Conference to Discuss Strategies
Regional Conference to Discuss Strategies for
The challenges of building and consolidating democracy in Southern Africa will be in focus at a major regional conference to be held in Gaborone, Botswana on May 8-10. The conference, titled "Towards Sustainable Democratic Institutions in Southern Africa" is being organized jointly by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Government of Botswana and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary and Election Fora.
The conference will be officially opened by the President of the Republic of Botswana H.E. Festus G. Mogae.
Attending the conference will be representatives of governments, political parties and electoral commissions from the region, alongside a number of regional and inter-na-tional institutions. Speakers include Zimbabwean MP Margaret Dongo, SADC Elections Forum President Justice L. Makame, Danish Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Erik Fiil, and Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Lord David Steel of Aikwood.
Democracy in practice
The conference will address several of the key political issues in Southern Africa today. "Southern Africa has some of the world's best constitutions and institutions. But we have a problem in the region with translating democracy from theory into practice" says International IDEA Senior Executive Patrick Molutsi. "As a result, countries are facing a major challenge - how to make sure that political institutions become accepted as true pillars of a democratic culture."
The conference will focus on two institutions in which issues of legitimacy are particularly acute: electoral management bodies and political parties.
According to International IDEA Programme Director Professor Reg Austin, former Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Zimbabwe, regional electoral management bodies are facing a number of problems. First and foremost, in several countries a perceived lack of independence from the authorities under-mines their public credibility. The problems are further com-pounded by a lack of human and financial resources, which seriously impairs electoral bodies' ability to do their job properly. In addition there is a pressing need to inform the general public about the rules of the political process, especially in relation to elections.
When it comes to political parties, research has identified a number of problems. These include lack of institutionalization, lack of funding, gender inequality in the leadership, and in the case of opposition parties difficulties with providing alternative policies. Alongside a dearth of human and financial resources there is also what Molutsi describes as "ideological poverty - a failure to provide alternative, clear strategies for political development."
Women in politics
Cutting across discussions at the conference will be the broader issue of women's involvement in the region's political affairs. In terms of participation in the political process it is clear that women continue to be marginalized, particularly from leadership roles. In Southern Africa as in other regions, ensuring that women take their rightful place in politics is thus one of the key challenges for democratic development. According to Molutsi, this reality is reflected in the importance accorded the issue in the conference programme.
For International IDEA the Gaborone conference is a practical introduction to a region in which it already has firm support. "We have four member countries in the region - Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius - and this is the first event we have organized together with them and our other partners here", says International IDEA Secretary-General Bengt Säve-Söder-bergh. "We see that in varying ways the whole region is wrestling with the issue of translating elections and electoral processes into sustainable democracy. Much good work is being done by regional organizations - for example, SADC has already formally adopted a set of democratic principles."
"As an organization partly owned by countries in this region" he continues, "we see our role as supporting organizations such as SADC already working to promote sustainable democracy in the region. International IDEA aims to make available a broad range of practical choices and options for democratic development, and this is what we will be doing at the conference."
A Press Conference with several leading conference participants
will be held prior to the formal opening.
For further information contact: Monika Ericson or Andrew
Kowalchuk, International IDEA Secretariat, via the Grand Palm Hotel reception
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) was founded in February 1995. The Institute's overall objective is to promote and advance sustainable democracy world-wide and to improve and consolidate electoral processes. There are currently 19 member-states: Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, Mauritius, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay. There are also five associate members: International Federation of Journalists, International Press Institute, Parliamentarians for Global Action, the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights and Transparency International. International IDEA has formal agreements with the International Commission of Jurists, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations Development Programme, the Inter-American Development Bank, and co-operates closely with Switzerland.
For more information please contact:
Tel: +46 8 698 3700, Fax: +46 8 20 24 22
International IDEA, Strömsborg, S-103 34 Stockholm, Sweden