|The Courier N° 128 July - August 1991 - Dossier : Human Rights- Democracy-Development Country Reports: Benin, Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)|
In this dossier, The Courier tackles a political issue - human rights and the transition to democracy - and its relationship with development, the economic implications of which are being widely discussed today.
We print the opinions of European and ACP authors as usual, with a view to respecting contradictions without hiding disagreement and to criticising without facile intolerance or easy sectarianism or taking refuge in dogma. Far be it from us to be didactic; we are merely thinking aloud and taking a critical approach to the matter. Far be it from us to explain; we are merely trying to understand and to look less to the causes than to the meaning of events.
Aware, as we are, that there are no ready-made solutions in politics, we have aimed as far as possible to avoid any form of ethnocentrism - hence the point of going beyond official state policy and looking at local ways of going about things. Hence also the need to take account not just of political power, but also of symbolic power, that which, in the words of Pierre Bourdieu, is only wielded when misinterpreted as arbitrary.
The human rights debate long turned on the primacy of economic and social rights over civil and political rights, but there now seems to be a consensus on the idea of human rights as more or less universal and a democratic minimum everywhere. As Albert Camus said at the Labour Exchange in Saint-Etienne on 10 May 1953, they said we ought to have justice first and see about freedom later, as if slaves could ever get justice.
In this issue, Manuel Marin outlines the Commissions view as recently presented to the Council of Community Development Ministers.
Dr Simmonds gives an ACP point of view and Henri Saby says where the European Parliament stands, while human rights in both ACP and EC countries are covered in the Amnesty International report. Germain NGom, President of the African Lawyers, and a British NGO describe operations run by Africans in Africa.
Democracy is currently attractive because of its economic implications - which is both its strength and its weakness - but it would be as well to wonder whether it should not be sought for its own sake rather than just for what it means in terms of development.
In any case, it would be wise to avoid any preconceived ideas about democracy being alien to Africa and to shun the tendency to impose existing models from outside. Democracy may be universal, but it is contingent on many other things at the same time. The situations in the (particularly African) ACPs are very different from those in the EC. The only obvious similarity is that many regimes are now seriously short on legitimacy, although local conditions tend to lead to specific differences from then on. Most Africans, for example, think and talk politics in the vernacular and symbols usually win the day over instrumentality (Dominique Darbon). The patrimonial nature of the African State turns a political struggle into a struggle for access to state resources as well as for political position (J.F. Medard) and, lastly, nations were built before democracy in Western Europe.
It would also be wrong to overestimate the new call for democracy. The first aim is to contest the authority of power, so the first thing at stake is power and the fight to control it (in some cases) or consolidate it (in others). In some cases one may ask, perhaps if the real issue is not political change for its own sake. Hence some governments react merely by trying to limit the damage by being democrats for convenience as contrasted with democrats by conviction. Defending legality has also sometimes been used as an alibi for safeguarding vested interests previously established without benefit of the law.
Looking beyond its institutions, democracy is a political system in which the people have formal and/or informal ways of keeping tabs on the governments which they have chosen (Comi M. Toulabor).
So a democratic society is one in which there is a public arena in which to discuss the ways and means of organising society and where no power is aimed at ideological hegemony (slain Ricard).
Seen from this angle, the link between democracy and development is an obvious one and the sort of democracy which has a range of targets is a political choice which must be exercised democratically.
In this context The Courier opens its columns to a personal opinion on the relationship between tribalism, democracy and party, and also to an analysis of the democratic tradition in most countries of the Caribbean and the Pacific as well to a reflection on the tie-up between democracy and development. A member of the EIB staff has contributed his thoughts on the relationship between development and the African political heritage; lastly, there is an analysis of recent outstanding switches to democracy and a point of view about the terms of proper governance.
Whether the aim be merely to smooth over political contestation or genuinely to convert to democracy, the important thing is to provide a response to the many xpectations of the overwhelming majority of the people of Africa and elsewhere...