grounds for scepticism about the notion that ethics plays any role in democracies. In our context an ethics of power is 1 Classical recent examples are Northern Ireland, Bougainville (the largest island in the Solomon Islands archipelago in Melanesia), Southern Philippines, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Moldova. For an authoritative recent discussion, see Weller & Metzger 2008: 59ff; 125ff; 161ff; 193ff; 243ff; 265ff; 307ff. a square circle. It seems that the only ethics those in power know is an ethics of selfpreservation and survival. 2 Usually they negotiate only when their power is threatened to the extent that the only options are: negotiate or abdicate. The success of negotiations depends on the pressure put on the wielder of power to negotiate and the cost of refusal to share power. They would rather share power than lose it altogether. Naturally any form of power sharing implies loss of power. Often power sharing is preceded by bloodshed and devastation of human lives, the economy and infrastructure. Revolutions rarely leave scope for power sharing they simply get rid of the remains of past institutions. It is exceptional for power to be handed over without bloodshed or prior struggle, be it rhetorical or physical. Ideally value systems should be imposed from below (and that is not confined to a cross on a ballot paper). What is needed is a culture of human rights, anti-corruption, freedom and democracy that is shared by the majority of interest groups. Only then can free and fair elections be expected. But we know only too well that in situations of extreme poverty, inadequate schooling and health services, poor infrastructure, inequality and absence of democracy it would be unrealistic to expect such a culture and value systems, let alone their enforcement, to emanate spontaneously from below. In a nutshell: elections and power sharing in Africa are problematic mainly because the power (resources) to be shared is too little. This is concomitant with a lack of developmental expertise and will, as well as incapacity to apply financial resources effectively. There is simply not enough capital and infrastructure to extend the benefits stipulated in bills of basic human rights to the popular masses. That is why minorities and disempowered groups are usually marginalised. The rights of a minority group, for instance, are not unimportant because they are few. They are important, because individual rights are important, and if a number of individuals constitute a majority it gives them no right to discriminate against members of minority groups. Hence the entrenchment of individual human rights in a constitution and a bill of rights is a cornerstone of any democracy. Africa s ethnic, cultural and religious diversity inevitably puts the issue of minority rights on the agenda. 3 It seems unlikely that ethical guidelines will be imposed by African societies exclusively from below, as the Zimbabwean case demonstrates. 4 Such guidelines have to be offered in tandem with initiatives from above or from outside. These are principles entrenched in a constitution as part of a democratic order; spelled out in international human rights; set by international monetary agencies and umbrella bodies like the United Nations and the African Union; required by regional bodies like ECOWAS and SADC (Southern African Development Community); proclaimed by the media, et cetera. But experience has taught us that even initiatives from above have limited impact and usually evoke criticism. In this article ethics is viewed in terms of the human condition (which is in part biologically determined) as well as actual African circumstances. This entails linking our knowledge of conflict with our knowledge of human biology: the human condition of selfishness and self-interest resulting from desire and concomitant comparison with others; survival impulses and self-protection; a perennial sense of unfulfilment, combined with the experience of scarcity. Factors co-determining fair elections and successful power sharing Africa s political décor This paper does not focus on the state of African democracy or specific instances of powersharing problems associated with free and fair elections. Instead it looks into the frequently ignored issue of the ethics and value-oriented norms, if any, underlying such processes As a rule we focus on political power sharing, but power is shared in every area of human life, from marriage and the family to the workplace, the economy and culture. Gender equality, a major issue in our time, was a long struggle that eventually culminated in power sharing, and the struggle continues. Religious revolutions like the 16th century Reformation have to do with truth as power, and because truth cannot be shared, revelational religions that lay claim to truth will not permit power sharing. Religions and ideologies do not negotiate about power. Successful power shifts determine changes in human history at every level. Cultural revolutions are a result of power sharing or takeovers. With reference to Sachs, Maphai (2004:12) writes: Dealing with minority rights... what is normally regarded as minority rights are often nothing more