Democracy and Good Governance, ICASSRT, 1999


Paul Nchoji Nkwi, 
University of Yaounde I

1. From 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 democracy, 
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 in doubt. 
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. 

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? 

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?. 

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. 

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 months. 

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.