I should like at the very outset to lay strong emphasis on the need for civil society or citizens’ organisations across the world to be ready and prepared to help protect new fragile democracies against the danger of backsliding, to contribute to successful democratic transitions from the rule of authoritarianism, and to guard against extremist movements and intolerant majorities, in well-established democracies. In many countries, democracy, in particular the rule of law, is being threatened by rampant corruption, poor governance, ethnic and religious intolerance, political intimidation and the abuse of power by executives intent on bypassing institutions of accountability and accumulating power and wealth for themselves and their cronies to the detriment of the masses. There is, of course, no simple solution to problems of such magnitude. Some people believe that donor agencies and multilateral institutions could assist by conditioning their assistance and cooperation on a much higher standard of governance and democratic performance than what is now considered acceptable. But the core of a meaningful response, to my mind, has to come from an empowered, educated and organized civil society or citizens’ organisations.
Popular movements such as Y’en a Marre in Senegal and the New Citizens Movement in China have brought up the idea of democratic citizenship, showing a readiness to take moral responsibility for the future of their societies and to act as agents of democratic change.
In the context of the Club de Madrid’s project entitled Next Generation Democracy – Agenda for Sub-Saharan Africa, a number of good practices and transformative ideas advancing democracy on the African continent have been identified and these could be replicated by other countries in the region and even beyond. I shall mention just a few.
Youth and young adults in Africa have been able to master new technologies and develop new applications that enhance the quality of democracy. For example, #ThisFlag spread through social media in Zimbabwe during 2016 as public discontent with the government evolved. The use of the national flag as a symbol for this call became viral, and gave its name to the movement. This soon became a genuine citizens’ movement that successfully organized a one-day strike (ShutDown2016) and continued to press the government for more accountability and solutions to the country’s troubles.
Africa’s civil society pressure has led to increasing demand for change, particularly in the socioeconomic dimension of democracy. Some initiatives are targeting excluded groups, such as youth, women, the unemployed and people with disabilities.
Tanzania has launched a program seeking to eradicate the root causes of discrimination against major excluded groups, including women, youth, the elderly, street orphans and people affected by HIV-AIDS.
In Nigeria, Mobilizing for Development (M4D) was established as an accountability program that also tackles social exclusion, with particular focus on adolescent girls and people with disabilities, by creating shared spaces for multiple stakeholders to meet and broker relations.
In Ghana, Where My Money Dey, a civic society network tracks the money that mining companies must repay local communities to ensure development projects.
Africa’s future depends on the ability to integrate youth into the labour market. Most African governments are addressing youth unemployment, with recent developments including greater involvement of both civil society and private actors in the task.
The Connect to Implement Project (C2iDev) in Uganda’s capital was developed by a group of young professionals from different multinational development institutions. The goal of the project is to connect young people with business ideas and help them with training and guidance in realizing the ideas.
Improving strategic and planning capacity from within is crucial if African countries are to achieve a condition of self-reliance. However, most systems, for monitoring and evaluating government initiatives in Africa, are still largely driven by donors. A different approach to policy formulation to which new technological tools can contribute, must enhance citizen participation and monitoring.
As from 2014, the Buharimeter in Nigeria sets out to monitor the performance of the president and his government in relation to their campaign promises. Through citizen reporting, the project holds the administration accountable and in fact bridges a gap between the government and the governed.
In August 2016, SADC hosted a People’s Summit at which some 3,000 representatives of social movements, trade unions, human rights and environmental networks, women’s and youth organizations, as well as individual activists, students and academics from all SADC countries gathered in Swaziland and agreed on an action plan and strategies for mobilizing citizens and civil-society groups to reclaim democracy and institutions of governance.
I have not been able to find out whether any follow-up action has been taken by Mauritian NGOs and other civil society organisations.
If I have quoted examples exclusively from Africa it is because our continent is today perhaps the world’s most vibrant region in terms of devising new ideas to advance democracy, even if much remains to be done in terms of effective implementation. A change in certain attitudes, a move away from so-called cultural values at odds with human rights and increasing self-reliance, which should in particular allow young generations’ potential to be unleashed, will however be necessary for a genuinely democratic Africa to emerge.
Let me conclude with an expression of hope that Mauritius Society Renewal, with its dynamic leadership, would act as the think tank and the catalyst that will ensure greater citizens’ participation in the renewal of democratic life and encourage the building of new citizens’ movement that would prioritize civic education, using all the tools at their disposal, including Internet, to inform, motivate and organize people at the grass root level. Democratic processes are the only way to fight corruption and achieve accountable government.