GCA Co-Chairpersons Summary Report
The GCA Policy Forum was held in Dakar, Senegal, on October 29-30, 1999. Participants included H.E. Festus Mogae, President of Botswana, H.E. Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, President of Cape Verde, H.E. Nicephore Soglo and H.E. Aristides Pereira, former Presidents of Benin and Cape Verde respectively, as well as GCA Co-Chairpersons H.E. President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, Sir Ketumile Masire of Botswana, Dr. Frene Ginwala of South Africa, and Minister Eveline Herfkens of the Netherlands. Ministers and senior officials from African and partner countries, senior officials of international organizations, parliamentarians, and representatives of the private sector and civil society also participated in the meeting.
The Policy Forum was formally opened with an address by H.E. Abdou Diouf, President of Senegal. The Executive Secretary of the GCA, Ambassador Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, and GCA Co-Chairpersons Dr Frene Ginwala and Sir Ketumile Masire also made remarks during the opening session. This summary report does not reflect the richness of the discussions or the range of experiences that were shared, but rather highlights some of the main issues considered.
The Executive Secretary thanked President Diouf and the Government of Senegal for hosting the Policy Forum, and among other things, noted the high level of participation of both African and partner countries and organizations, including the representatives of the current OAU chairman and EU presidency. For his part, Sir Ketumile Masire welcomed participants and thanked the government and people of Senegal for the hospitality extended to participants. He noted the political and economic progress that many African countries are making, in contrast to the image of the continent often presented in the media, and expressed hope and encouragement for further progress on the continent.
In her introductory statement, Dr. Ginwala emphasized the importance of political inclusion, participation and accountability. Indicating that democracy has to be for all and has to embrace hitherto marginalized or excluded groups, she made particular reference to the need to ensure the full and equal participation of women. She urged that attention be given to combating political corruption, which undercuts democratic political processes and prevents genuine political competition. Dr. Ginwala also noted that African countries are contributing to the expansion of both the concept and the practice of democracy internationally.
In formally opening the Policy Forum, H.E. President Diouf indicated that Senegal, with its tradition of democracy and open debate, was honored to hold the meeting. He welcomed participants to Dakar, and stressed the importance of the issues to be considered. In his address, President Diouf provided an effective framework for the discussions that followed. He emphasized the connections between political and economic development, and underlined the importance of political modernization. He encouraged African countries to build on their own traditions and on universal values of democracy and rule of law to create democratic political systems. President Diouf also stressed the need for the development of a culture of peace on the continent, lamenting the devastation caused by conflict. He urged Africas partners to support the efforts of African countries, including in particular through continued provision of development assistance, and to take decisive action on debt.
There was broad agreement that, despite considerable variation in experience, a significant degree of political transition has taken place in many African countries in recent years. This has resulted in the expansion of civil and political liberties and the creation of more open, participatory political systems. However, experience has also underlined that democratization is an on-going process that requires both time and effort. It also needs committed and ethical leadership, and effective state and civil society institutions. The wide-ranging discussions and exchange of experiences considered a number of aspects of democratization, including constitutions and the rule of law, the military, civil society, political parties, and elections.
Institutions and Political Culture
There was general consensus as to the importance of constitutions, and of respect for constitutional principles and the rule of law as the basis for democratic governance. But it was emphasized that the formulation or amendment of constitutions must also be through a democratic and participatory process if they are to fully reflect the aspirations of the majority of citizens. In this respect, the OAUs recent decision to deny recognition to coups de etat and other extra-constitutional regime changes was noted. Among other things, the fundamental importance of elections was recognized. However, there was agreement that attention must also be given to strengthening the institutions that support democracy -- an effective and efficient public service, capable local government structures, an independent and competent judiciary, and a representative legislature. The importance of civilian oversight of a professional military was also underlined. Given the resource and capacity constraints they face, most democratizing countries have to determine how to best build institutional capacity and create transparent and accountable systems and procedures in all institutions, including the military.
