African citizens demand change, Idasa looks at implications for the continent

Now is the time for the African Union, regional African blocs and individual African leaders to stand beside Africa’s citizens in their call for greater democracy on our continent. African democracy institute Idasa sees in the waves of popular uprising in North Africa the opportunity for African leadership to support democratic consolidation; a consolidation that will allow for the advancement of the economic opportunities for Africa’s citizens and the amplifying of the voice of our people.

Despite differing circumstances and contexts, all the peoples in uprising share in common a demand — so long unheard — for human rights, reform and an end to the autocratic dispensations. This can’t be created just by determination on the part of citizens or secured by good intentions alone. Africa needs governments the world over to act promptly and decisively. Stable democracies, like that of South Africa, must come to the aid of those struggling with transition and offer whatever experience and practical support they can.

The Ivorian people are calling to have their vote upheld. Tunisia is now facing a power vacuum, after the Jasmine Revolution ousted authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, after 23 years. Its caretaker government is now facing nearly daily protests and a much weakened administration. Idasa adds its voice in support of recent UN action to halt the vicious attacks in Libya on citizens who are expressing their demand for an end to autocratic rule.

Idasa, as one of the leading democracy think-tanks on the continent, is inspired by this display of citizen action and calls for decisive leadership now to prevent further bloodshed, ensure civilian authorities are installed in government and support the change cried out for by citizens.

We urge the world to demand that democratic institutions be put in place, protected by entrenched constitutions, so that individuals cannot subvert them and they cannot be dispensed with by opposing elites.

South African former president Nelson Mandela’s decision to stand for only one term in office reminds us of the dangers posed when leaders — however iconical they may be — become entrenched in power over time.

Idasa reminds our continent’s leaders that democratic elections are the starting point of democracy, and the results of polls cannot simply be disregarded. Ignoring this universal and fundamental principle will have serious consequences for future generations of African citizens who have the right to live in peace and relative prosperity.

Is Ivory Coast to be the third country in which we as Africa allow an incumbent head of state to subvert election results and use violence to demand a continued presence in government? We are very concerned that a precedent is being set in place that will have serious long-term consequences for our continent.

Idasa believes that democracy extends beyond elections to active citizen participation, government accountability, and universal human rights. Disregarding these rights compromises our continent and undermines its history of resisting oppression and struggling for the rights of every man, woman and child.

At the same time as unrest envelops North Africa, we must not be distracted from the urgent need to support Southern Sudan’s efforts to build Africa’s next state and ensure it is a democratic, developmental one.

African countries in transition present opportunities for change; strong moral leadership now will translate into a chance for Africa to influence the shape of global politics and economics. While the former powerhouses of the past struggle with recession and stagnation, Africa has a chance to stand tall. However, we can only stand as tall as our smallest citizen and if we disregard the voices of our people, we sacrifice our ability to contribute to global change.

For further comment please contact Ivor Jenkins, Idasa’s Head of Portfolio and Project Development, on ijenkins@idasa.org.za or 082 445 1193  or Paul Graham, Idasa’s Executive Director, on pgraham@idasa.org.za or 0825713887.  See more info here.

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