Elections experts discuss democracy and diversity and underscore constitutionslism, nation-building


ECA Press Release 125/2012 

Addis Ababa, 19 July 2012 (ECA) - Experts meeting on the theme: Democracy, Elections and the Management of Diversity in Africa have underscored the need to promote nation-building, constitutionalism and democratic processes that support the delivery of basic goods. The meeting was co-organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), from 18-19 July 2012, as part of preparations for the forthcoming Eighth African Governance Forum (AGF).

The aim of the pre AGFVIII meeting was to review sub regional reports covering East Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, Southern African and West Africa on how these regions are tackling Democracy, Elections and the Management of Diversity. The findings were debated for further refining.

Mr. Said Adejumobi, Acting Head of the Governance and Public Administration Division at the ECA said that although the democracy debates in Africa will continue to evolve, "democracy must satisfy the aspirations of the people by delivering basic goods." The discussions, he said, fit well into the African Governance Report on Elections and Diversity Management to be published later this year by the ECA in collaboration with the UNDP.

He emphasized the need to keep the debate alive as there are no quick fixes to diversity management. “Nation-building is a work in progress; and as new centres of diversities emerge, we may find ourselves condemning the founders of decentralization,” said Adejumobi.

He reiterated the need for constitutionalism, which an earlier discussant had emphasized in a presentation on East Africa. “Constitutions need to be living documents that can be contested,” said Adejumobi, adding that African countries can learn from the intense contestation surrounding Kenya’s constitution. “More debate by the people is needed in order to resolve identities in deeply divided societies,” he said.

The meeting debated the economics of diversity, as well as questions of class and inequalities within society. The experts also touched on the political economy of elections and the role of Africa’s elite in entrenching old forms of identities on the basis of ethnicity and regions.

Speakers echoed the need for ‘political liberalization to go hand in hand with economic liberalization’ and noted that real stakeholders are created when they pay taxes and can demand more from their leaders.

Mr. Khabele Matlosa, the Governance Programme Advisor at UNDP emphasized that African societies are a socio-culturally diverse. This is the reality that cannot be wished away. While diversity can become a resource for Africa's democratic advancement, it often becomes a source of various types of violent conflicts especially during elections. African leaders need to put in place institutional and policy measures aimed at constructive management of diversity.

He reminded participants that while Africa is making commendable progress in its democratization drive, especially the holding of regular multi-party elections, much more still needs to be done in order to improve the integrity of the electoral processes and guarantee the credibility of their outcomes. Part of the reason why some elections have triggered political violence bordering on civil wars is precisely because some political elites mobilize votes along ethnic and other identity fault-lines.

He concluded by pointing out that in both cases of mismanagement of diversity and electoral violence in Africa, the most hardest hit social groups are women and youth. It is thus imperative that African leaders make deliberate and concerted efforts to promote gender equality and empowerment of youth. These efforts may include well designed affirmative action measures aimed at increasing participation and representation of women and youth in all spheres of political and economic governance.

Participants were drawn from representatives of Regional Economic Communities, Election Management Bodies, Centers of Excellences and Civil Society Organizations from across the Continent, as well as Development Partners.

The Eighth African Governance Forum (AGF-VIII) on Democracy, Elections and Management of Diversity will take place on 16-18 October 2012 in Gaborone, Botswana. AGF will bring together over 300 stakeholders to deliberate on the current state of democracy in Africa in relation to elections and the management of diversity.


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© 2012 Economic Commission for Africa