than temporary, utilitarian confidence-building mechanisms. Apart from the fact that people on the underside see themselves as powerless and voiceless, even those who are in a position to protest do not really react. Niebuhr (1960:31) writes: An irrational society accepts injustice because it does not analyse the pretensions made by the powerful and privileged groups of society. Even that portion of society which suffers most from injustice may hold the power, responsible for it, in reverence. Hence it examines the philosophical substructure of democratic questions like power, power sharing and justice. By way of putting the paper in context I provide some selected background information. The move to democratically elected governments has escalated in the 54 African states since the 1990s. Various factors have contributed: The success story of South Africa (1994) and the example of Mandela. A move away from long-term presidencies and a restriction to three or five year terms (Mandela served only one term and Olesegun Obasanjo of Nigeria two terms. Several African countries, however, are still burdened with long-term presidencies: Mugabe in Zimbabwe; Lansana Conté in Guinea, Zine al-abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi in Libya, and Omar Bongo in Gabon. The institution of independent electoral commissions in most African countries (and the use of cell phones in monitoring these). The role of independent observers (e.g. the AU and EU) also makes a difference, as does foreign financial support, without which the successful DRC elections of 2006 would have been impossible. Improved intra-african communication (cell phones) and more critical voters, the role of the AU, pan-african parliament and peer group mechanism. Regional economic initiatives like the South African Development? Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), East African Community (EAC) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). The state of African democracies, successful elections, coups and power-sharing deals is illustrated by the following selective examples: According to Freedom House, the US based NGO that measures democracy, there are far more countries in Africa considered completely free today (11) and partially free (34) than there were when its measurements began in 1972 (3 and 10 respectively) or even in 1990 (4 and 18 respectively). The number of military coups declined dramatically. In the 1960s Africa saw 24 coups, in the 1990s 14, and in there were only five. Governments instated by coups meet with fierce opposition and struggle to survive (cf. the Mauritanian coup in August 2008). In 2007 Freedom House declared the following counties to be free : Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal and South Africa. Countries considered unfree include Guinea, Zimbabwe, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Swaziland (the latter the last remaining African country with an absolute monarchy). African countries where election results were contested in recent years include Nigeria (April 2007), Cameroon (2006), Malawi (2004), Ethiopia (2005), Kenya (2007), Angola (September 2008), Côte d Ivoire (coup d état 2002, elections postponed from 2005 and scheduled for 29 November 2009), Gabon (Libreville) (September 2009). ECOWAS has just (October 2009) suspended Niger s membership because president Mamadou Tandja s government refuses to postpone the 2010 elections to allow more time for dialogue. On the other hand many consider the silent diplomacy of SADC (with its 15 states and 170 million inhabitants) to have been ineffective in Zimbabwe, where schism bedevils the government of national unity, whereas one has to wait until 2010 to see whether this year s proposed power-sharing deal in Madagascar after the 2009 military coup gets off the ground. The following general reasons can be advanced for the apparent political volatility in Africa: The legacy of colonialism and one-party governments, coups d état and civil war, unfair distribution of power/rights between groups, the state as a guaranteed source of income in light of the relative lack of a strong, job-creating private sector, a culture of patronage; lack of experience/expertise among public servants, absence of an established opposition culture, and ethnically fuelled conflict and nepotism (as the 2007 Kenyan election once again demonstrated). As regards successful elections, one can cite the following inhibitory factors: use of government resources (funds, media, security services) to privilege the ruling party, lack of an impartial, competent electoral commission, vote rigging, partisan legal tribunals to investtigate election fraud/contestations, poor infrastructure and problems regarding remote rural areas, mistrust of elected governments ability to improve the lot of individuals and concomitant lack of involvement. Power sharing, before and/or after elections would appear the best approach currently available to handle conflict at a regional, national and international level. The alternatives range from prolonged civil war or terrorism, to civil disobedience, to inevitable impoverishment and economic depression, to the eventual collapse of the country. But