Presentation by Roel von Meijenfeldt
Executive Director Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD)

at the symposium Ten Years of Multipartism in Tanzania


Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the main lessons learned during the past – optimistic – decade about the possibilities of supporting democracy is that laying the foundations for democracy and good governance through institution-building support to electoral administrations, legislatures, judiciaries, media, civil service, or capacity building efforts directed at governance actors, do not generate democracy. Instrumental or procedural approaches to democracy support are not sufficient. Unless there is broad-based commitment to democracy within a society, which can only be achieved through dialogue and consensus-building about the institutional arrangements, democracy will not take root.

During the ‘first wave’ of democracy in the 19th century in the Western countries, democracy evolved as the outcome of a long process of struggle in what are now called established democracies. As a result, the democratic architecture in each of these countries is different, none inherently better than the other.

The countries that opted for a democratic system of governance in the ‘third wave’ of democracy towards the end of the Cold War period, have had to establish democracy in a limited time period . Democracy is no longer the outcome of a process but the explicit objective of reform processes. Democracy became the imperative form of governance during the past decade. The unfortunate result is that too often local accountability for the democratic reform process is geared towards the international donor community instead of the national constituency.

This year, the biggest democracy in the world, India, celebrates its fiftieth democracy anniversary. The lessons learned in the evolution of India’s democracy underlines the importance of what is referred to as the indigenization of democracy. It shows that local ownership is a necessary condition for reaching consensus on the idea of democracy among the people and the elite. The Indian historical process has followed no one’s script. It has therefore not produced neat outcomes. It leaves gaps, and produces contradictions. There is, in other words, no shortcut to developing and sustaining the principles of democracy except weaving every strand and tying every thread to assure that it is part of the belief and value system of the people.

Democracy support during the last decade has emphasized support for electoral processes, restricting democracy to competitive politics. Despite the value of this support, complementary attention – as the Indian historical development teaches – is required for processes that support the entrenchment of the accommodative functions of democracy (managing diversities) into the institutional and procedural frameworks.

Many of the countries that have recently engaged in democratic reform processes are still operating within frameworks inherited from their erstwhile colonial rulers. These frameworks were often used to consolidate the power-base of the new elites that gained independence without the adaptation through which India’s democracy has become entrenched, for example.

The majority of countries that introduced democracy during the 90s – in particular in sub-Saharan Africa – have, remained ‘illiberal’ democracies or democracies in form only. A ‘fourth’ wave of democratization is required for democracy to gain substantive meaning. It must focus on reconciling past causes of conflict and on new constitutional processes — with constitutions being viewed as the autobiographies of nations (South African Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs ) — and should combine the practice of inclusivity and accommodation with regular competition for elected office.

This ‘fourth’ wave of democratization should be different from the previous ones in that it would not necessarily emphasize the expansion of the number of countries turned to democracy but move to entrench democracies.

Democracy has to be generated from within societies, and hence outcomes will differ. It is then a paradox in a globalizing world that the definition of what constitutes a democracy appears to be shrinking. A check-list model of democracy has quickly taken over the global imagination, like a fashionable trend in the project and programme management culture of agencies in international cooperation. It leaves little room for plural conceptions or appreciation of different models of democracy.

The value of process, the time that is required for change without the system breaking down into violent conflict, the importance of indigenization (local ownership) of the idea and resulting institutions and procedures of governance, the need for more comprehensive and authentic analysis, all have implications for how democracy can and cannot be supported from the outside.

Timothy Garton Ash recently made the following interesting observation about the value of dialogue. Two hundred years ago, the mantra of the French revolution asserted that the goals justified the means. This resulted in numerous heads rolling down the guillotines. The lessons of the transitions in Eastern Europe, South Africa and Chile, is that the means used to drive the revolutions determine their outcomes. In these successful transitions, the revolutionary means was ‘dialogue’, and the dialogue processes resulted in peaceful transitions that prepared the way for new open societies with generally positive socio-economic performances.

The value of dialogue is increasingly recognized, see for example the recent EU communications on external relations, as the method to advance democracy both as objective of international cooperation and as instrument for ownership and sustainability of reform process and policies. The question is how this method can be applied in the provision of international assistance?

A number of authors have argued that democracy survived the 20th century on the skin of teeth given Bolshevism and Stalinism in Russia, fascism in Italy, nazism in Germany, militarism in Japan and apartheid in South Africa. These oppressive systems all destroyed individual rights and the process of self-governance. Armarthy Sen , the Nobel laureate for Economics, argues, however, that democracy as a system of governance has come out of the past century as the big winner for bringing peace, stability and prosperity. Prof. Sen recognizes the intrinsic value of democracy (the basic need of freedom and liberty), the instrumental value (making governments responsive to people’s needs) and, often overlooked, the constructive value of democracy.

The intrinsic value of democracy, the basic need of freedom and liberty, is a universally held value by cultures at each continent. The instrumental value of democracy was demonstrated by Sen in his research that over the past 50 years countries governed by democracy have not known famines. Simply because democratic governments are more responsive to the needs of their people and will, therefore, institute policies that prevent the occurrence of famine.