It was agreed that democracy is not only about multiparty elections and formal institutions. Democratic principles and practices have to become embedded in the daily lives of people. Development of a democratic political culture is therefore essential if democracy is to be deepened and sustained. Without such a culture, there is a danger that the form, but not the substance of democracy, will prevail, and that autocratic practices will continue under the guise of multi-party democracy. In many transitional countries the prevailing political culture is still conditioned by non-democratic norms and values. Democratic culture cannot be imposed, and the challenge facing democratizing countries is to develop a political culture that has resonance for all citizens, and that will give form and meaning to democracy as a system of governance.
Several participants stressed the need for democratization to support the process of development and to lead to socio-economic improvement for the majority of citizens. However, it was recognized that there is often a tension between popular expectations of what democracy can bring and understanding of democratic processes. If popular faith in, and support for, democratic governance is to be sustained, it has to yield durable and tangible results. For this, the advantages of democracy have to be understood, and the opportunities it affords taken. There was general agreement that decentralization facilitates the participation of communities in the process of governance. It can also directly demonstrate the benefits of democracy by allowing people to determine their own priorities and act on their own initiatives. However, accountable structures, readiness to assume commensurate responsibility, and capacity to deliver services are needed if decentralization is to successfully promote democracy.
Several participants emphasized the importance of education for the full and effective participation of citizens in political affairs. In this regard, the valuable contributions of the media and civil society institutions in providing information and promoting open debate were noted. Civil society organizations also have an important role in creating structures that facilitate participation, in holding public authorities accountable, and in acting as a countervailing force to governments. However, it was recognized that not all organizations have learned how to effectively fulfil these functions. In some instances, they lack a viable constituency, are easily manipulated, or have limited independence. In others, confusion persists as to the relative roles of political parties and civil society organizations.
Democracy implies indeed requires political inclusion and tolerance of opposing views. It was agreed that a political culture of responsibility is needed on the part of both majority and minority political parties. The will of the majority has to prevail, but the concerns of minorities have to be taken into account. Democratizing countries have to determine how best to promote political inclusion. Open and accountable political systems need to be put in place, and structures to facilitate the effective participation of all citizens developed. There was overwhelming consensus that genuine democracy calls for women to be full participants in the political process at all levels, as informed voters, as elected representatives, and as policy makers. Although some countries have made significant progress, it was agreed that further concerted action is needed.
The fundamental role of parliaments in democratic political systems was recognized. It was agreed that clear provisions for separation of powers, including in particular constitutional, legal and institutional mechanisms to promote a more equal balance of power between the executive and parliament, are necessary. The importance of a capable parliamentary opposition to act as a countervailing force and hold the executive accountable was acknowledged. There was consensus that on-going efforts are also needed to make sure that parliaments are truly representative, and that parliamentarians have the necessary support and resources to effectively undertake their responsibilities. The constraints they face need to be addressed, if genuinely democratic political systems are to be put in place.
There was agreement that one of the most significant challenges to democratization in Africa is the promotion of orderly and peaceful political succession. Although becoming more prevalent, this is not yet the norm, and the concepts of political competition, alternation of power, and shared responsibility for governance have not been fully assimilated in most countries. In many fledgling democracies, the understanding that political succession and alternation of power are normal political processes is not part of the consciousness of either politicians or the electorate, and the stakes of retaining political power remain extraordinarily high. Creating the conditions in which orderly political succession can take place requires responsible leadership and political culture, a sound institutional base, and adherence to democratic principles.
Peaceful political succession through the ballot box also requires effective political parties, and open and transparent electoral systems and procedures. Independent electoral commissions can help to build confidence in the electoral process, and ensure that the results of elections are accepted by all contenders. The design of electoral systems and the conduct of elections are important, but they cannot ensure democracy unless there is a climate of political competition. Political parties need to develop credible policy platforms to contest elections, and opposition parties have to be perceived as viable alternatives. The fragmentation of political parties common in newly-democratizing countries does not help to ensure orderly political succession.
