|SADC Elections Conference
by Kondwane Chirambo and Faith Dube
Gaborone, 8 May 2000
A landmark regional conference reviewing democratic processes in southern Africa, ranged mainly on the crisis in political parties, opened here embracing government, parties, electoral managment bodies, civil society organisations and parliamentary representatives.
Convened by the Swedish-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA),the Southern African Development Community(SADC)Parliamentary Forum and the SADC Electoral Commissions Forum, the conference is examining the myriad the problems faced by political parties, performance of electoral management bodies and women political participation.
"SADC has adopted the principles of democracy; the question is how to make it work", said Mr Bengt Save-Soderbergh, Secretary-general of International IDEA, a body composed of governmental, intergovernmental and international non governmental organisations.
He told a press conference that democracy was not just about liberating countries but "most importantly about liberating human potential" Attended by more than 100 high profile participants from the twelve southern African and 15 other countries representing Latin America, Asia and Europe, this three day meeting supported by Denmark is expected to address the perceived lack of independence by electoral commissions which undermines their credibility before the public.
"Southern Africa has some of the World's best constitutions and institutions. But we have a problem in the region with translating democracy from theory into practice" said International IDEA's senior Executive Patrick Molutsi.
Professor Reg Austin, head of programmes for IDEA said the constitutional making process in southern Africa, best exemplified by the modality used to draft the South African constitution,is one of the best in the world and is now being adopted by other countries in the world particularly Nigeria and Indonesia.
SADC Parliamentary Forum Secretary-General Dr Kasuka Mutukwa said that it was upto the southern Africans to sustain their democracies within their own contexts.
"democracy cannot be transplanted from elsewhere. Even transplanted organs can be rejected. I believe in the dictum that there can hardly democracy without democrats", he said.
The SADC Parliamentary Forum is an association of 12 parliamentary structures in Southern Africa which aims to contribute to the speedy integration of the 14-member economic bloc, SADC.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Seychelles are not yet members of the Forum, as the former has no standing parliament while the latter is not formally integrated.
The conference, titled "Towards Sustainable Democratic Institutions in Southern Africa" will critically examine the lack of institutionalisation, funding and gender inequality in the leadership of political parties-both ruling and opposition-a factor which is increasingly being seen as a major weakness in the emergent democracies.
Officials from ruling and opposition parties from various SADC states are participating in the conference, including the parliamentary representatives of Angola's UNITA movement-the group that has fallen out with the mainstream movement run by Jonas Savimbi and hence officially recognised by the Angolan government as legitimate opposition.
Also present are members of Mozambique's RENAMO movement, which recently lost a closely contested election to the ruling FRELIMO.
Asked about the presence of UNITA, Save-Soderbergh explained that the participants represented a faction of the movement that was not in syncopation with UNITA main frame, currently waging a civil war with government forces, but emphasised that their inclusion would also help in the democratisation process in Angola. IPS/SARDC
Mail Editorial for comments and queries.