KONRAD ADENAUER FOUNDATION CONFERENCE ON
DESIGNING THE FUTURE ALONG
DEMOCRATIC LINES -
PANEL DISCUSSION ON
THE THEME OF
BERLIN : JULY 25, 2002
At the outset I wish to thank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for having organised this Conference on themes which are, indeed, of world-wide importance at this critical juncture of our history. The world is rapidly globalizing into a unified village and yet it remains separated by sharp contrasts between countries which are shaped by the rule of law, a democratic government and the features of an open society on the one hand, and, on the other hand, those which are organised on the basis of authoritarian and totalitarian principles in a closed, repressive and undemocratic society. As countries, peoples and individuals come closer together on a world-wide scale, the conflicts between different systems of government become clearer and possibly inescapable.
Certain leaders and opinion-makers, many in my own continent of Africa, wish to characterise this conflict in ways which camouflage its real nature. This is not a conflict between religions, cultures or ways of life, nor is it between the North and the South, or even between developed countries and developing ones. In truth, this is a conflict between the forces of democracy and those which oppose democracy. It is a conflict between individual human rights, which vest in those who have the good fortune of living in an open society organised under the rule of law, and the power of ruling classes which, under the pretext of culture, religion, ancient traditions or fictitious economic plans, enslave their subjects, depriving them of the full measure of human rights protection.
Within this tension one could identify intermediary stages. There are countries labouring under the perception that their internal level of development only warrants a limited amount of human rights protection. I, for one, place this last set of countries squarely in the group of those which oppose the forces of democracy. Democracy is about doing away with the notion that a government grants rights to the population, and adopting the viewpoint that it is the citizenry who empowers and grants rights to the government. Therefore, a government’s ruling elite could not legitimately determine that its population is entitled to or capable of exercising only a lesser degree of human rights protection rather than the full measure of what is internationally acknowledged. The former apartheid regime in South Africa tried to foist by force a fraudulent system on the population of South Africa by pretending that there were citizens in South Africa who were entitled to human rights more than others, within the confines of cultural boundaries. They elevated the rule of man instead of the rule of law, in the process ignoring democracy, the rule of law and social justice. It was a repugnant system which was to be described by the United Nations as a crime against humanity. In dealing with this subject, it is not possible for me to address it without mentioning just where we South Africans have emerged from in less than ten years.
This is also a relevant consideration in assessing some of the situations which arise out of the rest of Africa, where, at times, the temptation arises to condone shortcomings in human rights protection on the basis that something has been achieved, even though it is not enough. There is the temptation to state that human rights protection in Africa should be assessed against "African standards", thereby imprisoning the concept of "Africa" to always denote inferiors standards. Human rights protection in Africa should be assessed against the highest applicable standards, because any accommodation or compromise in the end defeats Africa’s own goals of development and dreams of democracy. I was quite appalled when I attended the recent OAU/African Union Summit in Durban to hear a few views from some Heads of State saying that we in Africa do not want to be treated by some in the West as if we can be taught something about democracy, and that in Africa we have our own form of democracy.
We must accept that there is a problem when a system of government determines how much of what should be regarded as God-given fundamental rights, its population is actually allowed to enjoy. This is at the core of authoritarianism and paternalistic attitudes which turn upside down the dynamics of democracy and, in the final analysis, hold the promise of future undemocratic involutions often typical of the African context. Therefore, in promoting democracy in developing countries, especially within the African context, it is essential that at the very outset it is recognised that no compromise is acceptable in implementing the full measure of human rights protection when constructing an open society.
However, if the struggle for world-wide democracy is to succeed, we need to realise that it is necessary to promote more than the mere establishment of a democratically elected government and the recognition of human rights in any given country. For many years, and throughout the world, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation has been a leader in promoting the awareness of the broader meaning of democracy, and has performed a task of enormous value for the whole of mankind. This very Conference is a fine example, as it correctly places emphasis on the rule of law as the constituting element of a system which implements human rights and protects democracy.