It was agreed that in Africa, as elsewhere, political party funding and campaign finance are issues that need to be addressed. Ways need to be found to minimize the costs of elections and electoral campaigns without compromising the electoral process. The funding of political parties has also to be seriously addressed. Otherwise, access to resources will become the dominant factor in the political process, reducing genuine competition and encouraging corruption. There was agreement that all parties must be fully accountable to the electorate. Combating political corruption is essential if public faith in the political process and the institution of government is to be rebuilt.
In some instances the dominant role of politics, the degree of public sector involvement in the economy, and the structure and nature of political power make political succession difficult. Whereas in established democracies a wide range of professional opportunities exist for qualified politicians once they leave office, this is not the case in many African countries. At the same time, the benefits of political office are substantial, creating incentives to remain. Corruption and political patronage also undermine orderly political succession. Those who benefit from their close association with political leaders at all levels will encourage them to stay in office rather than risk losing their status, access and privileges.
There was agreement that the role and status of former leaders and the provisions made for them upon retirement from office are important issues with regard to political succession and alternation of power that require consideration. Political leaders need to be assured that they will be afforded a degree of financial and physical security upon retirement. Violations of human rights cannot be condoned, but it was recognized that in transitional regimes there may be need for exceptional provisions, such as amnesty. Participants stressed, however, that amnesty must be granted through a transparent process. Moreover, the creation of a culture of impunity, which is counter to democracy, must be avoided.
It was acknowledged that a number of African countries have adopted constitutional mechanisms designed to facilitate orderly political succession and accountable governance. Presidential term limits, for example, are now quite commonplace. In addition, declaration of assets on the part of political leaders and their families is increasing. Countries are also making constitutional and legal provisions to provide physical and economic security for former political leaders. Over time, these mechanisms will help to institutionalize democracy. Turnover of political leaders needs to become an accepted part of the political process, in Africa as elsewhere.
The financial and legal provisions made for former leaders and senior political figures, as well as their role in national life, has to be determined by each country. There was agreement that more opportunities are needed to ensure that respected leaders can continue to play an active role in the development of their countries and the continent as a whole once they have left office. Obviously, whatever mechanisms are adopted must take the economic conditions of African countries into account. For this reason, adopting a regional, rather than a national, perspective may be more appropriate.
Special Session HIV/AIDS and Debt
Although most discussion was on the institutionalization of democracy the topic of the Policy Forum, two other issues of importance to Africas future, HIV/AIDS and debt, were also considered. It was agreed that both require the attention of African countries and the support of Africas development partners.
The presentation on HIV/AIDS provided sobering statistics on the gravity of the problem in African countries. The spread of the disease threatens to undermine the progress that has been made on the continent. Infection rates are extremely high two thirds of all the globally-known cases are in Africa, and all of the twenty-one countries with the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world are African. However, both the presentation and the discussion that followed underlined that the HIV/AIDS pandemic can be brought under control, if decisive action is taken. Several countries have made significant progress in halting the spread of the disease as a result of public education, awareness building and the ready availability of condoms. However, much more has to be done. In many instances, the dimensions of the problem have still not been fully and publicly acknowledged. Commitment and active leadership at the highest policy-making levels in each country are critical if the spread of the disease is to be halted and reversed.
It was agreed that there has been promising recent movement toward providing deeper and faster debt relief so that African countries that are committed to economic reforms and sound policies can reap the rewards in terms of poverty reduction. Such new initiatives were welcomed but it was emphasized that further efforts are needed to ensure once and for all debt relief measures, including complete cancellation of debt. Participants urged that resources used to provide such debt relief are in addition to existing levels of development assistance. Development assistance, together with debt relief and greater opportunities for trade and investment, will allow African countries to build on the progress that has already been made, and to enter the 21st century ready to become more fully integrated into the global economy.
A number of specific proposals were made during the course of the discussions. It was agreed that practical action that yields results is needed, and that efforts to strengthen the institutions that support democracy and promote transparent and accountable governance should be pursued. It was proposed that a process of objective peer review of the practice of democracy and the effectiveness of institutions be instigated and reported upon. Participants expressed the view that a foundation or advisory council to facilitate the involvement of former leaders in the development of the continent could be established, possibly in conjunction with the GCA. There was also a suggestion that the OAU be encouraged to form a senate comprising former heads of state.
