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In the almost ten years since the current wave of political transition began in Africa in the wake of the cold war, the experience of democratization on the continent has been mixed. While some countries have made considerable progress, others have suffered setbacks and reversals. For this reason, the GCA Co-Chairpersons consider that it is important for African countries and their development partners to take stock of the progress that has been made and the lessons that have been learned, so that the institutionalization of democracy can be promoted and supported. In order to facilitate discussion, this paper raises some of the issues that affect democratization. The importance of developing democratic institutions and culture is recognized. However, the main focus of the paper is on how orderly political succession and alternation of power aspects of democratization that have received relatively little attention to date can be encouraged.

Until the recent movement toward democratization, much of the post-independence history of most African countries was characterized by varying degrees of single-party politics and political exclusion. Some experienced prolonged periods of military rule or protracted conflict. Only Botswana, Mauritius and Senegal managed to maintain democratic political structures from independence to the present. As a result of their recent past, most democratizing countries have to build a culture of political accountability and tolerance, and develop mechanisms to strengthen national unity, institutionalize political inclusion, and promote power sharing. Ways of ensuring peaceful political succession and facilitating alternation of power also need to be found. While there is no single democratic model that can be imported, there are nevertheless broadly universal principles and norms. Unless such norms are adhered to, countries run the risk of establishing elected dictatorships, with the form, but not the substance, of democracy.

Democratizing countries throughout the continent face other constraints. There is often a tension between high expectations of democracy and limited public understanding of representative politics or governance. Most countries are undergoing an inherently challenging process of simultaneous political and economic reform, and while in the long-term these are likely to be mutually reinforcing, in the short-term they imply tensions and trade-offs. Though the problems are far less acute than in many transitional countries elsewhere, bureaucratic and political corruption present a serious threat to both democracy and development.

These problems notwithstanding, the progress that has been made should be recognized. Throughout the continent there has been a significant expansion of civil liberties and most countries enjoy considerably greater political freedom than ten years ago. The challenge is how to support and deepen democratic openings, to maintain progress and guard against reversals. The varied experiences of African countries highlight the fact that building democracy is neither easy nor quick, and that it requires both political will and commitment on the part of governments and societies, as well as support from the international community.

I. Developing Democratic Institutions and Culture

Although the recent history of African countries varies, the single-party political systems that most countries experienced since independence have entrenched non-democratic principles and practices that now need to be overcome if democracy is to be institutionalized. While the mechanics of multi-party elections can be put in place relatively quickly, developing accountable, credible and durable institutions that uphold democracy is a much longer-term and difficult process. As experience throughout the world has shown, this is particularly challenging in countries that lack traditions of political competition or a culture of democracy. The ability of democratizing countries to define and craft appropriate and relevant institutions that promote participation and inclusion and protect individual rights will affect how far and how quickly democracy is institutionalized. Just like democracy itself, the current situation regarding respect for constitutions, adherence to the rule of law, and the effective functioning of institutions of state and civil society, is mixed.

Constitutions and Constitutionalism

At independence, the constitutions adopted by most African countries embodied the rights and freedoms associated with liberal democracies. However, over time as single party regimes or military dictatorships took hold, they were generally replaced, revised, suspended or simply ignored. In recent years constitutionalism has been revived as part of the process of political liberalization, and a number of African countries have either revised or adopted new constitutions to limit hitherto excessive executive powers and provide for rights and liberties in line with international human rights conventions. Throughout the continent, emphasis on constitutional conferences or on public discussion of constitutional provisions reflects attempts to craft documents that have public relevance and support. Although in some instances, the process of constitution making or amending remained firmly in the grasp of the incumbent political elite, in others attempts were made to reflect a broader range of views. Few African countries, however, have enjoyed a process as participatory as South Africas, and few have invested as much in trying to make constitutional provisions known to the majority of citizens.