To many Western democracies it may sound pleonastic to place emphasis on the rule of law once a democracy is established under a constitution which promotes the full measure of human rights protection. It almost feels that the rule of law would follow naturally from free and fair elections having been held and the empowerment of a government which does not breach the so-called first generation human rights and undertakes a sufficient measure to implement those which are generally referred to as second generation human rights, such as the right to health, to a clean environment, et cetera.
However, in my opinion, within the context of developing countries, the most fundamental aspect of the struggle for the consolidation of the rule of law is that of promoting an actual culture and generalised awareness amongst the citizens that they are the final sovereigns. It is a matter of empowering individuals by lowering the stature and the importance of those who are in power. This may seem a strange statement coming from somebody like myself who has borne the responsibility of government at the highest level for almost half a century. Because of my background, I can see the dynamics which often do not allow the new seeds of democracy to germinate out of the soil in which authoritarianism, repression and the features of a closed and segregated society, have found fertile ground in the past.
A few examples may clarify the issue and its importance. In many Western democracies the notion of a State as a separate and distinct entity from the political system or from the religious establishment, is entrenched in the collective mind and generally accepted and recognised by citizens at all levels of society. On this basis, it is possible to implement fundamental aspects of democracy, such as the separation of the State from political parties or from the church establishment. However, in an African context, the notion of the State is still an abstraction beyond the reach of the majority of our population.
Historically, our population is less used to dealing with abstract notions and even our own language utilizes abstractions to a lesser degree than, for instance, the English or German languages. This results in the common perception amongst the vast illiterate or semi-literate segments of our population that when they receive services such as pensions, housing subsidies or even basic services such as electricity and sanitation, which are lacking in many of our areas, these services are delivered to them by the President of the country or by political leaders. There is little perception that in fact these services are delivered to them by the State and that the recipients are entitled to them.
There is little understanding that the purpose of politicians is that of serving in the State and making it operate as a machinery which delivers to clients who are entitled to its services. Political representatives are often seen as the State. Because of this syndrome it becomes difficult to put in place basic mechanisms of democracy which would enable today’s political minorities to become future governments. People give allegiance to those from whom they understand provide services delivery, which makes it extremely difficult to substitute the rule of man with the rule of law. We still need to make giant strides to ensure that the majority of our electorate understands that it has the power to fire the incumbents in power if it is dissatisfied with them. The consolidation of the rule of law requires cutting down to size the rule of man and empowering a creation of law, the State, to visibly take the place of old-style leaders.
Often elections are perceived as an act of homage and pledge of allegiance to those who are in power, rather than the contract from which those who are in power receive their entitlement. The notion that elected representatives are, indeed, the servants of the people can only be implemented once the people achieve and accept the understanding that they are the masters in this equation and that they exercise the powers of a master without fear. Until this takes place in the collective minds, the best constitutions and bill of rights may remain ineffective. In the end, the rule of law, democracy and the protection of human rights, depend on education, education and education. It is concerning that often developing countries place less emphasis on civic education than developed countries where the citizenry is more aware if its rights. For as long as vast segments of developing countries’ populations lie under the yoke of ignorance for lack of education, knowledge and exposure, the mechanisms of democracy cannot work, because people are not empowered to become citizens who can act on the rule of law.
The rule of law needs many friends and can flourish only in an open society in which there is a variety of vested interests and a plurality of outspoken, active and - why not - militant, viewpoints which can contend for primacy within the parameters of an established and accepted constitutional framework. Even in South Africa, we face the temptation of this tendency towards establishing a single centre of power at the national level and within the circles of the ruling party. From this centre a uniform and levelling conveyor belt of instructions, policies and guidelines is transmitted not only into all branches, levels and spheres of government, but also throughout society.