There was agreement that the primary responsibility for creating and consolidating participatory democratic systems lies with African countries themselves. However, Africas partners have an important role to play. Many participants deplored the significant reduction in development assistance that is occurring just as African countries have embraced the path of democracy. Concern was expressed that such reductions could compromise the process of democratization. Building democratic infrastructure is expensive, and support from external partners for strengthening the institutions of state and society could help to sustain democracy. Participants also noted that political and economic reforms in many countries would promote the more effective use of development assistance, and urged that levels of aid be maintained.
While support for democratization was encouraged, participants cautioned that Africas partners should try to understand the dynamics that inform the process. Assistance should help to promote more accountable governance. It was acknowledged that aid dependency can result in governments being more accountable to donors than to their own electorates, and thus undercut democratic decision making. Participants also encouraged greater democracy and accountability in international relations. Conditionalities in development assistance suggest that African countries are still not regarded as partners. There was agreement that both African countries and their development partners should actively promote the deepening and institutionalization of democracy throughout the continent.
Introductory Remarks by Dr. Frene Ginwala
On Behalf of the GCA Co-Chairpersons
Your Excellency, President Diouf
Excellencies Heads of State
Honorable Ministers and Members of Parliament
It is an honor for me to make these introductory remarks on behalf of the GCA Co-Chairpersons. The topic that we will be discussing during the next two days institutionalization of democracy is of fundamental importance if the very real political gains we have made in recent years are to be consolidated and built upon. We are very pleased that we are considering this topic in Senegal, a country that has maintained democratic governance since independence. I want to thank H.E. President Diouf and the government and people of Senegal for hosting this meeting, and for welcoming us all here.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
We all recognize the importance of political stability and good governance to peace and sustainable economic and social development. For too long, too many people on our continent have been denied basic rights and fundamental freedoms. They were excluded from political processes, and the institutions of governance were not accountable to them. The consequences, in terms of conflict, violence, devastation and lost opportunities, are all too evident. Many African leaders the old and the new generation have not been deterred from facing past mistakes and taking new paths. We now face the challenge of creating political systems in which all citizens can have a voice, and of providing stability and security. Our discussions here will help us to identify issues that we need to address, but also to share experiences and learn from each other.
There are obviously challenges to democracy in Africa, and poverty and illiteracy rank high among them. We cannot expect to create fully functioning democracies overnight, nor can we wait for a certain level of economic development to be achieved before we begin. Democracy and development are inter-linked. Most of our countries are in the process of transition. There are many expectations of what democracy can bring, but often little understanding of what democracy entails. There is a need to inform and educate citizens, and create the structures that facilitate their participation. One cannot assume universal support for democracy for there are many individuals and groups who have benefited from the undemocratic and corrupt systems of our past, and who will fight to maintain them.
Democracies are constantly evolving to meet new challenges and adapt to new circumstances. In fact, that is one of the hallmarks of democracy. Building democratic societies is a long, and difficult process. It requires commitment on behalf of governments and citizens alike. We have to recognize the challenges, but persevere to build the institutions that will allow democracy to take root throughout the continent. We need to appreciate the costs imposed by lack of democracy.
We have to ensure that the political culture and governance systems we create are built on principles of inclusion, participation, and accountability. Human rights are universal, singular and indivisible. All citizens have to be afforded the same rights, regardless of gender, ethnicity or political or religious affiliation. So too with democracy. Democracy has to be for all, not just for certain groups. We cannot have democracy for the few rich and powerful while excluding the rest of the population, or only for men, and exclude women. One of the challenges facing our countries is to make democracy a reality for ordinary citizens, for the poor, for those in rural areas, for the disabled, and for all those who have hitherto been excluded.
Inclusivity is not simply a theoretical concept or a matter of principle. Its application brings concrete benefits to the entire society, providing viable solution to problems, political stability and sustainable economic development. Policies and solutions that are informed by the experience of the full spectrum of the population are more likely to be appropriate and viable. While implementation becomes easier when we draw on the human resource capacity of all members of society.
