of Yaounde I
November, 29th to December, 1st 1999, a workshop on "Democracy, Decentralization,
Media and Good Governance" was held at the Yaounde Hilton Hotel, Cameroon.
One of the objectives of the conference was to train national and international
elite in a better understanding of true democracy, decentralization, media
and good governance and the role they ought to play in the establishment
of a true democratic society. The Department for Peace, Democracy and
Tolerance of UNESCO - Paris, provided financial support while the International
Centre for Applied Social Sciences Research and Training (ICASSRT), organised
and administered the Conference.
2. Members of different political parties, civil society and scholars
from the Central African sub-region were associated with the organization
of the conference. Consequently, the conference was attended by over 43
participants from Gabon, The Central African Republic, Rwanda, Chad and
Cameroon. Discussions on the theme showed among others, the need to rethink
3. The workshop started at 10 a.m. on Monday 29, November 1999, with a
word of welcome from the coordinator, Professor Paul Nkwi. He recalled
the objectives and goals of conference emphasizing that it was a forum
for the exchange and sharing of ideas in order to advance the cause of
democracy in the sub-region.
4. In his opening speech, Deputy Representative of UNESCO in Yaounde,
Mr. Mpayimana stated that democracy, decentralization and good governance
remain the pillars of sustainable development and peace. He said sustainable
development and peace should be founded on intellectual solidarity and
human morality through the exchange of ideas. Mr. Mpayimana called on
participants to rethink democracy which today is threatened by social
inequalities, rupture of the social contract, exclusion and marginalization
of individuals as well as peoples. The UNESCO Representative pointed out
that in democracy you must participate, otherwise your citizenship is
5. On behalf of the Minister of State for National Education and President
of the National Commission for UNESCO, its Secretary General, Mr. Mvondo,
made it clear that his organization was at the forefront of democracy
through citizen education and participation. He stressed that the conference
should come up with concepts and action strategies for the implementation
of democracy, decentralization, edifying communication and good governance
in Cameroon. The opening ceremony was followed by the presentation of
papers during the next three days. Discussions on each topic showed
the necessity of sharing views, feelings and experiences on democracy,
and good governance. Although, representatives of ruling parties in the
sub-region sought to defend the collapse of the democratic system, they
were also quick to accept and recognize the basics of democracy.
I: "DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES"
6. In the first paper on democratic principles, John Forje, viewed Africa
as a continent tortured and convulsed "by wars, shaky democracies, captive
legislative assemblies, captured judiciary and a passive civil society".
Apart from Benin, Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa, democracy and
the democratic process" have distanced themselves from the shores and
hill tops of the African continent. For the author, democracy cannot be
transferred from one society to another. It must have native roots. This
specificity explains the existence of variants of democracy such as (1)
Direct or participatory democracy; (2) Liberal or representative democracy;
and (3) One-party model or delegative democracy. Irrespective of the variants
of democracy, the hallmarks of democracy are (1) Sovereignty of the people;
(2) Government based on the consent of the ruled; (3) Majority rule; (4)
Minority rights; (5) Guarantee of fundamental human rights and needs,
(6) Equality before the law; (7) Due process of law; (8) Free and fair
elections; (9) Constitutional limits on government; (10) Socio-economic
integration; (11) Values of tolerance and pragmatism; (12) Inclusion and
not exclusion; and (13) Freedom of the press and speech. John Forje concludes
by recommending a sound "civic education" to advance the traditions of
democratic thinking and practice within the sub-region.
7. The debate on the theme was heated and constructive. Participants raised
issues and made contributions which focused on three fundamental questions:
What democratic principles are native to Africa and what accounts for
their erosion? How have European democratic principles impacted on African
ones? And which democratic principles can accommodate and foster African
democratic aspirations in the Third Millennium?
II: "DECENTRALIZATION AND CIVIL SOCIETY"
8. Two papers were presented on this theme by Nantang Jua (Cameroon) and
Mugemzi (Rwanda). The two authors examined the following factors: (1)
Obstacles to the evolution and effectiveness of civil society; (2) Enfeebled
civil society and decentralization; (3) Ethnicity as a resilient force
in African policies of decentralization; and (4) Attendant fears of intentions
of apostles of empowerment of civil society.
9. Firstly, Mugemzi Isabelle gave a graphic example of the Rwandan Constitution
of 17th December 1978 which enable the President of the Republic to have
absolute powers as he was also Defence Minister and Army Chief of Staff.
Besides he was also President of single-party, thus, such an almighty
and all powerful President could not abide civil society which Nantang
Jua in the words of Stepan, describes as "an arena where manifold social
movements…. and civic organizations from all classes attempt to constitute
themselves so that they can express themselves and advance their interests".
10. Secondly, the civil society which fought for independence has been
enfeebled, according to both authors, by: (a) Inherited colonial policy
of divide and rule; (b) De-energisation or tiring out civil society; (c)
Promotion of particularistic rather than universalistic values; (d) Drying
out its funds; and (e) Lack of autonomous economic actors. Both papers
viewed the resilience of a force-ethnicity.
11. Finally, both papers are skeptical about the drive for the political
empowerment of civil society to the exclusion of economic empowerment
of the groups. They perceive it as a diversionary tactic aimed at focusing
the attention of civil society towards low intensity democracy (civil
and political rights) rather than high intensity democracy (economic rights)
according to Jua. The ensuing debate was on the content of "civil society".
