Event Reports

Workshop on Alternative Approaches to Democratization in the Greater Horn of Africa

16th - 17th August 2016

The workshop was held in Nairobi and brought together jurists, business representatives and further academics from across the whole region of the Greater Horn of Africa: Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda, Somalia, Somaliland and South Sudan.

Most African countries, especially the ones in the region of the Greater Horn, are so called ‘countries in transition’ and are characterized by economic, institutional, and social fragmentation. Their economies range from a relatively advanced capitalist system with modern banking and stock market exchanges to a subsistent farming and pastoral systems. The different economic systems are marked by diverse institutions of governance with divergent notions of property rights, disparate resource allocation systems, and distinct decision-making and conflict adjudication practices. For all practical purposes, those countries are characterized by parallel socioeconomic spaces and also societal fragmentation – often along ethnic lines. State structures of accountability also remain too weak to manage diversity properly or to foster democratic governance. Given this structural context, the participation of African countries – and especially those in the Greater Horn of Africa region – in the democratization wave of the early 1990s has not produced a sustainable process of democratization. Yet, a coherent theory on how a democratic system of governance can be advanced in transitional societies with fragmented economic and institutional systems as those in the Greater Horn region remains elusive. The countries are in different democratic stages right now. But what most of them have in common is the fact that the process of democratization has not been finalized yet.

During the second wave of democratization in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, most African countries, like many other countries in the rest of the world, reinstated multiparty systems and embarked on a second round of democratization process. Unfortunately, this second round of democratization, like the first round, which was embarked at the time of decolonization, has also fizzled out giving way to elected autocrats in many countries. With the notable exceptions of Eritrea and South Sudan, the countries of the Greater Horn have recorded some progress in implementing aspects of the institutions of liberal democracy in the post-Cold War era. They have established multi-party systems and have conducted several rounds of elections of leaders and representatives in national assemblies. Notwithstanding the periodic clampdowns, when regime stability is threatened, most of them have also undertaken steps towards liberalizing their press and extending civil liberties to their populations. Kenya reinstituted a multi-party system in 1991 and conducted a multi-party election in 1992. Kenya’s lead was followed by Djibouti in 1992, Ethiopia in 1995, and Uganda in 1996. With its April 2010 election, Sudan also reinstated a multi-party system nearly three decades after it was suspended following the 1989 coup, which brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power with Omar al-Bashir at the helm. Despite the identified initial steps, the election-based democratization process in the Horn countries has stalled not only due to leadership problems but also due to structural bottlenecks.

Workshop as platform for building strong networks to promote democracy in the region

Against this backdrop, the Rule of Law Programme for Sub-Saharan-Africa of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) partnered with the Greater Horn Horizon Forum (GHHF) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to organise this two-day regional workshop. On 16th and 17th August 2016, The aim of the conference was to bring representatives from the various countries of the Greater Horn together to reflect jointly on the countries’ current progress of democratization to analyse the various approaches to democratization in the region, taking into account the different conditions in the countries, sharing expertise and best practice as well as learn from each other and strengthen networks in order to promote the progress of democratization in the region.

The two-day workshop comprised several sessions, each focusing on a specific country and included presentations by national experts, which outlined the challenges of democratization in their respective country, and which were followed by moderated discussions. After having collected the various perspectives and experience from the countries, the participants were invited to share their ideas and make suggestions for improvement and further promotion of the progress of democratization in the closing session, which focused on the discussion of suggestion for viable alternative approaches to democratization.

The different panels focused on how far each country had come in terms of democratization and in how far further improvement could still be achieved. What most of the (East) African countries seem to have in common is the fact that ‘the winner takes it all’ principle is applied by most politicians. That means that there is no room for an effective opposition once the elected party is in power. The ruling party remains the prominent winner for elections, which results in a lack of credibility. The picture of the state in Africa is often drawn by power and wealth. This has also to do with the fact that corruption still plays an important role in all of that. Besides, in Africa it is common knowledge that with power comes money. Above that, the findings that the presentations and discussions of the participants of the workshop brought about also include the following aspects:

  • There needs to be a change of mindset so that politicians see themselves more as ‘functionaries’ that ‘serve’ their people. Moreover, democratization is only complete if all actors respect that the electoral process is ‘the only game in town’ and that there is no room for corruption.
  • Furthermore, the participants also suggested another approach to democratization, which could be to establish the state as the “caretaker” to take responsibility. This would probably be very similar to what is known in the western world as the well-fare state.
  • There is a concentration of power in the executive body of the government that therefore hinders elections. Democracy needs democrats. Movements turn into political parties that turn into governments that often have no interest in democratic values, therefore elected ‘democrats’ turn into dictators.
  • It was criticized that the opposition wouldn’t address the fundamental problems and that there is a general lack of a vision as well as of inspiring leaders. Often citizens are used by the political elite. Therefore, the focus should be put on the education of young people to prepare them for their roles as future leaders, who might be capable to change their country for the better. It was proposed that civil society organizations with regional democratic values should inform and train citizens.
  • State identity crises are often related to problems of nation building. The extreme contrasts between traditional and modern, rural and urban settings are often catalyzers for a stagnating democratization. The complex diversity at the Greater Horn needs diversity management which is often missing due to conflict states in Africa. The speakers often claimed that there ought to be a way to integrate tradition in the process of democratization in order to make it work. Since religion often still plays a major part in peoples’ life, there ought to be a way to connect it to the rule of law. Above all: Whether the progress of democratization becomes successful depends on the fact, if the diverse society of a country shares a common concept and understanding of the term democratization. The western type of democracy is often inapplicable to African states.
  • In states that find themselves in conflict, the intervention of international actors affects the progress of democratization heavily. Suddenly, the task is taken over by external people who take on the responsibility but often fail to speak in ‘one voice’. However, conducting elections in fragile conflict states is also not regarded as a feasible solution to the problem, since this might even add fuel to the fire and lead to an escalation.
Overall, the workshop concluded that even though there has been progress in terms of democratization in the Greater Horn region and even though the problems that go along with it, had been well discussed, there is still a need for taking a closer look at how to resolve these problems. One main issue that was mentioned in the workshop is that the discussion is often disconnected from the civil society in the respective states. Therefore, one aspect of a way forward should also comprise an inclusive approach, that takes into account the citizens’ needs and allows for their participation in their countries’ progress of democratization.

By supporting and co-implementing this workshop, the Rule of Law Programme contributed to strengthening and enhancing an efficient and capable regional network by providing the relevant stakeholders from the Greater Horn region with a platform to share experiences on the progress of democratization in their countries, analyse the challenges of democratization in the Greater Horn of Africa and encouraging a joint dialogue to find solutions together and promote alternative approaches to democratization in the region.

The workshop was held in Nairobi and brought together jurists, business representatives and further academics from across the whole region of the Greater Horn of Africa: Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda, Somalia, Somaliland and South Sudan. KAS