power sharing is not always successful. The common lot of power sharing deals appears to be that they are shortlived. There is too much reliance on rhetorical persuasive powers to sell a solution to political opponents with the aid of foreign and other mediators. Lasting peace is only possible if the diverse people in a country take ownership of a culture of power sharing. Establishing that culture is an ethical matter. Without ownership of the value system underlying a country s government and the concomitant ethical principles it remains just a strategy to buy time for the warring parties. But who or what determines the formulas underlying peace and power sharing? After all, the answers are not made up round the negotiation table. At most these are compromises based on existing principles and advantages that some parties already enjoy. It is commonly expected that democratic principles, human rights as spelled out in existing (idealised) constitutions, economic realities, and international considerations will be taken into account although it rarely happens. Experience has taught us that power sharing negotiations are not that simplistic. Groups in power would hardly accept value systems that limit or take away their power, while minority or disempowered groups readily accept any value system that promises them power. The premise is that there are no trans-national, trans-religious or transcultural norms that can be authoritatively invoked to resolve conflict. In practice it is usually pragmatic, utilitarian norms that save the day. The complexity of each and every instance of power sharing must not be used as an alibi for a fatalistic belief that nothing will ever change (the reason for Mbeki s silent diplomacy approach in Zimbabwe?). The best we can do is to support a system that keeps negotiations as transparent as possible; to screen all direct and indirect role players, their motives and ulterior motives; to urge African leaders to adopt accepted, uniform guidelines and enforce them as far as possible (e.g. those contained in the AU guidelines and the peer review mechanism); to spell out the rights of all parties, both majority and minority ones; to take optimal account of the tyranny of systems (democracy, economic globalisation) and their influence; to speak on behalf of the voiceless who suffer most; and not to countenance the aspect of the human condition that lies at the heart of the problem: self-interest and limitless economic greed. We now turn to factors that determine successful elections and power sharing in Africa. Models of governance Is there an Africa-oriented power sharing that will work for Africa, whereas some other variety will work only for Western and Eastern countries? It could be federalism or consocialism, a liberal or a constitutional democracy, or whatever model. The answer certainly does not lie in any one model. Africa is too diverse for that. Since the 1990s there has been a trend away from one-party states to a form of democracy and power sharing. The process is still in its infancy and is marred by election fraud, intimidation of opposition parties, misuse of a salaried army or freedom fighters, nepotism, patronage by those in power, and the like. A point to bear in mind is that democracy should not be considered an irrefutable answer to the problem of good governance. Nor must we assume that if democracy is in place and power sharing negotiations are moving on accepted lines, all will be well and prosperity is assured. Below we shall look into criticism of democracy as a suitable model for Africa. Commenting on this style of government Lumumba-Kasongo (2005:2) writes: It is argued that no contemporary nation-state, individual or social class has a monopoly over democracy and that democracy and its processes are historically and socially learning processes or cognitive human experiences. He is critical of liberal democracies that do not always keep their promises (Lumumba-Kasongo 2005:6-10), yet he admits: Africa will not be able to progress collectively and sustain its progress without some kind of democracy (Lumumba-Kasongo 2005:5). But democratic institutions are not a magic wand. They must be workable and that requires many assumptions. Lumumba-Kasongo (2005:11) quotes Julius Nyerere: For democracy means more than voting on the basis of adult suffrage every few years; it means (among other things) an attitude of tolerance, and willingness to operate with others on terms of equality... The nation s Constitution must provide methods by which the people can, without recourse to violence, control the government, which emerges in accordance with it and even specify the means for its amendment. We must remember that the tribal system has prevailed since pre-colonial times up to the present, especially in the countryside. Under that system people are accustomed to care and personal attention. Tribes are relatively small, dispersed and interdependent. Social, economic and ruling functions are in the hands of the chief and the people. That is why, without romanticising them, principles like ujaama and ubuntu worked. In a national democracy people
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