Although some of the new constitutions retain repressive provisions, most embody democratic principles. Doubts, however, remain over their actual enforcement. To be truly meaningful, constitutional provisions need to be translated into legislation that is effectively implemented, and leaders have to accept that they are bound by the rule of law. This remains a challenge in many instances. Given the persistence of a political culture of arbitrariness, the tendency for high-level public authorities in many countries to behave with impunity, and the significant shortcomings of the judiciary and law enforcement systems, citizens do not yet repose much confidence in constitutional and legal arrangements to protect them from persecution and aggravation.

Democratic Political Culture

Throughout Africa, prevailing political cultures have been conditioned by the recent past. Although most countries experienced periods of single-party rule, development of democratic political cultures will be easier in those that maintained a degree of tolerance, civil liberties and relatively open political systems. Even in these, however, it will still take time. Democratic culture will only be firmly established once both the political leadership and the general populace believe that democracy is the most appropriate way of ordering public affairs, and adherence to formal rules replaces reliance on contacts, patronage and connections. Experience indicates that tangible improvements in the political situation help to foster popular support for democracy. To the extent that electoral democracy is instituted but authoritarian practices persist, it will be difficult to build a political culture supportive of democratic development.

Although civic education alone will not create a culture of democracy, it is necessary to help people understand what democracy means, inform them of their rights, and empower them to participate in the political process. It is particularly important for women and disadvantaged minorities who might otherwise remain excluded. The media has a crucial role in increasing popular awareness and understanding of democracy, and throughout the continent there has been a significant expansion of private print and electronic media. Also, the increased communication and access to information brought about by technological advances will facilitate the development of a political culture supportive of democracy. In most countries, political liberalization has reduced government censorship and control of information, with the result that the sort of independent and professional media that is a hallmark of functioning democracies is starting to develop. At present, countries such as Mali, Benin, Mauritius, Botswana and South Africa enjoy the greatest press freedom (Press Freedom Survey, Freedom House, 1999), while the press is least free in countries such as Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. In general, the broadcast media is subject to more legal restrictions than the print media.

Civil Society

There is no doubt as to the importance of civil society in building popular support for democracy. Civil society countervailing forces are needed to monitor the compliance of new regimes. They can be instrumental in helping to change the way societies function, and break the patterns of clientelism and neo-patrimonialism that threaten new democracies. Civil society organizations can complement political parties in promoting understanding of democracy and participation in the political process. They can serve as a training ground for future political leaders, and promote political tolerance and inclusion. They can help to manage conflict and overcome societal cleavages, as well as to promote human rights and democratic values. Civil society organizations have a particular role to play in challenging corruption and promoting accountability and transparency.

The challenge for democratizing African countries is to create conditions conducive to the growth of the sort of civil society institutions that can effectively play these roles. This, like democracy itself, will take time. Though varying in degree, authoritarian single-party regimes generally sought to suppress or co-opt civil society and organized associational life. As a result, the civil society institutions that provide a countervailing force to government and limit the bounds of state interaction were few and fragile in most countries prior to the onset of political liberalization. Yet, in spite of weaknesses, much of the impetus for change in Africa came from civil society. In many instances, civil society organizations were the voices of conscience that kept the ideals of democracy alive. When political organizations were unable to function, they helped to create the conditions for democracy, often at great cost.

This contribution notwithstanding, in most countries the ability of civil society to support the institutionalization of democracy is somewhat ambivalent. Given their relative newness, some organizations of civil society are based on personalities, while others serve narrow interest groups. Not all non-governmental organizations are either genuinely representative or democratic. Some, especially those that played a role in bringing about political transition, find it hard to adapt to changed circumstances. In spite of the difficulties, however, throughout the continent there has been an expansion of civic activism, and an increasing number of organizations are engaged in providing the civic education and awareness that will help democracy take root.


Both the role and function of parliaments in Africa are changing rapidly as a result of political liberalization. How parliaments discharge their responsibilities will influence the trajectory of political transition and determine how well the political system operates. In many countries parliaments and parliamentarians are increasingly asserting their independence and acting as a check on executive power. However, they face a number of constraints, not least prevailing political structures that continue to favor the executive at the expense of the legislature, and the legacy of patronage politics and the personalization of political power. For the most part, the effective functioning of parliaments is also hampered by lack of resources, insufficient technical expertise, and limited culture of democracy or experience of competitive politics.