I make no apology, though I regret that it is still necessary to emphasize, that there can be no democracy or sustainable development unless women are active and equal participants. To ensure this, one needs to open the political and economic institutions to women, putting special mechanisms and procedures in place where necessary. Secondly, as in most African countries women have had less access to education and skills development, we need to undertake special programs of empowerment. Last, but not least, we need to transform the economy and institutions of governance that have been built on assumptions of historic gender roles, and hence the participation of men, and re-shape the institutions and organizational culture to enable the full and effective participation of women.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
Democracy is not just a system of government. It is created by a continual interaction between the institutions of governance: the legislature, the executive and public service, and the people. A vibrant and diverse associational life is a vital element of democracy, and the contribution of civil society in promoting and sustaining the principles and ideals of democracy is now well recognized. I am pleased to see that in addition to members of the executive, we have a number of parliamentarians, businesspersons and representatives of civil society organizations here with us, and look forward to their contribution to the discussions. The private and non-governmental sectors have an important function in contributing to policy development and implementation, and in helping to ensure governments and elected officials are accountable. They must ensure they emanate from, and remain accountable to, the communities and interests they claim to serve, and operate in an open and transparent way.
Civil society organizations have a particular responsibility. They have a role to play in informing people of their rights, in educating them about democracy, and in facilitating their involvement in the political process. An informed citizenry is essential for democracy. The media has a particularly important responsibility in this regard. We have to encourage the development of an indigenous, responsible, informed and professional media that can facilitate the free exchange of ideas. New technologies have revolutionized access to information. We need to take advantage of this.
We also need to create multiple opportunities for the new leadership that we will require in the 21st century to develop. Among other things, our discussions here will focus on how to encourage peaceful political succession . Too often, political succession or anticipation of it has been marked by violence and upheaval. If we are to avoid conflict we need to develop the institutions and political culture that promote orderly political succession through the ballot box.
This means that those involved in politics -- as well as the electorate need to accept the concept of political competition, and electoral politics. It also requires that elections have to be free, fair and credible, with political parties able to function without hindrance, and with the acceptance of the choice of the electorate. This may show overwhelming support for one party, or a distribution of support that could require coalition governments or alliances in government or in opposition. Majority and minority parties have to understand their role and function on the basis of mutual respect during elections and thereafter. Sustainable democracy requires the creation of a balance between recognition of the right of a party or parties chosen by the electorate to form the government, and the need to allow minority or opposition parties to function freely.
Orderly political succession does not mean that there will be a change at every election. But it does require that leaders and parties periodically face the electorate. In addition, the institutions and mechanisms that can lead to political change need to be in place and functioning. The political culture and dialogue must recognize that the choice and will of the people is sovereign.
I would like to specifically mention the need for political accountability. In democracies, politicians are ultimately accountable to the electorate. But this should not be perceived as something that is required only during election campaigns. Accountability has to be built into the entire political process. Political corruption is one of the greatest threats to democracy, and in particular to fledgling democracies. It undercuts democratic political processes and prevents genuine political competition.
Political corruption is not a monopoly of ruling parties or politicians, who fail to follow democratic and transparent procedures, rig elections, ignore public opinion and engage in nepotism and patronage. Opposition or minority parties are also guilty. They can incite ethnic and racial divisions and display an irresponsible negativism, bringing not only a party or government -- but also democracy itself -- into disrepute. They help to breed cynicism and disillusionment, and erode the legitimacy of government as an institution. A corrupt political system cannot benefit the people it is supposed to serve. It is imperative that we create political as well as economic accountability, not only for democracy, but also for development.
We cannot have democratic political processes unless the ideas of democracy are accepted and practiced. Institutions, whether part of government or civil society, need to be accountable and democratic. We cannot demand accountability of others without exercising it ourselves. Nor can we preach democratic principles, and then fail to observe them. The ethos of participation, inclusion and tolerance is needed within organizations and political parties as well as within the political systems we put in place.
