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The Promotion of Democracy in Third World Countries


Sooner or later even authoritarian regimes must realize that progress will "mow them down" because demands for the rule of law and democratization cannot be suppressed in the long run. (Willy Brandt 1990).

The end of the East-West conflict not only increased the international pressure on Third World countries to risk a greater measure of democracy. It has also given the population of these countries the chance of participating in decisions as a result of the increased democratization. People nowadays increasingly demand more democracy.

A democratic system cannot exhaust its possibilities in the holding of elections every four years to choose a government. To be genuine, democracy requires the continuous and active participation of large sections of the population in social and political decisions. Nor can the political life of a country be determined exclusively by a central government. The various groups in society must have the opportunity to form their own organizations, and to attempt to further their own interests. They must be able to formulate and press their demands, and to criticize government policies.

Only a civil society of this kind can ensure that there is real control of government power within a democratically constituted state, that minorities are protected, that human rights are observed, that the rights of women are strengthened, that a market economy is truly social, and that the rule of law is preserved.

The FES aims at promoting democracy by strengthening the civil society in the countries of the Third World. Since it is, as a rule, difficult for social groups to make their views felt vis-a-vis governments, the main emphasis of the Foundation's work is put on cooperating with these groups, with the purpose of strengthening their function within the interplay of social forces.

This basic understanding has led FES to enter into cooperation, depending on the situation of the host country, with trade unions, human rights groups, women and environmental groups, with independent media and organizations of small and medium-sized industry as well as with confederations of industry, scientific institutions and political parties. To promote this cooperation, it is necessary initially to agree on a common programme and, with it, the existence of basic common values with regard to socio-political developments. Through seminars, workshops and conferences, through sending advisors, and by means of publications, attempts are made to improve the work of the partners and to strengthen their ability to participate in socio-political discussions with the necessary qualifications to do so.

At the same time, however, our attention is directed towards consulting in the host countries at important turning points in the political development. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has exerted influence on processes involving the drawing up of constitutions, either by sending experts or by supporting national discussion processes; it has cooperated with national parliaments in order to improve their work; it cooperates with political parties to strengthen their roles as catalysts of various opinions in their countries; (we are concerned with the strengthening of the parliamentary system as a whole and not with the promotion of individual parties). The Foundation has taken part in efforts to decentralize which have emerged in many countries after the phase of failure of centralization; and it has worked together with governments on the subject of good governance and accountability, in order to make their work more effective.

The measures taken by the Foundation at a national level are supplementary to those taken with social groups. Democratization based on a civil society can only be successful if on the one hand the social groups are capable of pursuing their interests, and if on the other hand governmental institutions are able to recognize the chances for the development of their countries inherent in integrating these groups.

Since conflicts of interest necessarily arise in all societies between individual groups, it is possible to balance these only by means of democratic mechanisms. This basic social consensus about the democratic handling of conflicting interests is a necessary condition of any further development; where it does not exist, weaker members will be suppressed and violent conflict will occur, but there will be no real development.

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Project Example:
Cooperation of FES with the Eastern Cape
and Eastern Transvaal - a Contribution to Federalism in South Africa

With the coming into force of the temporary constitution and the elections in April 1994 a federal system could be implemented in South Africa, poorly developed though it was. The four former white provinces, the black homelands and the "independent homelands" were replaced by nine provinces, each with a prime minister and an elected provincial parliament.

As early as 1993 FES was advising the ANC and its constitutional commission in the process of drafting sections of the constitution concerned with the territorial reshaping of South Africa by holding seminars, by sending experts and by means of information programmes in the Federal Republic. At the request of the ANC, FES concentrated its efforts regarding the constitution of the new provinces initially on the Eastern Cape and Eastern Transvaal.

At the beginning of 1994, the ANC candidates for the office of prime minister in these two provinces visited the Federal Republic to gather information about the structure of the executive bodies. In April and in June, FES sent short-term experts who advised the new executive bodies on establishing provincial administrations. In June there was also an intensive information programme for the press spokesmen and the heads of the press offices in the two provinces.

These measures were prepared and complemented by advisory discussions, workshops and seminars in South Africa, for example a seminar on the subject of "Public Sector Transformation" in April and various workshops on activities in local politics.

Measures to promote the regional economies, above all for the SMI sectors, could be extended in September by a study tour of economic experts from all the nine provinces to the Federal Republic.

In November our office in Johannesburg held a conference on "South Africa's Intergovernmental Relations". A German expert spoke on "Vertical Institutions in the Relationships between Federation and Federal States in Germany" and "Horizontal Cooperation between the German Federal States".

In December the two Ministers of Economic Affairs of the two provinces visited the Federal Republic and met their colleagues in Northrhine-Westfalia to learn about the instruments available to provincial governments to promote the economy.


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©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition mv&ola | August 1997