Democracy and Good Governance, ICASSRT, 1999

 Democracy, Good Governance and Communication 


A new century is dawning on us. The things of yesterday are becoming forlorn and yet their effects would ever reverberate. 
The 20th century, which is ebbing away, was a century of a struggles especially for colonised people to assert themselves. In the attempt, through bloody conflicts, many of those people gained their political independence, or what some have described as "flag independence", indicating that most of those nations that claimed independence from their colonial masters are still tied to the apron strings of those masters. 
The issue of globalisation has brought into greater focus the phenomenon of interdependence which puts the idea of independence in jeopardy. Who can talk of independence today, especially in our African developing countries, where the pace of our development is dictated by outside forces and where most of the time we almost do not have a say, except to comply? 
The 20th century was marked by major events in many of our African countries. Their struggle to survive tribal and regional wars was a major setback to development and good governance. Poverty, hunger and disease became rampant, bringing devastation and suffering 
The struggle for power and the reign of terror by some ruthless dictators were unsettling and so brought uncertainty to people of this continent. The manipulation of the advanced partners clustered the wealth of some countries into the hands of a very privileged few, to the detriment of the majority. 
The wind of political change in the nineties was like a "fresh of fresh air but fresh air that still whistled with the preponderance of a few. This instituted the philosophy of the "elite", an "elite" who par excellence has portrayed itself as the powerful wing of the dying dynasty of dictators. 
They have, as people continue to grow in the awareness of their rights, been looting from those people, unfortunately and have in the process fostered a culture of corrupters and corrupt. Cameroon ,for instance is in the vanguard of the corrupt of the world, in whatever sense this has to be considered 
But the people are becoming more and more assertive as they seem to be raising their voices wandng to participate in the running of the affairs of their country. 
So as the century closes and a new one emerges, many issues of great concern could be situated. 
The continent of Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular is going through a crisis - economic, political and social. 
During the 20th century there has been a generalisation of the market economy, and that has fostered the formation of regional and sub-regional groupings. 
There has also been a mounting accumulation of wealth by the richest countries, increasing poverty in the poorest countries. The imbalance is so scandalous that those nations with low output are summarily marginalised. 
Within states themselves major segments of the population are excluded because of poverty and unemployment instituting a culture of discrimination, injustice and the violation of the human rights of many. But for the past few years the struggle against human rights violations has taken centre stage bringing into the lime light many activist groups militating for the rights of persons. The creation of a National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms by government is testimony of its willingness during this period to put itself before a mirror for close cross-examination. But has this commission been given the free hand? 
Many a scholar is predicting a new century crowned with new historical dimensions 
They are predicting a century of democratic minds, of people in all continents with a general awareness of the universality of human rights and who understand the role they play in nation building and what structure they would give to their society. 
The century will bring about the understanding that there must be cordiality in the relation that exist between the governors and the governed and how the state which previously was the interventionist produce and seller should become the facilitator, promoter, partner and arbiter, with performance profitability and ethics as principal concerns. 
When we talk about democracy therefore and look at its everyday implications of government by the people for the people we see a trend For people to feel part of the evolution of their societies, they must contribute in the setting up of that society. They must have confidence in those who represent them. They must know or be consulted or informed of what is going on. Their leaders must be credible and they should have a right to take them off if they do no longer meet up with their obligations. 
The concept of good governance therefore embraces democratic principles It is the putting in place of a plausible political regime, tying it with the way authority is exercised in society. 
- It is insuring good management of public affairs by the state. 
- It is how state authority is exercised in all domains especially politically, economically, socially and culturally, and to what extent citizens are involved and given responsibility. 
Good governance is also the effective, adequate and efficient ways governments and public administrations carry out their function. And finally it is the place and role played by the private sector; civil society and citizens of both sexes in the well being of the state. 
This all embracing concept is without doubt a categorical imperative for any state that wishes to advance. It is hoped that many developing countries like Cameroon, which have gone through dictatorial regimes since independence will put in place a system in which their people, their elected officials and governments will effectively manage the development process, institute a conducive atmosphere for individual creativity by increasing the involvement of citizens, while consolidating democratic principles by trying to stabilise their societies through peaceful resolution of conflicts 
Good governance encompasses a democratic set of laws instituting a separation and balance of power. The justice system must be independent, accessible to all effective, credible and must guarantee the rule of law and legal security. The legislature must be responsible, with powers of initiative, investigation, management of information control and sanction It must also have effective mechanisms for consultation and concertation with the executive organ, voters and other segments of the civil society. 