We also need to ensure that those leaders who embrace democracy and support good governance remain engaged in the development of our continent once they have left political office. The GCA has always tried to facilitate this, and I am sure we will have discussions here about how more avenues and more opportunities can be created.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
There is obviously much that remains to be done. With the exception of a few countries, modern democracy is a recent phenomena in Africa. But we must not lose sight of what has been achieved. Our continent today is vastly different from ten years ago. There has been a significant expansion of political and civil liberty throughout the continent. In 1989, many of our governments were not freely elected. By 1999, most of them are. Countries in Africa are also leading in some aspects of democratization and transformation of institutions, and contributing to the expansion of the concept and practice of democracy internationally.
The primary responsibility for creating democratic societies obviously lies with the people of Africa themselves. But we need the support and encouragement of our development partners as we work to create the sort of open and accountable systems of governance that allow people to act on their own initiative. The impulse toward freedom and the values of democracy of governance with the consent of the governed, of respect for human rights, of the supremacy of the rule of law have resonance throughout our continent. These are the values that we must hold true as we seek to build the democratic, participatory societies that we will need in the next century.
I thank you.
Co-Chairpersons' Closing Statement
Presented by Sir Ketumile Masire
It is a pleasure for me to present this closing statement, which reflects some of the main points raised during the Policy Forum. A more complete summary report of our discussions will be sent by the Secretariat within the coming weeks. The Policy Forum has been characterized by an open and frank exchange of views, and has maintained the tradition of the GCA as a forum in which important issues can be honestly discussed.
I and my fellow Co-Chairpersons were impressed by the high level of representation of both African and partner countries and organizations. We would particularly like to acknowledge the participation and contribution of current and former heads of state. We thank H.E. President Diouf for his comprehensive and insightful opening remarks that served as an effective framework and guide for our discussions. We would also like to thank all participants for their contributions and generous sharing of experiences.
A remarkable degree of political transition has taken place in African countries in recent years. We now must ensure that progress is maintained, and built upon. From our discussions, it is clear that democratization is an on-going process, and that creating democratic societies requires both time and effort. It also requires committed and ethical leadership, and effective state and civil society institutions. In our discussions, we considered a number of aspects of democratization, including constitutions and the rule of law, the military, civil society, political parties, and elections.
But democracy is not only about multiparty elections and formal institutions. Development of a democratic political culture is essential if democracy is to be deepened and sustained. Democracy implies indeed requires political inclusion and tolerance of opposing views. A political culture of responsibility is needed on the part of both majority and minority political parties. The will of the majority has to prevail, but the concerns of minority have to be taken into account.
We need to ensure that the voice of all citizens is heard, and that they can make informed choices. We recognized the important contribution that civil society and the media can play in this regard, by providing information and promoting open debate. We also recognized the fundamental importance of education for the full and effective participation of citizens in political affairs.
Democratic governance has to yield durable results if popular faith in democracy is to be sustained. Open and accountable political systems have to be put in place, and structures to facilitate effective participation developed. Our discussions underscored that decentralization can demonstrate the tangible benefits of democracy to people by allowing them to act on their own initiatives. There was overwhelming consensus that real democracy calls for women to be full participants in the political process at all levels, as informed voters, as elected representatives, and as policy makers. Concerted action to ensure this must be taken.
It was agreed that in many instances constitutional, legal and institutional mechanisms to promote a more equal balance of power between the executive and parliament are necessary. On-going efforts are also needed to make sure that parliaments are truly representative, and that parliamentarians have the necessary support and resources to effectively undertake their responsibilities. The constraints they face need to be addressed, if genuinely democratic political systems are to be put in place.
One of the most significant challenges to democratization in Africa is the promotion of orderly and peaceful political succession. Winning elections and retaining political power are the aims of politicians everywhere. But in Africa, we have not yet become fully accustomed to the ideas of political competition, of alternation of power, or of shared responsibility for governance. Creating the conditions in which orderly political succession can take place requires responsible leadership and political culture, a sound institutional base, and adherence to democratic principles. We need to ensure that transparent and fair electoral processes are put in place, and that the results of elections are then accepted by all contenders.
