Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderDossier: Africa's new democracies
View the documentAfrica's new democracies
View the documentThe patterns of transition to democracy
View the documentAfrica in search of institutional revival
View the documentThe future for the new democratic regimes
View the documentApplying the solutions of the 21st century to 10th century problems
View the documentDemocracy and structural adjustment in Africa
View the documentCommunity support for setting up and strengthening democracies
View the documentAutopsy of a Transition
View the documentA society full of tensions
View the documentA survival economy

Applying the solutions of the 21st century to 10th century problems

by Josep Enrique PONS-GRAU

Over the last few years the world has witnessed a series of democratic developments in developing countries, particularly on the African continent.

It already seems to have become a cliche to refer to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequent end of the Cold War when attempting to account for these new processes. Realpolitik was an accomplice to dictatorships, corruption and the sale of weapons of mass destruction; in short, it turned a blind eye to human rights violations worldwide.

Most international forums have seen the opening of a political debate on democracy, human rights and development. In some of those forums, however, the traditional rather hypocritical and misleading arguments persist. Some countries, too, particularly the traditional donors in the industrialized North, have been two-faced in their utterances while pretending to harbour only the best of intentions. At all events, there is a strand of public opinion in the donor countries which seeks to justify their traditional lack of interest in a genuine development cooperation policy by invoking the defence of human rights. This is a dangerous time for countries receiving aid, now that the onus has shifted from covering up a threadbare cooperation policy to justifying it under the much more progressive guise of defending human rights.

At the present stage of international economic and political relations, the capital markets are aware that a higher and faster rate of profitability can be achieved more easily if trade flows shift to countries in the eastern part of Europe, which has in fact been transformed into a political and economic South.

On the other hand, many well-intentioned people in northern countries are genuinely sick and tired of the fact that aid funded from their taxes fails to bear fruit in the beneficiary countries and that it serves in many to prop up dictatorships that are economically ostentatious and politically bloody. In the worst cases, which are all too common, a large percentage of the finance provided is paid into bank accounts in the traditional tax havens, leading to a drain on the hard currency which is so necessary in the beneficiary countries.

Moreover, we are now seeing a change in attitudes in many of the traditional donor countries, where the feeling of guilt which used to motivate people to make penance for the past is in the process of disappearing. Equally, while it is generally agreed that there is no more fertile breeding ground for dictatorships than poverty, this cannot be taken as a permanent excuse for failure to respect human rights. No political leader today can continue to see himself as the owner of his people's sufferings and exploit them to block human development.

Quite apart from the above reasons and opinions, which are justified to differing extents, one thing is clear; the system of development cooperation and all its political and economic offshoots as they have developed hitherto have not been equal to the task of meeting the needs of the poor, and positive results- apart from a number of isolated cases- are notable by their absence. There needs to be a change of direction in commercial, cultural and political relations. There is a vital need for determined action from within the beneficiary countries to avoid a situation in which others impose reform from outside. This explains why-to venture a little optimism-we have recently witnessed a number of democratic changes in developing countries. Clearly, the right of each country to carry out the necessary changes in accordance with its culture, tradition and individual character is a principle which must be defended through thick and thin. In other words, we must abandon the universalising model of democracy and, of course, the Eurocentric and ethnocentric variant thereof. We therefore advocate an anthropological dimension to democracy not rooted solely in an economic model.

We cannot use talk of good governance, the rule of law and corruption as an excuse for abandoning cooperation with needy countries. We cannot speak of democracy in African countries while the institutions set up under the Bretton Woods agreement impose certain measures on governments as a sine qua non for economic recovery. These economic conditions are diametrically opposed to the basic needs of the economies of African countries.

The challenge for the 1990s and forthcoming decades will be to reconcile modernity with tradition, but a bridge must be created if the solutions of the 21 st century are to be correctly applied to 10th century problems.

Deepening the Treaty of Maastricht

The Community institutions (Parliament, the Commission, the Council and the Economic and Social Committee) have definite views on the issue of democracy and human rights. Admittedly, a number of questions which will play an important role when it comes to applying corrective measures-'who, how and when' - have yet to be considered in detail. At all events, it seems to us that Community policy could be more coherent and determined than has been the case hitherto with some of the main bilateral policies in this cooperation field. The disparity between bilateral and Community policy is evidence of incoherence and political short-sightedness, and it does not escape the notice of European citizens that their governments are motivated by utterly outdated geopolitical or strategic interests.

Maastricht must serve as a point of departure for a genuine common foreign and security policy including development cooperation issues. If fundamental divergences between the two policy areas persist, not only in the field of development cooperation but also in that of human rights and democracy, we shall continue to fuel contradictions and encourage the rise of tyrannical dictatorships.

The principle of subsidiarily cannot be interpreted in such a way that Brussels is responsible for implementing impossible or unpopular policies (negative or restrictive measures in the field of cooperation) while the Twelve pursue the policies which best suit their currencies, banks, stock markets or enterprises. This is the great challenge with which the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference will present us.

We must, furthermore, deepen dialogue between the countries of the North and the South in order to change many of the outdated ideas underlying an antiquated system of international law. Certain components of a new system of international law, such as the right to peaceful and democratic intervention, must be examined in detail to enable the democratic concerns of North and South alike to circulate freely beyond the frontiers of each.

The new hopes for democracy and human rights which have been emerging recently must be reflected in political agreements and commitments of a new type, based on the revision and reformulation of agreements derived from the colonial past. Third-generation agreements containing clear specifications on human rights cannot co-exist within the European Community with first-generation agreements which take an ambiguous stance on the issue and which date back beyond the Berlin Wall era.

Whilst the European Community cannot fight the good fight on its own, it can and must make itself heard with a single voice in other organisations, particularly the UN. This represents a new challenge to innovate, reform and improve existing structures to enable them to adapt to the prodigious economic, social and cultural changes which have taken place in other continents. Solidarity cannot continue to operate in one direction only; many other countries which have been neglected hitherto are knocking at our doors.

We must lay the foundations for and continue to stress the need for genuine worldwide economic democracy. Let us start by condemning any element of obligation in the allocation of the economic roles hitherto imposed on each country or group of countries. We must champion the implementation of genuinely cohesive regional policies. How long will international economic and monetary institutions continue to determine the economic policy of sovereign countries without taking into account either their views or their interests?

We must continue to stress the need to establish a cultural democracy which will oppose cultural norms and standards foreign to the development of the countries concerned. Cultural and religious extremism cannot be viewed as offering hope to betrayed and manipulated peoples.

We would stress that political democracy, which must embrace the characteristics peculiar to each people or region, must be based on scrupulous respect for the rule of law. We know that while it is difficult to define democracy, it is easy to prostitute it. Democracy exists when the inhabitants of the country concerned experience it day-by-day and minute by minute.

In order to achieve these three forms of democracy, in the economic, cultural and political spheres, far-reaching reform of existing international institutions will be required, from the most universal-such as the United Nations-to the most specific-such as these derived from the Lomonvention. This is the challenge facing the European Community. Its achievements will determine in no small measure the name and role which it decides to give itself. J.E.P.-G.