Within the context of a democratic society therefore, there must operate a free independent, pluralistic comprehensive and credible press, which should act as the gatekeeper or watchdog of the society. It should be able to check on bad management, corruption and other excesses rampant in society and also contribute to the education and enhancement of the well being of the citizen. 
The importance of such a press was reiterated when Thomas Jefferson speaking about file American press in early years of its independence wrote: 
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter" 
The American Founding Fathers saw the charged exchange in the developing press of those days where just about 30 short weekly newspapers took a highly partisan stance on issues and enshrined freedom of the press in tilt First Amendment of the constitution. 
More than two hundred years later, that freedom is still being protected making the news media the third largest industry' in America with thousands of daily and weekly newspapers, news and speciality, news and specially magazines, television and radio stations and book publishing firms. 
And through such proliferation of the industry, the people are made aware of their rights and role in society. In fact America is what it is today because of the volatility of the press which, inspite of its pitfalls, has endeavoured to maintain standards of accuracy, completeness and fairness. At the same time, it has played its watchdog role with aggressive effectiveness, providing the best safe guard for the vigorous democratic process and society. 
That is the kind of press we are talking about. A press that is free and responsible, one that will foster development awareness and stand for what is right, honest and accommodating 
If the press in our developing countries could act as a catalyst to the spirit of growth then indeed it is playing its role as the pace setter. 
The press in Cameroon prior to 1990, was stymied. Journalists had became conformists But the law N0 90/052 of December 19, 1990 on Freedom of Mass Communication while it bas many short gave a different dimension to communication in Cameroon Censorship and other illegalities on the press and pressmen continued but a different pace had been set. 
Today as we move into a new age of communication, it would no longer be necessary for governments to minimise the importance of this medium nor should they consider communication and the press as an enemy. Instead the press should be used to promote the message of hope and the necessity for people to participate in the well-being of their society. 
That is why the component of Communication was given a special place in the governance programme to satisfy the need to prepare a vast moralisation and corruption elimination campaign: 
- to cause the public to be aware of the contacts and relevance of the National Programme on Governance 
- and induce the necessary attitude and behavioural changes in Cameroonians. In view of the importance of communication in the dynamics of development a communication plan to faster good governance should have as objectives. 
- to inform citizens and foreign partners about the existence and content of the Cameroon programme an governance. 
- Convince Cameroonians about the importance of the programme in relation to the challenges of the 21st century. 
- Convince the population on the need for good governance in Cameroon and the importance of the participation of all in implementing the programmes relating thereto. 
- Sensitise Cameroonians on the need for everyone to personally contribute to eradicating the ills of society, so that there can be a generally accepted code of ethics, and to advocate the virtues and values of a democratic society. 
If this be the case, this plan is aimed at mobilisation, moralisation and educating the people through: 
- explanatory missions throughout the country and abroad. 
- Broadcast of special programmes in the audio-visual media and such programmes will take the form of micro programmes on radio. 
Advertisement - purchasing space in international media and an effective presence on internet, newspaper articles and columns and other supportive areas that would bring the governance programme nearer to the people. 
The prerequisite for any democracy to function well and for any country to talk of good governance is the restoration of the virtues and values of that society - that is to have a code of conduct that is accepted by all. 
President Biya in his closing speech of the 5th National Council of the CNU party on 21st November 1983 said: 
"There can be no viable society without an accepted code of ethics which expresses the ideals pursued, denounces aberrations sheds light on the path to follow, exalts tile virtues and values of society." 
The president exhorted Cameroonians, if they all reasoned this way, there will be a change of mentality, preventing and penalising all forms of delinquency especially delinquency in business ensuring the promotion of healthy education that inculcates civic responsibility, the quest for efforts and devotion a sense of discipline and integrity. 
And as has generally been established, no activity of any significance can be undertaken efficiently without the media and in general without communication An observation of the Cameroonian society reveals two major ills: The decline in moral values and the low level of civic responsibility. There is therefore urgent need to tidy up bath the code of ethics and praxis since praxis depends on ethics. 

  • To foster democracy arid good governance to any society, therefore it is incumbent on governments to enhance the role of communication. It is only when the message of awareness based on education is broadly disseminated that people will join the bandwagon of development. But when the role of communication is down played even the good intended will not blossom and thus will serve no much purpose. This would lead to misunderstandings, injustice, and the possibility of chaos and anarchy.

  • © The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
    and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.

    © Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cette article sont celles de l'auteur
    et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO. 

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