Who or what should be put into the envelope called civil society? Trade
Unions? Political parties, professions?.
III: "GOOD GOVERNANCE"
12. The four presentations on the third theme had three preoccupations.
What is Good Governance? What is the measure for Good Governance? And
what strategies of Good Governance should pilot Africa into the third
Millennium? First of all, the authors agreed on the fluidity of the concept
of good Governance because of its multi-dimensional character with its
political, ideological, economic, social, cultural and ethical underpinnings.
As Ndoudoumou states, Cameroon got on the bandwagon of Good Governance
only in 1996. (And Kale points out that Good Governance was a 1989 external
determination which triggered sensitive domestic agitations, agitations
which made and destroyed African Governments).
13. The second issue, perhaps the essence of this theme is: what is the
content of Good Governance? Ndoudoumou (Cameroon), Kale (Cameroon) and
Bantsantza (Gabon) give eloquent examples showing that:, the rule of Law
or supremacy of law; Human Rights; Transparency; Accountability;
Pluralism; and Popular Participation must be viewed as an urgency,
else the concept is void of any content. Kale refers to the trinity of
pathologies: (1) over-centralized and over-concentrated state power. This
existential situation has built the vampire, corrupt, corruptible and
bulldozer state. (2) Cynical approach to institution building by personalized
imperial Presidency, as Bantsantza testified in the case of Gabon; and
(3) An "enveloping environment", in Kale's words which diminishes citizens
to insignificance. Tanga (RCA) gave examples of predatory relationships
existing between the Government and the governed in the Central African
Republic which have put together non-functional institutions only to stay
in power and attract foreign aid and paternal support.
IV: "MEDIA, DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE"
14. The two presentations Tjade Eone and Peter Essoka, all Cameroon senior
journalists, were of the singular view that the media are a vector of
social progress while good governance and democracy are causally related
to sustainable human and social development.Both authors pointed out to
Good Governance as a dialectical opposite of Bad Governance which is characterized
by: (1) Excessive personalization of power evidenced by a personality
cult, tendency towards building up of ethnocratic or family power, consideration
of public property as a personal estate, etc… (2) Denial of fundamental
human rights, confiscation of press freedom, freedom of speech and freedom
of association, (3) Inability of unelected authorities to delegate powers,
(4) Predominance of illegitimate governments with no account to render
to anybody, (5) Generalized corruption engineered by an elite with an
excessive appetite to grab wealth at all cost.
15. The two journalists were unanimous about the symbiotic relationship
between democracy, good governance and communication in several ways:
(a) Communication oxygenates democracy; (b) Mediated social and political
life point to good and bad leaders; (c) Communication, thus becomes the
lever of good governance; They also agreed that there should be mediated
participation by the citizen in governance insisting that: (a) there should
be a normative cadre for mediated participation in consonance with the
demands of good governance; (b) the use of information, education and
communication as a pedagogic tool for social participation by the common
man; (c) liberation of audiovisual communication from the stranglehold
of the powers-that-be; (d) the rethinking of the role of state-controlled
media in a democratic society. Organs not of the ilk of Cameroon's National
Communication's Council but in the likes of the High Audio-Visual Communication
Authority of Benin and Togo for example, which respect equal access to
the official media, especially during elections should be encouraged.
The ensuing discussions focussed on the following questions: (1) How can
treatment of information be balanced and regulated in the age of the information
revolution? (2) How can extremist access and use of official media be
regulated? (3) How can journalists be independent by distancing themselves
from men of power and influence who pay the piper?
17. After three days of heated exchange of views on Democracy, Decentralization
and Civil Society, Good Governance and Media and Democracy, participants
made the following recommendations:
18. (a) The right to democratic governance is a fundamental human right
to be exercised by a people through free and fair elections organized
periodically to elect their leaders. As a long term goal for the growth
of sustainable democratization, UNESCO should encourage the teaching and
practice of democratic principles from primary school to University. (b)
In order to eradicate the obstacles to democracy within this region, participants
recommend that UNESCO should be actively involved in comparative research
on the dimensions of these obstacles. (c) Given the relevant, rich and
varied nature of the themes, the participants recommended that UNESCO
should organize regular workshops within the region, say in Rwanda for
a start. (d) To ascertain the effectiveness of this workshop, participants
recommended that UNESCO should organize an evaluation seminar after six
AND CIVIL SOCIETY
19. Civil society in the region has been passive. And the participants
recommended that civil society should form lobby groups to ensure decentralization
as an indispensable aspect of Good governance.
20. (1) Commended those Governments in the Central African Region which
have put in place National Good Governance Commissions or Programmes.
(2) Encouraged them to stay on course and strongly recommended that the
composition of such commissions should not be limited to experts with
close ties to the establishment but should be open to all experts
irrespective of gender, political affiliation, or political tendency.
21. (a) There should be a normative framework for mediated participation
in consonance with the demands of good governance; (b) Information, education
and communication should be used as pedagogic tools to encourage social
participation by the common man; (c) Audiovisual communication should
be freed from the stranglehold of the powers-that-be; (d) There should
be a review of the role of state-controlled media in a democratic society;
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.