The constructive value refers to the political and social dialogue in democracies that allow values to be shaped, internalized and transmitted. Democracy as an objective as well as an instrument for nation building, for establishing a community of equals, for the generation of prosperity, and for the peaceful management of conflicts of interests. The success of democracy depends not only on the institutional forms that are adopted (important as they are), but also on the vigour of practice.

Amartya Sen has famously stated that ‘a country does not have to be judged to be fit for democracy, rather it has to become fit through democracy.

In this context, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be at and to participate in your conference. Tanzania is a country where 4 out of 5 citizens support democracy and where the majority of the population has high levels of trust (based on a comparison with other countries in sub-Sahara Africa) in government as was found in a survey conducted last year by AfroBarometer . I guess most of the participants will be familiar with this survey and the insights it offers to Tanzania’s transition process to democracy. One of the very encouraging findings is the very high extent in which Tanzanians identify themselves as Tanzanians. Tanzania’s internal stability during your post-colonial history, substantiated by the survey data of last year, is a remarkable achievement in many ways. It provides a conducive environment for the evolution of your democracy.

An important step along the road of entrenching democracy has been the recent political accord between CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) and the CUF (Civic United Front) on resolving the political crises in Zanzibar following the incidents of January 2001. This comprehensive accord, negotiated by the antagonists themselves, is in many ways exemplary in its comprehensiveness of dealing with the various dimensions of what could have become a very protracted and divisive conflict. It does not only address the concerns, but it improves the procedures and institutions vital for a functioning multiparty democracy, while the accord also arranges mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the accord.

By putting the agreement into practice, Tanzanian democracy shall be further consolidated. The accord is exemplary because it demonstrates that in democracies conflicts are addressed through peaceful deliberations based on the principles enshrined in the highest law of the land, the Constitution. Needless to say that peace and human security are the preconditions for successful socio-economic policies aimed at reducing poverty.

The importance of the indigenization of democracy for its success (albeit not without its problems and challenges) in India, is equally important for other young democracies like Tanzania. In the years since independence, your political system has gone through three major stages (the multiparty system at Independence in 1961 that lasted until 1965, the on-party state that lasted until 1992, and the return to multiparty democracy since that year) and your constitution has been adapted eight times. Your conference is testimony of an ongoing reflection on the institutions and practices that make-up your political system. Many countries in sub-Sahara Africa inherited forms of democracy from their former colonizers that may not accommodate the interests distinct to each country itself. In many countries constitutional reviews or electoral reforms are undertaken or contemplated aimed at better reflecting the diversity of the different societies.

One country that is successfully managing political reforms is Burkina Faso in West Africa. Last year, the country celebrated its tenth anniversary of the return to constitutional rule, after the post-independence period (from 1960 onwards) had been marked by 5 military coups. Since 1991, the country has successfully organized three parliamentary elections without being disrupted by military intervention. Yet, Burkina faced a serious political crises since 1998 with the opposition almost excluded from participating in the different levers of government. The President himself, Blaisse Compaore, conceded that his ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), was overrepresented in Parliament and the opposition underrepresented. In the parliamentary elections of 1997 for example, the CDF gained 76% of the popular vote but through the electoral system 94% of the seats in Parliament. The opposition parties gained 24% of the vote but only 6% of the seats. In the 111 seat Parliament this translated in 104 seats for the CDP and 7 seats for the opposition.

Following national dialogues, the electoral commission was given an impartial status and representative composition, a single ballot was introduced, and the electoral system was amended to ensure that the percentage of the vote would be translated fair in seats in the Parliament. The most recent Parliamentary elections in Burkina Faso saw a remarkable outcome. The CDF received 51% of the vote and gained after the electoral reform 57 seats in Parliament. The combined opposition won 49% of the vote and gained 54 seats in Parliament. This surprising result means that the government can continue to govern but that for the first time in its history the opposition has a substantial stake in the decision-making process.

Government was happy that this outcome was a sign of democratic maturity, while the opposition was happy that for the first time their voice can effectively be heard in Parliament. Without doubt, it will pose new challenges, but with the new African initiative NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development) proclaiming democracy as the aspiration for governance in Africa, it is interesting to share the positive examples of political reforms happening in countries in sub-Sahara Africa. The peaceful and democratic alternation of power in Senegal, Ghana and Mali should be added to such examples. All four examples are transitions or reforms driven by the political elites themselves and not because of a breakdown of the system.

In supporting democratic reform processes many lessons have been learned during the past ten years. One of them is, and I like to refer to a recent article in the Journal of Democracy by Thomas Carothers titled: The End of Transition Paradigm, that countries in transition from authoritarian systems of governments move by definition to democracies. Of the about 100 transitional countries of the last 10 years, probably fewer than 20 are clearly en route to become successful democracies. The remainder finds itself in a gray zone in which democracy remains shallow and troubled or practices power-politics in which the line between the state and the ruling party is blurred.