Unless the political environment in which parliaments function is conducive, neither mechanisms and procedures to promote accountability, nor increased technical capacity, will result in greater effectiveness. In most African countries, political tolerance and the idea of shared responsibility for governance are only now being learned, and the role of the parliamentary opposition is still not well-understood. In many instances, while minority parties have to understand their role and undertake it effectively, the executive and ruling party also need to recognize the legitimacy of minority parties. Clear lines of authority, separation of powers, and parliamentary independence are necessary even where the ruling party has a significant majority.

As elsewhere in the world with the exception of Scandinavia, women remain generally under-represented in parliaments and in political life in African countries. In most cases, politics and political decision-making still tends to be male-dominated, and women often face considerable cultural constraints. Those countries, such as South Africa, that have made the most progress in terms of increasing the numbers of women have tended to adopt special arrangements such as quota systems, although not necessarily through legislation. However, such arrangements are at best temporary compensatory measures, and the fundamental constraints to womens participation in the political process still need to be addressed.

The Judiciary and Rule of Law

Promoting adherence to the rule of law is a major challenge for many fledgling democracies in Africa and elsewhere. Yet it is essential for a predictable, stable environment in which citizens are both informed of their rights and have confidence that they will be protected. As events in other regions of the world have shown, without rule of law, good governance is virtually impossible. Re-establishing rule of law is especially difficult in countries coming out of conflict, while crime and corruption pose particular threats to fragile democracies. With few exceptions, African countries need to improve their justice systems to foster public confidence. In general throughout the continent, qualified members of the legal profession are in short supply, legal access is limited, civil security and policing are ineffective, and the court system is poorly developed. In some countries concerted action to combat corruption in the legal sector is also needed.

Judicial independence helps to promote rule of law. However, this is relatively weak in the majority of newly democratizing countries where political interference remains common and many serving members of the legal profession are accustomed to unquestioning deference to the state, rather than to upholding constitutional principles and protecting the legal rights of citizens. A number of democratizing countries retain -- and some still use -- repressive legislation that needs to be revised to make it consistent with constitutional provisions designed to protect individual rights and freedoms. In some countries, civil liberties have increased, but political freedom remains constrained. In others, restrictions that were eased in the early days of political transition have been imposed again. At times, laws have been passed with the specific intent of penalizing a particular individual or group of individuals, and legislation governing elections and political parties has not always been fairly applied.

Military and Security Establishments

Given its past involvement in politics, the military is an important variable in the institutionalization of democracy in most African countries. Its support cannot be automatically assumed, and like other stakeholders it has to be brought into the process of political transition. Military and security establishments suffered from the same decline as other state institutions under single-party rule. Over time in some countries, professionalism and meritocracy gave way to patronage and corruption, while in others ethnicity and group identity became defining issues. There were exceptions, and in countries such as Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Senegal the military retained its status as an independent, a-political body, focused on its professional mission. At the other extreme, regime change through military coups became part of the political landscape, particularly in west Africa, where military governments entrenched themselves in a number of countries.

Like other institutions in democratizing countries, the military has now to adapt to new circumstances and define its role in a more open and participatory system of governance. Civilian oversight of the military is a central feature of democratic governments, but this will require that elected officials themselves behave in a democratic manner, as well as develop a greater understanding of security issues and defense policy and budgeting than has often been the case. In some countries, military establishments need to be more inclusive and broadly representative of society in terms of ethnicity and religious affiliation. In most instances, non-discriminatory recruitment practices, transparent systems of promotion and clear limitations of discretionary power need to be instituted. The mission of the military also needs to be clearly understood by both the military and society as a whole. Partly as a result of past experiences, civil-military relations in the majority of African countries even those that have not experienced military rule -- are characterized by distrust, lack of understanding and misconceptions. Engendering public confidence in the military is a significant challenge for democratically-minded governments.

