Tag Archives: Democracy

Democracy is not a mystifying western plot – it is a universal value

A Bahraini pro-democracy protester gestures in front of a wall sprayed with anti-government graffiti. Photograph: Hasan Jamali/AP

‘The sustainable development goals may not mention democracy, but their focus on the accountability of political institutions will be key to improved governance’

The slow unfolding of the sustainable development goals continued last month with the unveiling of the zero draft that will be negotiated in the runup to the summit in New York in September.

How does the draft of 17 goals look from the perspective of an organisation dedicated to helping countries to strengthen democracy? The answer is not bad, but not good.
On the plus side, it is good that there is a goal 16 at all. The draft goal reads: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

There was no equivalent in the millennium development goals (MDGs), and it is welcome that goal 16 includes a target of ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.

I like all those words, which embody a commendable set of ambitions. The target of “effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels” is a good transposition of text from the UN high-level panel report on the post-2015 development agenda co-chaired by the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia and the British prime minister, which included all three adjectives.

On the minus side, there are two main gaps.

First, the word “democracy” itself has not been used, nor any variant such as “democratic accountability”. That is disappointing but not surprising, even though the Millennium Declaration, which formed the basis of the MDGs, did make specific calls for these conditions to be included.
My guess is that the word “democracy”, perhaps less popular now than it was 15 years ago, was blocked by the sensitivities of UN politics.

The second gap is the failure to address the key instruments of representative democracy, namely parliaments or political parties. Again, this is disappointing but not surprising. There is a presumption in the text that the executive are the main actors, rather than the representatives of citizens. Indeed, the high-level panel called for someone (implicitly governments) to grant rights (such as freedom of speech) to people, rather than for people to act to curb the powers of the executive.

So what should be the response of those interested in strengthening democracy? We need to do two things.

First, we should demystify democracy. Democracy is not a western plot, it is a universal value. Virtually all countries have aspects of democratic culture in place to some degree, and absolutely every country has room to strengthen the quality of their democracy.

I would like to build common ground about the aspects of democracy that are important regardless of region or political grouping. That would make work on achieving the targets in goal 16 much more useful.
Second, the Millennium Declaration is still relevant when it says that we should “work collectively for more inclusive political processes, allowing genuine participation by all citizens in all our countries”. We should rebalance our thinking about national responsibilities, taking up that challenge of putting people and their representatives first. This links back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The central task of the declaration, and of the Magna Carta for that matter, was to curb the power of the executive – which, unchecked, tends to be abused.

In the vast majority of countries, we should look at the role of parliaments, the judiciary, civil society and the media, as well as the executive, when considering how to secure objectives encapsulated in goal 16.

A report by Civicus called for new forms of representation and oversight, such as citizens’ panels. Institutions should be “tested on their ability to respond to and achieve progress on issues identified by people rather than just governments”, it added.

The sentiment certainly reflects the level of concern many people feel about traditional representative institutions. Building common ground on what democracy means, and helping to improve the quality of representation in our countries, go hand in hand and are both worth pursuing.

Goal 16 is imperfect and is almost at the bottom of the list of proposed SDGs. But the glass is half full. Politics and the development community have been uncomfortable partners in many ways, and this is a chance to work together to help political systems do a better job. If we succeed, then we will have fulfilled the promise of the Millennium Declaration – citizens of all countries working together to put sustainable development at the centre of the agenda and hold governments to account for their actions.

Anthony Smith

Anthony Smith is chief executive of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy

Source: Guardian Global Development

European Union Parliamentarians urge the International donors and International Community to increase the pressure on Rwanda for Changes for promotion of Human rights and Democracy.

091026.EU_.headquartersIn their plenary of May 23th, 2013, European Union parliamentarians have debated and passed the resolution 2013/2461/RSP urging Rwanda to initiate changes to allow the respect of human rights and democracy. Based on Ingabire Victoire’s  trial currently in appeal, the resolution gives a synopsis of this case, which they judge as a political tool devised by the incumbent political party- RPF- to silence any dissenting voice.  The parliamentarians brought to the world attention that the law against “genocide ideology” used to arrest Ingabire is vague and lacks conformity with international law standards, and seems to perpetuate fear and terror in the political space. This resolution notes that political opponents Ingabire Victoire, Deo Mushayidi and Bernard Ntaganda all in prison in Rwanda, have been nominated for a prize known as “Prix Sakharov du parlement Européen pour la liberté d’Esprit” on September 13, 2012.