In Africa, as elsewhere, political party funding and campaign finance are issues that need to be addressed. Ways need to be found to minimize the costs of elections and electoral campaigns without compromising the electoral process. The design of electoral systems and the conduct of elections are important, but they cannot ensure democracy unless there is a climate of political competition. The funding of political parties has also to be seriously addressed. Otherwise, access to resources will become the dominant factor in the political process, reducing genuine competition and encouraging corruption. All parties must be fully accountable to the electorate. Combating political corruption is essential if public faith in the political process and the institution of government is to be rebuilt.
A number of African countries have adopted constitutional mechanisms designed to facilitate orderly political succession and accountable governance. Presidential term limits, for example, are now quite commonplace. In addition, declaration of assets on the part of political leaders and their families is increasing. Countries are also making constitutional and legal provisions to provide physical and economic security for former political leaders. Over time, these mechanisms will help to institutionalize democracy. Turnover of political leaders needs to become an accepted part of the political process, in Africa as elsewhere.
The financial and legal provisions made for former leaders and senior political figures, as well as their role in national life, has to be determined by each country. There was agreement that more opportunities are needed to ensure that respected leaders can continue to play an active role in the development of their countries and the continent as a whole once they have left office. Obviously, whatever mechanisms are adopted must take the economic conditions of the continent into account. For this reason, adopting a regional, rather than a national, perspective may be more appropriate.
A number of specific proposals were made during the course of our discussions. We need practical action that yields results. Efforts to strengthen the institutions that support democracy and promote transparent and accountable governance should be pursued. Objective peer review of the practice of democracy and the effectiveness of institutions would allow us to see how we are progressing, and what more needs to be done. Ways of benefiting from the experience of former leaders, through a foundation or advisory council, could be considered.
Although most discussion was on the institutionalization of democracy the topic of the Policy Forum, two other issues of importance to Africas future, HIV/AIDS and debt, were also discussed. Both are challenges that require our attention and the support of our development partners. The rates of HIV/AIDS infection in African countries are truly alarming, and threaten to undermine the progress that has been made on the continent in recent years. But political will and concerted action can make a difference. Above all, commitment and active leadership at the highest policy-making levels in each country are critical if we are to stem this new scourge. This is an instance in which action cannot wait. It is our future that is at stake.
We also discussed debt. There has been promising recent movement toward providing deeper and faster debt relief so that African countries that are committed to economic reforms and sound policies can reap the rewards in terms of poverty reduction. We welcome such new initiatives but, as some leaders of industrial countries have recognized, further efforts are needed to ensure once and for all debt relief measures, including complete cancellation of debt. We urge that resources used to provide such debt relief are in addition to existing levels of development assistance. Development assistance, together with debt relief and greater opportunities for trade and investment, will allow African countries to build on the progress that has already been made, and to enter the 21st century ready to become more fully integrated into the global economy.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
Many problems undoubtedly remain, and there is obviously much to be done. But this should not detract from the progress that has been made. African countries have joined the body of nations that have adopted democracy as their form of government. To be sure, most of our democracies are still fragile, and we are only now learning how to make them function. As we approach the next century, one of our major challenges is to make democracy a credible form of governance for all stakeholders. The ways we do this will vary, but it is a principle that we must adhere to.
I and my fellow GCA Co-Chairpersons have been impressed by the degree of commitment evidenced during this meeting, by African heads of state and governmental representatives, by our development partners, and by civil society. While the ultimate responsibility of creating functioning democratic systems lies with African countries themselves, we need and value the support of our development partners, and encourage them to work with us. Assistance to strengthen institutions would help to sustain democracy.
Once again, on behalf of the GCA Co-Chairpersons, and behalf of the heads of state and all participants, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to His Excellency President Abdou Diouf, and the government and people of Senegal, for their generous hospitality and the excellent facilities put at our disposal.
I thank you for your attention.