II. Promoting Peaceful Political Succession

Democracy promotes the orderly, peaceful political succession that has not yet become the norm throughout Africa. It does not necessarily result in political alternation, although it provides the basis for it. In a number of established democracies, including Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom, ruling parties have retained power through successive elections. In others, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, the same parties have been represented and the same individuals have served in consecutive coalition governments. In the United States, although term limits apply to presidents, there are many long-serving members of congress. However, in these countries political competition is preserved because the institutional basis for free and fair elections, and thus for the people to exercise their will, exists. Alternation of power, or the lack of it, is the free and fair choice of the electorate.

Political alternation as a result of competitive elections has been rare in Africa since the onset of democratization. Rather, the overwhelming advantages of incumbency, fragmentation of the opposition, and high cost of political campaigning have often combined to minimize genuine political contestation. Furthermore, with few exceptions, power sharing is not generally part of the prevailing political culture. Political parties and electoral systems that facilitate political inclusion and participation are the primary vehicles for ensuring political competition and orderly political succession through the ballot box. Most countries have embraced the concept of multiparty elections. However, developing the structures that ensure a competitive political environment takes time. Important variables are the willingness of incumbent parties to allow free and fair elections and to accept the results, and the ability of opposition parties to unite their efforts.

Political Parties

Newly democratizing countries are not well served if majority parties are so predominant that political alternation or power sharing are essentially impossible. Throughout the continent, greater political freedom has resulted in an increased number of political parties. However, the balance of power remains heavily tilted in favor of incumbents in almost all instances. How political parties are formed and function affects their ability to effectively facilitate representation and participation in the process of governance. In most countries, both ruling and minority parties need to learn how to function in a competitive political environment if traditions of political exclusion and patronage are to be overcome. Like political parties everywhere in the world, those in African countries will also have to ensure that women and minority groups are afforded greater opportunities for participation. Moreover, in many cases, both ruling and minority parties need to institute more transparent and accountable operating procedures, and practice internal democracy.

Although the majority of democratizing countries have passed legislation to discourage party formation along specifically ethnic, regional or religious lines, recently established parties often lack a broad-based constituency. Moreover, given the newness of competitive politics, many political parties and candidates are still developing political organization skills, and relatively few have managed to define distinct political platforms or build support outside of urban areas. Some, though not all, have the overthrow and replacement of incumbent regimes as their overriding motive. In some instances also governments place limitations on political party activities, making it difficult for minority parties to function adequately.

Although a number of factors limit political participation and competition, access to financial resources is perhaps one of the most significant. Most political parties in Africa do not have a broad support base of individual financial and volunteer contributions to draw upon. The relative shallowness of the private sector also reduces the potential for obtaining corporate funding. Given that government contracts continue to provide a lucrative share of business in most countries, there is an incentive for private firms to support ruling parties. Parties outside of government complain that ruling parties divert public funds for campaign purposes, while ruling parties at times argue that NGOs are established to receive donor funds which are then channeled into support for opposition parties. In some instances, newly formed parties rely on a limited number of wealthy patrons, while others are funded largely by their founders. Political parties have also at times attempted to establish business ventures to generate resources, but this can lead to serious conflict of interest, particularly when the parties are in government.

Debates over political party funding continue throughout the continent. Although many advocate public funding of political parties, others argue that African countries cannot afford to use public funds for this purpose. In some instances there is little popular support for public financing of political parties. Additionally, unease has been expressed that governments resisting reform could use state funding to create new parties to fragment and thus weaken the opposition. However, a number of countries have successfully provided limited public resources to political parties on the basis of seats obtained in elections. This has reduced concerns that non-viable parties would be formed around elections in order to obtain funds. Whether or not public resources are provided, greater transparency of funding procedures, together with more stringent disclosure and accounting requirements, would go a long way to addressing real or perceived problems surrounding party financing. Control and supervisory mechanisms also need to be applied to ruling, as well as to minority, parties.

