Monday, February 28, 2011
DA today 28 February 2011
28 February 2011
A Weekly Newsletter from the Leader of the
Becoming part of an African Success Story
This week saw public dissatisfaction with Muammar Gaddafi in Libya reach a bloody stand-off between protestors and state security forces. It follows the resignation of Hosni Mubarak after thirty years of authoritarian rule in neighbouring Egypt and the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia. Uprisings have also been recorded in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Morocco and Yemen.
Some analysts are calling these momentous developments the “fourth wave of democratisation”. The expectation is that dictators in North Africa and across the Middle East will fall like dominoes as the democratic impulse takes hold and spreads.
In truth, there is no telling what the outcome of all of this will be. Establishing a democracy – as we in South Africa know better than most – is a precarious business. Look how many times our own constitutional negotiations stalled over seemingly intractable disagreements, against a backdrop of escalating political violence. There was never any guarantee that we would reach a negotiated democratic settlement. Most often, it seemed as if the odds were stacked against it. Thankfully, in the end, common sense prevailed.
But what many people don’t realise is that, while establishing a democracy is difficult, it is even harder to maintain one. We should think of a new democracy as a fragile sapling. It requires years of nourishment and care in the right conditions to survive and flourish. It is only when its roots are strong enough to anchor it against prevailing anti-democratic winds that we can say it is entrenched.
The tragic history of democracies around the world is that most fail – their constitutions are repealed, overturned by anti-democratic forces or gradually eroded by the party in power. And so it is no surprise that more political scientists are turning their attention to the conditions that enable a democracy to endure, what is called the study of democratic consolidation.
It is an important field with profound relevance to the real world, and particularly to South Africa. This is why I do not believe this line of enquiry should be confined to the hallowed halls of academia. It needs to involve everybody, especially those of us who have made politics our life. After all, the decisions and behaviour of politicians have a profound impact – for better or for worse – on the longevity of a democracy.
Political scientists say that a democracy is consolidated when the party that won power at the first election hands over power peacefully through the ballot box at a subsequent election. All role players – citizens and politicians alike – agree on the rules, abide by them and respect the democratic outcome. Democracy – as one scholar put it – has become “the only game in town.”
We are not yet at this point in South Africa. I say this for two reasons.
Firstly, there has never been an alternation of power at national level. Power has changed hands at local and provincial level – a sign that we are turning a corner of democratic consolidation. But these election defeats were accepted only begrudgingly by the ANC. At this point in time, there is no way of telling whether the ruling party would accept the outcome of a free and fair election if it meant losing control of the national government.
Secondly, we are not yet a consolidated democracy because many voters do not yet understand their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. Accountability – whether through the ballot box or otherwise – is still a foreign concept to most people. A recent Afrobarometer survey found that only one in ten respondents thought that voters should hold MPs to account. Four out of ten agreed that the President should be able to “decide everything”. Less than forty percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “the government is like an employee; the people should be their bosses.”
We need to get to a point soon where democracy is recognised by politicians and voters alike as the only game in town. We cannot wait until a dominant party has eroded the constitution. We have to speed up the process of democratic consolidation before this happens.
I believe that we can do it. This is not blind optimism. There are many encouraging signs that we are moving in the right direction. And I am inspired by developments on the rest our continent. There is much we can learn from the rest of Africa.
Let’s start with economic growth. Most studies show a strong correlation between democracy and GDP per capita – the better off people are, the more political freedom there tends to be. It is not difficult to see why. As more people move out of poverty and become educated, the more likely they are to demand democratic rights and freedoms.
The Economist, which ten years ago labeled Africa “the hopeless continent”, recently noted that six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa (Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda). Overall, sub-Saharan Africa’s growth rate was 5.7% over the last decade, up from only 2.4% over the previous two decades. It is forecast that, over the next ten years, Africa’s economy will grow at 7% -- even faster than China’s -- with more and more people lifted out of poverty as a result.
