Roughly 25 years following the beginning of watershed changes in the world political arena triggered by the wave of democratic reforms in the late 1980s, there are at present only very few countries in Africa that do not have multi-party political systems and stage regular elections. Nevertheless, the euphoria at the outset of the "second democratisation", hailed as an irreversible transition towards democracy, has long since given way to a more sober assessment. Old or new autocratic practices of rule can be discerned behind a facade of formal democratic institutions in many African countries. Terms such as "defective democracy” or "autocratic democracy" have been coined to describe these new systems and the incomplete nature of democratic development in Africa.
In many countries of Africa, there is a gaping discrepancy between formal democratic requirements existing on paper (fundamental rights, elections, multi-party systems, separation of powers) and realities belying often dysfunctional political systems. A definition of democracy that is solely based on elections and democratic institutions is therefore inadequate. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's efforts to foster and promote democracy takes this into account.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's work on democracy
Freedom of speech and information are vested human rights and at the heart of any democratic society. These are prerequisites for political and cultural participation and the foundations for media to be able to perform its role as a public instrument of criticism and to exercise checks and controls on government power.
In many countries of Africa, however, numerous laws stand in opposition to freedom of speech and information. Far-reaching national security laws are for example a favourite ploy with which to side-step publication and disclosure obligations. Moreover, freedom of speech and information are constrained by political and/or economic pressure on media institutions. Journalists are frequently subjected to (or threatened with) physical violence. Deficient quality in reporting and failure to uphold professional journalistic standards are used as a pretext by governments to place shackles on the media.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's media project for Sub-Sahara Africa, whose head offices are located in Windhoek, Namibia, therefore acts to promote freedom of information and the media and exercises its influence so that the media can exercise its function of democratic checks and controls in an effective manner.
For more information on our media projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, visit www.fesmedia-africa.org
Tina Hennecken Andreade