Elections and Electoral Systems

Political leaders throughout the continent have succumbed to pressure for elections, and even those who came to power through non-democratic or extra-constitutional means have tried to legitimize their regimes through elections. The openness and integrity of the process has, however, frequently been questioned, and unequivocally free and fair elections are not yet the norm. In established democracies, elections are a basic mechanism for ensuring accountability, in that the possibility of being voted out of office acts as an incentive to respect rules. In fledging democracies however, they can play a more ambiguous role, and in some instances, flawed elections have served to undermine public confidence in the electoral process.

Ensuring equitable representation and participation in the political process is a concern even in established democracies which have over time developed a variety of mechanisms and structures designed to facilitate it. To date, no perfect electoral system has been developed, and debates continue as to the relative merits of proportional representation, plurality-majority, or hybrid systems. African countries, like others elsewhere, have to adopt electoral and parliamentary systems that best meet their needs. However, if democratic politics are to be sustained and a political culture supportive to democracy built, such systems should facilitate political inclusion and encourage the formation of representative parliaments, responsive to the needs of all citizens. Transparent and honest elections, managed by competent electoral commissions, would help to build credibility in the electoral process.

Proportional representation can assure losing parties with a share of seats in parliament commensurate with the percentage of the vote won, and thus broadens the base of representation. The list system also allows members of different groups to be represented. The disadvantage is that parliamentarians do not belong to specific districts or identify with the needs of specific populations. There is also the danger of splintering of parties, many of which have narrow bases, and as a consequence, stable government is not necessarily ensured. On the other hand, plurality-majority systems have the advantages of ensuring that representatives have a responsibility to their constituents. They encourage the formation of broad-based parties, single party governments and a clear parliamentary opposition. They also facilitate the election of independent candidates. However, minority parties are not necessarily awarded seats commensurate with their share of the vote. Moreover, parties can rely on a regional vote, while such systems are also vulnerable to manipulation of electoral boundaries.

Whatever the electoral system, the cost of elections and election campaigns throughout the continent have to be brought to manageable levels, if elections are to be sustained without massive external support. In many African countries the costs of campaigning are very high compared to their level of economic development and available resources -- indeed, they are often as high as in much richer countries. Political campaigning is often expensive because of widely dispersed rural populations, poor transportation and communications, and limited media coverage. In some cases, however, campaign costs are driven up by traditions and expectations of political patronage, which not only distort the political process, but also increase public tolerance of corruption. The high cost of campaigning also effectively undermines political competition by excluding those who are unable to access sufficient resources. These are obviously not issues for Africa alone. Countries throughout the world grapple with problems of political corruption, party contributions, and the cost of campaign financing.

In Africa, proponents of state funding of political campaigns argue that this is the surest way of ensuring a level playing field and guarding against political corruption, at least in the early days of democratic transition. Others, however, counter that African countries are too poor, and have too many demands on already limited resources to provide public funding for election campaigns. It is not only a matter of whether and how to provide state funding for political campaigns, but also of establishing parameters covering both the source and amount of contributions, and the use of public resources. A legislated upper limit on the amount that can be spent on political campaigns could help to control the cost of election campaigns and broaden the pool of candidates. Measures to ensure appropriate and frequent access to media channels by all parties would guarantee a degree of public exposure at a fixed cost. There is also need for better monitoring and accounting of campaigns. In many instances, lack of proper records and audited accounts make the actual costs of campaigns and the source of funds difficult to accurately assess.

