Arusha. Four former African heads of state and governments have named the desire for an economically prosperous and politically stable continent among the chief motivations for supporting the ongoing drive for democracy in the world’s second-largest continent.
The leaders, which include Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano, Sierra Leon’s Ernest Bai Koroma, and Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, shared their motivations Tuesday during a press conference in the city after a two-day retreat at the Gran Melia Hotel.
Known as ‘Elders Retreat on the State of Democracy in Africa,’ the occasion provided the former leaders to engage with experts and scholars working on several issues of concern, including the state of democracy in the continent and ways to improve it.
The retreat, inaugurated by President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Monday, is part of the activities of this year’s Drive for Democracy Conference, a joint initiative by the Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL), Institute for Security Studies (ISS), and MS Training and Centre for Development Cooperation.
Following two days of engagement, the elders held a press conference Tuesday where, among other things, they explained why their participation in the movements to promote democracy in Africa matters, with some of them pointing out that while they’ve retired, they’re not tired.
President Kikwete, for example, who served as Tanzania’s fourth head of state, explained that the role of former leaders’ participation in democracy promotion activities in Africa could not be overemphasised, noting that the leaders are best placed to share experiences with sitting leaders on matters of governance.
“All of us here [former leaders] have this experience that we have always benefitted from the advice of those who had been in these offices before us,” Mr Kikwete said. “So, we are simply calling those in office now, at the continental level, to also benefit from the experience of those who have been in those offices before.”
Mr Kikwete, who led Tanzania from 2005 to 2015, added that there is an advantage of being outside the office, which includes the ability to say what those in offices cannot say.
“We have that liberty,” the former leader said. “We can talk to our peers and tell them, ‘Hey, this is not right, please. You could do this.’ We discussed so many things [during the retreat]. We looked at the state of democracy in the continent, [looking at] ways to improve it.”
According to the 2022 Mo Ibrahim Index on African governance, despite the progress made in establishing multiparty democracy and democratic values, there are still many obstacles to genuine political participation due to legal restrictions and economic burdens.
One chilling development that the elders have expressed concern about is the speed at which military coups have occurred in several parts of Africa, necessitating collective efforts aimed at democratic renewal.
This development has gone hand in hand with the tolerance shown by young Africans for military intervention as a 2022 study by Afrobarometer, a comparative series of public attitude surveys that assess African citizens’ attitudes to democracy and governance.
Afrobarometer findings from 28 African countries surveyed in 2021-2022 show that only 43 per cent of adults say that militaries should never intervene in politics, while 53 per cent are willing to countenance this option if elected leaders abuse power.
President Koroma told journalists Tuesday that addressing this and other challenges related to governance should be everyone’s role, which includes former leaders whose experience he said is invaluable if the efforts are to succeed.
“Activists can be out there; they have all the answers,” Mr Koroma, the chairperson of the Africa Drive for Democracy Initiative, said. “But [the activists] have not been through the experience we have been through. We can engage with them and develop recommendations to help even sitting presidents.”
Koroma’s analysis was also backed up by his Mozambican counterpart, Chissano, who pointed out that former African leaders should support the continent’s democratisation efforts because they are living in the continent.
“We are doing this because we want to see that what we started doing [while in offices] continue [under current leaders],” President Chissano said during the press conference. “It should be so, even if the issues take some corrections, but they must continue.”
However, he warns that does not mean former leaders should impose their leadership philosophies on sitting heads of state and governments. Instead, he thinks the former leaders’ experience can be a tool that current leaders can use to better their respective nations.
Looking for solutions
On his part, the former Ethiopian prime minister Desalegn said he is joining the efforts to promote democracy in Africa because the continent is still reeling from poverty, with its unemployed youthful population forcing everyone to look for solutions to prevent a looming disaster.
“When you are a sitting president, you [tend to] have a lot on your plate,” Mr Desalegn said. “This, sometimes, forces the leader to lose sight of prioritising some things. Being part of the [democratisation] process gives me confidence that I can reduce that.”
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It is this collective wisdom and imagination that the organisers of the Elders’ Retreat on the State of Democracy intended to harvest as part of continental efforts to build pathways for renewed and sustained democracy in Africa.
The retreat sought to revive the commitment to finding African Solutions to African Problems as enshrined in the Vision 2063 of the African Union (AU), building on previous successes and failures in seeking homegrown solutions.
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.