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African Broadband Revolution 2005- 6 to 8 April 2005, Johannesburg SA

Elections and omissions In Africa

Published: 01-FEB-04

The names Rosa Parks, Biko and Soyinka are synonymous with socio economic and political revolutions. There is content, time and geographical contrasts and adjustments to be made, of course. But in essence, the Civil Rights Movement in America, Apartheid South Africa and the Abacha Regime were infamous for legislation that withheld the democratic ballot, used military or police brutality to crack down on voices against state legislated terror.

Whether it is electing a district elder in an African village or veto power votes in the power seats of the United Nations, the basic principle of state and citizen relations remains one of constitutional responsibility and fairness. Votes are, to an extend, regulatory measures to ensure delivery and transparency in governance.

Undemocratic and suppressive politics in South Africa, the US, Nigeria and other parts of the globe perpetuated an existence in contrasts. South Africa was characterised by excess wealth in sprawling leafy suburbs vs. disease-ridden shacks and townships; ideologically criminal educational content, as well as fascist state monopoly over media and related social institutions. The ballot has proven to be critical in ousting military coups and blatant state terror.

But what can the world learn from Africa in 2004, when at least 13 African countries go to the polls? We preview elections in Africa - focusing on the socio-economic and political rigmaroles in South Africa and Ghana, in particular. Ghana's pre-election status and the private funding of political parties and elections are put under the microscope. The Ghana pre-election status report is an analytical and comparative look at Ghana's credit outlook, public finance, banking and investment infrastructure, as well as macro-economic structure and reform.

On the other hand, South Africa's transition into democracy has its measure of success stories, some echoing international approval. The South African Constitution is, for instance, seen as one of the most liberal in the world. Secondly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, sentiments of which has been studied and replicated in other parts of the world, took care of the moral and psychological wounds inflicted by over four decades of oppression. Economic models such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) are slowly transforming racial and gender demographics of the economy, while ensuring equitable growth. But challenges remain.

Although BEE is meant to address equal benefits in economic investment and returns, the process is undermined by sensitivities around government's regulatory business legislation and the unrepentant attitudes and outlook from management in previously state-run business and investment institutions. Rapid BEE implementation also means that economic growth faces challenges of inadequate and lack of skills base.

The rapid climb of HIV / AIDS, unemployment, violent crime statistics and Zimbabwe pose a serious challenge to this nascent democracy, dictating irregular social spend. Though not groundbreaking or new in the government's mandate, the content of the ANC's 2004 Election Manifesto goes a long way in contextualising the ANC's governance milestones, and moves to ensure economic growth and political expedience.

True, the international community has offered much needed aid in social development programmes, but it is pleasing that Africans are increasingly committed to tailor make African solutions, to African problems. It is up to Africans to nurture programmes and pride in African trade, in African scholarship, in African economics. The Commonwealth and IMF will of course assist; throw doses of praise, insults and a touch of economic arrogance at those who are slow to learn. One such lesson is that graduation to membership of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) club is, strictly speaking, not an achievement.

It is not idealism that macroeconomic stability is achievable in Africa. Good governance and people-centred social development programmes will help re-position the continent. Solid development programmes are much needed to alter and counter the professed "CNN Special Focus on Africa" as being fiscal deficits, triple digit inflation figures, multi-donor budgets, poverty, and external debt.

It is nonsense that Africans are raw people. The point of departure for any thinking global citizen should not be that political strife and suppressive regimes are particular to Africa. For if this is true, what are we to say to the embarrassing and puzzling chapters in history: Vietnam, Sarajevo, and the human and beast spectacles at the Colloseum in good old Rome? Africa has the potential to speedily outgrow its past; it is a pity the real world is not quite like in Harry Potter.

Nthikeng Mohlele

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