Political Alternation

Attempts by incumbents to remain in office are not confined to Africa. Throughout the world, those with political power want to retain it. In established democracies, observance of rules and the strength of political institutions ensures that constitutional provisions are observed and the results of competitive elections accepted. There are also opportunities for former political leaders to remain engaged in public affairs or pursue other career choices. The entrenchment of incumbents appears to be particularly pronounced in Africa and countries elsewhere that lack a tradition of competitive politics, offer few alternatives to political power, and where democratic institutions are relatively weak. Asia and the former Soviet Union provide multiple examples of incumbent regimes either refusing to embark on political transition or trying to manipulate and control the process to remain in power. Institutional mechanisms, such as the presidential term limits that are now becoming more widespread in Africa, help to ensure political alternation. So too, do policies that provide for leadership change within political parties.

The need for committed and competent leadership is at the heart of the debate about democratization. To a significant degree, poor leadership was responsible for the crisis of governance and resulting popular alienation that characterized many African countries in the recent past. Frequently, single-party regimes vested too much political and economic power in the head of state. Highly personalized politics, coupled with lack of mechanisms to ensure accountability, led to a culture of impunity. Once in office, leaders tended to remain there, unless they were violently overthrown or removed by a military takeover. Long-serving heads of state and political figures became a defining feature of many post-independence African regimes.

Perpetual incumbency is in part a reflection of the prevailing understanding of political authority, how it is acquired and how it is exercised. In newly democratizing countries throughout the world this understanding is often colored by a legacy of neo-patrimonial regimes. As such, public office often appears to serve a deeper "functional" or rentier purpose for incumbents, and voluntary resignation is synonymous with economic suicide and loss of the ability to play patron in a patrimonial culture. This is reinforced by the paucity of alternatives to political power in most countries. Given the still-predominant role of the government in the economy and society of many African countries, and the lack of viable alternatives, the stakes of gaining or losing political power are extraordinarily high. This notwithstanding, political leaders have a particular role in facilitating orderly succession by encouraging the development of future leaders and, by their example, promoting the turnover of leadership in government and political party structures.

In Africa, peaceful political succession in the context of competitive politics, albeit with a dominant party, has occurred in countries such as Botswana, Senegal and Tanzania. To date, very few elections have resulted in regime change. Indeed, the defining characteristic of elections throughout the continent is that the existing political order has been retained. Elections, without the institutions and political culture that uphold democracy, can be subject to manipulation, and in some African countries have served to endorse non-democratic regimes and prolong the tenure of autocratic rulers. In other instances, elections brought about a change in government, but the countries subsequently experienced a decline in civil liberties or, as in Sierra Leone, instability and armed conflict. Only in a few countries -- Mauritius, Benin and Madagascar -- have the two peaceful transitions, generally regarded as a benchmark for democracy, been achieved. However, there are tremendous variations within the group of countries that have experienced elections without a transfer of power. The levels of political freedom and good governance enjoyed in countries such as Botswana and Ghana stand in stark contrast to those pertaining in Sudan, Equatorial Guinea or Togo.

A central issue is whether the institutional basis for political alternation exists. Lack of genuine opportunities for alternation presents a problem to African political development and to the consolidation of democracy. It is both a cause and a consequence of the predominance of personality-driven politics. It also inhibits the development of stable political institutions. And it is often a source of the violent conflicts that engulf succession and power alternation on the continent. It breeds frustration among political reformers and opposition parties over the possibility of political change. It helps to create disillusionment with the democratization project and to induce doubts over its suitability and sustainability in African conditions. In addition, without alternation of power, it is difficult, if not impossible to test the durability of democratic arrangements and institutions.

In order for African democratic transitions to be put on a sustained course toward consolidation, the politically debilitating cycles of perpetual incumbency and violent change in leadership have to be overcome and orderly political succession and peaceful power alternation made a regular aspect of political practice. With a new generation of elected leaders nearing the end of their constitutionally allowed terms, the issue of how to transition incumbent leaders out of power has become most salient for some democratizing countries. Other countries are faced with the more difficult problem of how to deal with leaders who came to power and served in non-democratic regimes, and who have not embraced political transition. While some such political leaders may willingly step down, others may be reluctant to relinquish power out of fear of reprisals for previous actions. In some instances incentives to relinquish power, including amnesties, may be appropriate, while in others this could be seen as rewarding past wrongs.