Another assumption of the transition paradigm is the notion that regular, genuine elections, will not only confer democratic legitimacy on new governments, but continuously deepen political participation and democratic accountability, has often come up short. In many transitional countries, regular, genuine elections are held but political participation beyond voting remains superficial and government accountability is weak. The wide gulf between political elites, government and opposition) and citizens in many of these countries turn out to be rooted structural conditions, such as the concentration of wealth or certain socio-cultural traditions, that elections themselves do not overcome.

Carothers also observes, that often electoral competition does little to stimulate the renovation or development of political parties in many gray-zone countries. Such profound pathologies as highly personalistic parties, transient and shifting parties, or stagnant patronage-based politics appear to be able to coexist for sustained periods with at least somewhat legitimate processes of political pluralism and competition.

Some of these general observations made for the whole group of countries in transition and not for Tanzania specific, appear to have some linkages to the situation in Tanzania if I may refer to the data of the AfroBarometer again. One of the outcomes of interest is that next to the high levels of trust Tanzanians express in the major governance institutions, their trust in political parties is relative low, 66%, compared to the other institutions. Only the police scored lower, 62%. It is an indicator that the link between political parties and the citizens is not as well developed yet.

The role and significance of well functioning political parties have been mainly neglected during the past 10 years in supporting political reform processes. Much attention has been given to electoral processes and election observation. Also, much international assistance has been channeled to civil society organizations and to good governance. But most if not all of that assistance neglected the importance of the role of Parliaments and, especially, the role of political parties. Yet, political parties in democracies are the linchpins between the state and the citizens. Parties translate interests within society into political platforms, negotiate peacefully about the conflicts of interest within societies, select and train future political leaders, and compete in regular elections. In addition, it is essential that parties mobilize the participation of citizens in public decision-making processes and ensure through internal democracy to be responsive to the needs of society.

Ivan Doherty has correctly observed that strengthening civic organizations, which represent the demand side of the political equation, without providing commensurate assistance to the political organizations that must aggregate the interests of those very groups, ultimately damages the democratic equilibrium.

While focusing on Tanzania, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to observe that some of the challenges in the functioning of political parties in young democracies are not uncommon in the established democracies as well. Being a Dutch citizen myself, the Netherlands recently experienced general elections that profoundly shook the traditional political parties on their foundations. Out of nothing a highly personalized grouping presented itself to the electorate and became the second biggest party in Parliament gaining itself a place in the next government. Although it can be seen as an asset that democracy allows for such innovations, it cannot be denied that the electorate expressed dissatisfaction with the way mainstream political parties function and have lost touch with their constituencies. It has triggered a serious debate about the democratic deficit in the Netherlands. Solutions advocated point in the direction of restoring the primacy of politics in era in which politics has been reduced to the technical or bureaucratic management of the state and of a revitalization of the political parties.

In fact, political parties in all regions around the globe are under pressure. Large sections of society view political parties as ineffective and out of touch with their needs. Parties in the older democracies experience an aging and dwindling membership. At the same time, support has risen for special interest groups and antiparty movements. In the age of mass media and information technology the role of political parties as channels between state and citizens has diminished while at the same time highlighting scandals and partisan corruption. It has given urgency to the need to modernize and democratize party structures.

The Institute for Multiparty democracy was established in 2000 by the political parties represented in the Dutch parliament, both from government and opposition. On a joint basis, the new Institute engages in partnerships with political parties in young democracies with the objective to share experiences with improving the functions and performance of political parties.
Also, IMD makes financial and technical resources available to assist political parties with institution- and capacity-building. The mandate is implemented collectively in order to be able to channel assistance impartially.

This model was first experiences with assistance to new South Africa during its first post-apartheid general elections in 1994. In an evaluation in 1999 of the support provided over the years, Nelson Mandela qualified the support as very useful and welcome. He encouraged the Dutch political parties to build on this experience and make similar support available to other young democracies. This resulted in the establishment of IMD and the expansion of our partnerships with other countries in Southern Africa, West Africa, Latin America and in South-East Asia.

In fact, IMD’s contribution to this symposium marks the first tangible result of the emerging cooperation with Tanzania. We hope it will be followed in the next few weeks with concrete contributions to programs identified by the political parties that are formally registered.

Ladies and Gentlemen, democracy is never a finished product, neither in established nor in young democracies. Democracy is not so much a noun but a verb. The challenge is to keep engaging in dialogues. Dialogues that include all stakeholders — as so many successful and peaceful transitions have demonstrated — with the objective to make democracy work better for the common good of all Tanzanians providing the conditions for reducing poverty and improving social justice.

This symposium offers such an opportunity for much needed dialogue. I like to congratulate the organizers with this initiative and wish the participants inspiration and success with your reflection on the important issues on the agenda of the symposium. I look forward to the outcome and hope that proposals and initiatives that may result from your deliberations will help to entrench multiparty democracy in Tanzania.

Institute for Multiparty Democracy (IMD)

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