It is true that most African economies are growing off of a low base and it will take some time before they compete with developed countries in terms of total GDP. But the point is that Africa is moving in the right direction.
South Africa is also moving in the right direction, albeit more slowly, with a growth rate of 3.5% over the last decade. There is much we can do to improve this. Avoiding macro-economic policy contradictions and focusing on job-creating growth above all else is crucial.
To increase our growth rate and create jobs, we also have to learn from places like Kenya where an ICT revolution is driving strong economic growth. The World Bank has calculated that the economy of a developing country grows by 1.38% for every 10% increase in broadband penetration.
And we have to learn from places like Rwanda, where it takes 72 hours to register a business. In South Africa, it can take up to 22 days. It is this kind of red tape that discourages investment and stunts the growth that creates jobs.
Then there is Ethiopia. Once emblematic of “the hopeless continent”, it is now one of the fastest growing economies on the continent (8.4% over the last decade), chiefly as a result of its booming agricultural sector.
If we are to consolidate our democracy, we have to get more people out of poverty and into work.
We also have to overcome the racial divisions that still exist in our politics and in our society. Race, rather than policies and performance, is still a major determinant of voting behaviour. This has to change. A country can never be considered a consolidated democracy if elections are little more than a racial census, because power will never change hands through the ballot box.
Again, there is much we can learn from Africa in this regard. Look at what has just happened in Nigeria, for example. President Goodluck Jonathan won 80% of the vote in a primary held in the Muslim North – the first time a non-Muslim has ever won such an election.
And there are some positive signs that we are transcending race. The DA would never have grown from 300,000 votes in 1994 to nearly 3 million votes in 2009 if people had continued to vote based purely on race, ethnicity and language. The DA would never have won the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape if elections were purely a racial census. Neither would we have won 24 by-elections since 2006 – eight of which were in traditional ANC strongholds. But the real story is unfolding in places like Mkhondo in Mpumalanga. In one voting district, where this is not a single minority voter, the DA won 52% of the vote in the by-election held there last year.
We know that transcending race cannot be left up to the voters alone. It depends on us building a new majority in South Africa. This is why we are working with other parties, in coalitions and in alliances, who share our core values. It is why, through our young leaders programme, we are identifying and training young South Africans from all backgrounds to take up leadership positions in our party. The day the DA elects a black national leader is coming sooner than you think.
Perhaps most importantly of all, we are governing for all the people in the places we govern. According to Professor Paul Collier there are two ways parties can grow in complex plural societies. The easy way is to play the race card. The hard way is to win people’s trust through representing their interests and delivering services for all.
We are choosing the hard way, and it is beginning to yield results. Local authorities across the DA-governed Western Cape were last year ranked number one out of all nine provinces for service delivery in the Universal Household Access to Basic Services or UHABS Index. And, according to an independent survey by the South African Institute of Race Relations, Western Cape municipalities provide greater access for the poor to free basic services like water, sanitation and waste removal than anywhere else.
If we can overcome race and grow our economy, the future of our democracy is bright. I believe we can. I take my inspiration from Ghana – a country that, since independence in 1957, was rocked by military coup after military coup. In 1981 Jerry Rawlings of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) assumed power. He annulled the constitution and banned all political parties, making Ghana a one party state until 1992 when he was elected President. In 2000, John Kufor of the opposing National Patriotic Party (NPP) won the presidential election. He was re-elected in 2004. Then, in 2008, the NDC candidate John Atta Mills beat NPP candidate by 0.46% of the vote in the presidential run-off. And the NPP handed power back to the NDC.
So, since the promulgation of its new constitution in 1992, power has changed hands peacefully in Ghana, not once, but twice. Like Ghana, we must get to a point at which power changes hands peacefully through the ballot box in a free and fair election. And we must do it without first going through three decades of decline. We have to prove that you don’t have to get worse before you get better.