Orderly political succession through the ballot box and peaceful alternation of power are the hallmarks of effective democratization. In African countries over time, a liberal constitution, an appropriate legal framework and a vibrant civil society, as well as a political culture of trust, tolerance and moderation, should provide a sufficient basis for regular political succession and peaceful alternation of power. But in the interim, and especially in countries where the tendency is toward confrontation rather than compromise, public discussion of how political succession could best be promoted may be useful. Dialogue and negotiation could dispel misconceptions, help decide on the desirability and feasibility of various options for accountability and justice, and generate consensus over retirement benefits for ex-leaders. Public consideration of how the issue has been addressed in other African and non-African countries could also help to focus attention on realistic and feasible solutions.

Role and Status of Former Leaders

Since the onset of political transition, positive examples of peaceful political succession and of leaders relinquishing political power are increasing. In Tanzania, presidential term limits were adhered to without question by President Mwini. President Konare in Mali, President Rawlings in Ghana, and President Chiluba in Zambia, have already indicated that they will step down at the end of their current terms of office. Among others, President Kaunda in Zambia, President Pereira in Cape Verde and both President Kerekou and President Soglo in Benin accepted the outcomes of elections that resulted in their leaving office. In Mali, President Toure, the head of the transitional government, did not stand for election and more recently in Nigeria the military head of state, President Aboubakar, maintained his resolve to hand over to an elected civilian president. Most notably, perhaps, President Mandela of South Africa and President Masire of Botswana both highly popular presidents -- voluntarily stepped down.

This new trend in African politics raises questions of the role and status of former leaders, as well as the support provided to them. One of the hallmarks of functioning democracies is that provision for political leaders once they leave office is both made and respected. This stands in contrast to the tendency since independence for former leaders in Africa, whether they are virtuous or vicious, and regardless of constitutional indemnities and other settlements, to suffer marginalization, vilification, humiliation, persecution, and even at times imprisonment and death by execution. With democratization, there is increasing recognition that those incumbent leaders who accept democratic change should be eligible for the same sort of benefits, privileges and protections that former heads of state and government in other countries enjoy.

Many African countries have made constitutional and legal provisions for former heads of state. While the provisions in countries as diverse as Botswana, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Madagascar, Senegal, Mozambique and South Africa vary, at a minimum they guarantee former presidents security, provide them with diplomatic privileges and immunities and make some arrangement for their material well-being. There is obviously an issue as to the cost of retirement packages. Reaching agreement on the degree to which the financial and material needs of former leaders and their dependents will be met by the state is part of the democratization process. Whatever arrangements are instituted should be linked to the office, and not to individual incumbents. Moreover, stipulating such provisions in constitutions provides some protection against future reversals.

Although former political leaders in established democracies can be assured of a reasonable income from other sources after leaving office, the options for African leaders are somewhat more limited. Retirement pensions thus have to be sufficiently generous to maintain a certain standard of living for former leaders and their dependents. There have been suggestions that in some cases it may be necessary for payments indexed to inflation to be made in foreign currency by internationally respected banks, but this is obviously a matter for individual countries to decide. In addition to pensions, most countries have made some provision for the housing, representation, health care and transportation needs of former leaders and their immediate families. Security, diplomatic privileges and protocol arrangements are also commonly provided. These provisions are intended not only to assure political leaders that their future wellbeing will be protected, but also to express gratitude and respect for the function of the head of state.

In some countries, democratization has raised questions of accountability for the past actions of political leaders. These are complex issues that can affect the course of political transition, in that incumbents could be reluctant to leave office if they feel they will be punished for past deeds. At the same time, although former presidents should not be above the law, nor should they be vulnerable to arbitrary punishment or politically motivated legal action. All African constitutions limit the criminal responsibility of sitting presidents, but none rule it out entirely. Those that make provision for serving presidents to be indicted only for treason confer the broadest immunity. In most countries it is less clear whether presidents can be prosecuted for offences committed outside the exercise of official duties while in office, or whether former presidents can be indicted for acts committed in the exercise of official duties while in office. Constitutions generally consider amnesty and pardon to be extrajudicial procedures that can be granted to former presidents in respect of acts committed during the term of office. Such measures can be useful in support of national reconciliation, particularly in the transition to democratic rule.