In its conclusions, the resolution expresses the serious concern in regards of Ingabire’s trial and asks the president of European Commission to designate observers in that trial currently in appeal. It goes on to condemn Kagame’s administration which violates human rights, persecutes opponent politicians as well as journalists and reporters who report what is wrong. Therefore, the resolution urges Kagame’s administration to unconditionally set free all those who were imprisoned because of their political views. By this resolution, the European parliamentarians caution that in order to have a sustainable development in Rwanda, human rights, democracy, multipartism, and separation of powers (executive, legislative and judiciary) must be embraced. The resolution urges the security council of the United Nations and the international donors to keep a continuous pressure on Rwanda for changes in favor of Human rights and democracy. The resolution was submitted to the European Commission, The security council of UN, the East African Community, The African Union and the ACP-EU parliament for application.

A lesson to learn

The first lesson to learn from this is that the world has become a small village in which all actions are interconnected. Kagame is going to tell Rwandans that no foreigner should decide on our behalf, that Rwanda is a sovereign and free country and that nobody should come to teach us how to respect human rights! When Kagame says such, his intention is to make us believe that he is an anti-imperialist leader; however he was enthroned by those imperialists. Please do ask him and hear what he has to say.

Indeed, it is not good for foreigners and especially the West to decide on our fate or to teach us how to respect human life and/ or lives of our brothers and sisters. This resolution comes in after less than one week Kagame was humiliated at Oxford University when protesters have thrown eggs and horses’ waste like a shower on his vehicle and at the doors of the hall where he was delivering the day key speech. In his statement to the Rwanda day participants, Kagame called those protesters Africans (as if he did not know their exact nationality) ignoring the main ( Ingabire’s) visible picture on protesters’ posts. The protesters demonstrated how peaceful they are by using eggs instead of stones or grenades! The meaning behind it is that they did not want to hurt him, they did not hate him but the hate the bad within him and therefore they wanted him to give up the inhumanity.  At least what happened in Oxford and London was a proof that Rwandans are boldly contributing to the revolution against the RPF’s clique.

It can also be deemed unfair to accuse the West of involvement in our own business. Imagine you were in their shoes, would you sit and watch passively somebody who has been killing his own fellow compatriots since more than 20 years ago, and who keeps eliminating whoever opposes him? Would you ignore such atrocities because it is not happening in your country? Here one should keep in mind that all that takes place in one country affects other countries especially those who have to take care of refugees using their own taxpayers’ money.  That is why for Kagame, no Rwandan should be given such an opportunity to have a refuge because this exposes the Kigali administration’s inefficiencies, and by extension, is a magnanimous proof that it deserves tutorials on Human rights and democracy principles. Maybe, had we respected our compatriots’ lives, those tutorials from the West would have been unnecessary.

It is obvious that a special pressure is going to be exercised on Kigali regime to release Ingabire Victoire, and indeed it has been suspected when recently a witness has been allowed to give a testimony to support the accused. On the other hand, Kagame’s administration knows that once Ingabire is proclaimed innocent, she will have a right to file injunction against the same regime for compensation. For this, Ingabire can be sentenced to imprisonment of years she has already served as to prevent her from running her presidential campaign since the constitution of the Land stipulates in its 99 article section 5 that the presidential candidate must “not have been convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of six months or more”.

In all cases nobody should be sentenced because he/she has exercised their political rights. If President Kagame persists in denying his people their basic human rights, if he does not open the political space and if he refuses to set free all political prisoners, the revolution of the people will do it for him. And this will not delay.

Long live the Zeal to fight for the Truth and the Sharing of national wealth.

Chaste Gahunde

Deputy General Secretary of Ishema party