Because of the very pressures of the challenges of development, the temptation exists to centralize within government -- and effectively within the few who hold and pull its strings -- as much power, influence and control as possible so that it can influence the totality of aspects of society. There is a tendency to bring entities of civil society and other vested interests within the fold of this process, making them an organ of an integrated process. These tendencies to reach into every aspect of society are the seeds of totalitarianism, because, by definition, a totalitarian regime is one which, irrespective of its democratic nature, tends to reach into and control through its actions and policies the totality of society.
The rule of law should counter this tendency, recognising the neutrality of the law as a tool of empowerment of vested interest within society to enable them to pursue their own agenda. There is need to promote a pluralistic system in which the free dialectics of conflicting interests within society moves the whole forward, allows the economy to grow and ensures the full implementation of human rights. However, this type of dialectic is looked upon with suspicion as a threat to power. It is essential that in developing countries, people who for centuries have been subject to others and have known nothing of their rights, finally become citizens and consumers. To this end, they need to break their allegiance to a single centre of power and begin shifting from allegiance to men, to the formation of opinion and preferences, as citizens do in respect of political parties or consumers do in respect of products.
The power to choose is, indeed, the power to dissent and this power is first and foremost generated within the individual self-awareness of citizens within the context of their society. It is a matter of empowering citizens within their families, communities and work-places to understand the full measure of their rights as well as their responsibilities. As you know, throughout my life I have believed in federalism, pluralism and empowering people with the right to choose. I think that this is going to be the greatest challenge which the forces of democracy will encounter and will need to overcome in their struggle to free developing countries from the many forces which, throughout the world, are still opposing democracy.
Such opposition to democracy, as has been correctly highlighted throughout this Conference, is opposition to a development of countries and people who desperately need and are entitled to development. In the end, it is a threat to peace and world-wide progress. Therefore, at this crucial juncture of our history, we cannot allow any indulgence, hesitance or compromise in bringing forward the agenda of democracy as quickly as possible, because the people of the world can no longer wait for democracy, nor for development and progress.
The world is moving at too fast a pace and unless people in the world who are sidelined by under-development and a lack of democracy are brought back into the mainstream of development, the promises of globalization may turn into a threat of permanent isolation from the benefits flowing from the enormous leaps forward which mankind has now undertaken.
Within this context, even issues such as cultural diversity and the protection of so-called fourth generation human rights, the very illusive group rights, need to be requalified. There is no doubt that everyone is entitled to exercise his personal choices in respect of any matter of culture, religion, traditions or lifestyle. There is also no doubt that the exercise of such rights must be allowed not only on an individual basis but also on an associative basis. However, all the issues relating to these rights fall squarely within the parameters of the application of an advanced Bill of Rights. As such, their implementation hinges on the rule of law, the broadening of democracy and the empowering of people as citizens and consumers.
However, if we were to move one step forwards within the realm of group rights, which are said to vest not in the individual but rather in the group -- whether it is a religious, ethnic or cultural group -— we find ourselves in a posture which is becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain in a situation in which forces of democracy clash with those who oppose them. Conceptually, democrats such as myself are all in favour of recognising group rights, but only to the extent that they free people and enable them to exercise individual rights not otherwise available to them. I am not in favour of a notion of group rights which enable group leaders to curtail individual rights.
Therefore, in the final analysis we must recognise that the implementation of human rights across cultural boundaries becomes a major problem only if one places undue emphasis on the respect of cultural boundaries. Culture is about empowering people, not about limiting them. Cultures which become a hindrance to the implementation of human rights are often used to shield or camouflage power which oppresses people. As leaders, we bear the final responsibility of being remembered as those who moved our people forwards on the path of freedom, development, empowerment and prosperity.
I believe that as we move forwards in implementing democracy and human rights protection and create a more generalised understanding of the features and dynamics of democracy in a globalizing world, it will become easier to deal with issues which arise within cultural boundaries rather than across cultural boundaries. Across cultural boundaries we all share the same features of our common humanity, as equal children of the same God.