In addition to security and material needs, some countries try to assure former political leaders continued recognition, status and involvement in public life. This provides an opportunity for them to contribute to the process of democratization and its consolidation in their respective countries and regions as well as on the continent as a whole. In order to avoid controversy, the formal roles retired leaders play and the status afforded to them, should perhaps be constitutionally and legally determined, although in most established democracies the status of former heads of state has been resolved through practice rather than constitutional provision. A variety of models from African as well as other countries exist for both formal and informal roles. In some instances, provision is made for former leaders to serve in official and constitution-based advisory bodies such as Benins Council of Elders that comprises all surviving former presidents, or Guineas constitutionally- mandated Economic Council. In those Latin American countries where upper legislative chambers exist, constitutions commonly provide for former presidents to be appointed for life.

Throughout the world, former leaders take on informal roles as advisors, counselors, members of prestigious boards of corporations and large/international non governmental organizations. Foundations, think tanks, universities and organizations can provide a forum for retired political leaders to write their memoirs and or engage themselves in a project. The options for this in Africa are relatively few at present. The international arena also provides a number of examples of very high-profile successful post-incumbency engagements to draw upon for instance, the former president of Ireland and the former prime minister of Norway both currently hold high-level United Nations posts. Some former African heads of state and senior political figures have built significant international reputations since leaving office. Others have formed their own voluntary organizations or associated themselves with established bodies. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, General Amadou Toumani Toure, and Sir Ketumile Masire are all highly regarded for their international work and as elder statesmen, as was President Olusegun Obasanjo before his return to politics. Now that he has left government, there is no doubt that Nelson Mandela will also take his place as an eminent elder statesman.

While the option chosen for a post-incumbency role depends largely on the temperament and expertise of the former leader, more opportunities need to be made available for them to contribute positively to the development of the continent. Possibilities include functioning in advisory capacities in regional groupings such as ECOWAS and SADC, in keeping with the role played, for example, by elder statesmen and political leaders in promoting regional cooperation in Europe. Other opportunities exist in election observation and in economic integration affairs. Additionally, a foundation or other center could perhaps be established to serve as a clearing-house for matching expertise and particular talents with regional or international needs, and for providing former leaders with the staff and resources to undertake assignments. The GCA could explore the possibilities, including the financial implications, of establishing such a center.


Experience to date has indicated that democratization is a lengthy and complex process. Neither the breakdown of authoritarianism nor political transition necessarily result in functioning democracies. Societies throughout Africa are in flux, and in some cases the norms and institutions of democracy have not yet replaced those of previous authoritarian regimes. The continued political volatility and violent conflict evidenced in much of the continent are indicative of the difficulties of institutionalizing democracy. In many instances both democratic and non-democratic practices are likely to coexist, at least in the short-term. In others, democratic progress will suffer setbacks, although even in these cases it is possible that more durable democratic structures that are embedded in social and cultural norms will eventually be formed. Building democratic societies takes time, and attention has to be paid to many issues, including the mechanisms for facilitating orderly political succession and peaceful alternation of power.

While the primary responsibility for consolidating and institutionalizing democracy obviously lies with African countries themselves, the international community has a role to play. Africas partner countries and agencies have provided considerable assistance to political transition and to strengthening the institutions that uphold democracy, and such assistance will continue to be needed in the future. Effective international cooperation to promote economic growth and combat poverty, and concerted action to combat crime and corruption, would also help to create the conditions in which democracy can take root. Above all, commitment over the long-term, and consistency and coherence in donor policies, are important.


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TICAD Asia-Africa Trade and Investment Conference (AATIC) - Tokyo, Japan - November 1 and 2, 2004
Annual Reports
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