The SI Africa Committee met on 15-16 November 2019 in Praia, Cabo Verde, hosted by the SI member African Party of Cabo Verde’s Independence (PAICV).
The meeting opened at the National Assembly of Cabo Verde. SI Secretary General Luis Ayala began by paying tribute to Ousmane Tanor Dieng, the former leader of the Socialist Party of Senegal, SI vice-president and a former chair of the Africa Committee, who passed away on 15 July 2019. Tanor Dieng was a much respected and cherished figure within the global community of social democrats, deeply engaged in the work of the SI and the pursuit of a better future for his country. A minute of silence was held in his honour.
In her opening address, Janira Hopffer Almada, leader of PAICV and vice-president of the SI, welcomed all delegates to Cabo Verde and expressed her satisfaction and honour to hold the event in her home country. She considered that democracy was going through a difficult moment and was in need of attention, with it being in particular a decisive moment for democracy in Africa. Though the process of decolonisation had seen the victory of the liberation movements, the end of this process needed to be the consolidation of democracy, with participation and cooperation on a political level. She also touched on the fundamental challenge of climate change. This threatens the future of all people, but is particularly pertinent for small island countries, for which it is a major priority.
In his opening remarks, Luis Ayala spoke of his pride at the presence of Pedro Pires and José Maria Neves, two towering figures in the political history of Cabo Verde, whose work was being carried on by Janira Hopffer Almada. He reflected on the history of the SI, which after its formation in 1951 as a predominantly European organisation, had later taken on a new energy and an expanded membership in the following decades at the time of the fight against colonialism in Africa, in support of the national liberation movements and the struggle against dictatorships and authoritarian regimes elsewhere, transforming itself into a truly global organisation. The major struggles now were against nationalism and populism, and neoliberalism under which the super-rich prospered while the conditions of the poorest got worse. The members of the SI were internationalists, who wanted to globalise democracy, equality and opportunity.
Among the delegates were every one of the elected vice-presidents of the SI from Africa, bringing a wealth of expertise and experience to the proceedings in the contributions they made. In addition to the leader of the host party, the meeting was attended by Julião Mateus Paulo (Angola, MPLA), Chantal Kambiwa (Cameroon, SDF), Johnson Asiedu Nketiah (Ghana, NDC), Bokary Treta (Mali, RPM), Ahmed Ould Daddah (Mauritania, RFD) and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana (Namibia, SWAPO).
Many of the contributions made by delegates were of great pertinence to the main theme of strengthening democracy and democratic institutions in Africa. The reports received from the countries of the region gave a contrasting picture, with both successes and setbacks for democracy and its institutions in recent times. The host country, Cabo Verde, was put forward as an example of what could be achieved in terms of development in an African country where a multi-party system with the conditions for the stable transfer of power existed, and was a leading country in the region in terms of higher education and infrastructure. Senegal was another country with a strong democratic tradition, where peaceful transitions of power had taken place. Since the change of leadership in 2012, socialist priorities such as infrastructure development had started to take place.
Important changes had occurred in Angola in the last two years, where a new president had been elected with an overwhelming majority. There, the oil price had directly affected the country, and the new president was focused on searching for new investment, diversifying the economy and fighting corruption, nepotism and relationships which did not benefit Angola. In São Tomé and Príncipe, after a number of years in opposition, the MLSTP/PSD had returned to power in a coalition following the elections of 2018. One of the major challenges it faced was combating instability and consolidating democracy in order to be able to take steps for development, and the new government was taking important actions by beginning work on new transport infrastructure in 2020. The Committee also heard that after a long struggle, the Democratic Republic of Congo had succeeded in finding democracy, although the constitution needed re-writing to give the people their full rights. SI-member PALU wanted to learn from the experiences of other African parties in order to build its organisation and get its ideology across to the people.
In Namibia, the SI-member SWAPO was for the first time since liberation facing formidable opposition. Rapidly rising unemployment and apparent irregularities meant that an independent candidate for president had gained a lot of support, as the government was perceived not to have lived up to the promises it had made to its people. In a report on the situation in Ghana, where democratic achievements had been rolled back, the Committee was given a warning that democracy could not be taken for granted. There, the incumbent government, which had taken control of the electoral commission, was recruiting militias and incorporating them into state security in advance of elections in 2020. The Committee was further warned of a severe threat to democracy in Cameroon, where a crisis in the anglophone regions of the country had led to a risk of war. The integrity of the elections was undermined by the lack of administration in those regions, which would create problems for all those born there, potentially making the elections a source of further conflict for the country.
The façade of democracy was identified as a major problem in Chad, where the president has been in power for over 30 years, using the military to keep power and refusing dialogue, governing by decree even when the national assembly was in session. Under these challenging conditions the SI-member UNDR was preparing to contest legislative elections in 2020. A similar dynamic exists in Djibouti, where since independence the opposition has never been given the opportunity to come to power. The SI-member MRD reported that it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, but recent regional developments such as the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea and hopes for a democratic breakthrough there could have a positive influence on Djibouti. The FFS of Algeria described a struggle for a state of law, democracy and gender equality in face of restrictions, control of elections and corruption by the regime. The opposition lacked access to the media, but expressed its pride in the popular revolution taking place in Algeria, urging the SI to support popular movements across the world.
A number of participants underlined that it was necessary for members to be vigilant and to raise the alert when a party in power did not live up to the democratic values and expectations of the organisation, even in difficult situations where it involved sister parties and friends. In this context, the situation in Guinea was of great concern to the Committee, where the President was seeking to change the constitution to allow his re-election and in reaction the country has suffered violent street protests.
In Niger, the incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou of the SI-member PNDS had committed to not seeking a third term, respecting the constitution and reinforcing African democracy in the process, and his tenure in office was widely perceived as an example of good governance.
A number of the countries in Africa in which the SI has member parties continue to be touched by conflict, and this was covered in depth under the theme of ‘Resolving conflicts and securing peace to ensure progress and development for the benefit of the peoples of Africa’. As long as conflict persists, efforts are forced solely on winning peace, which jeopardises progress and development in other areas. One such country that has suffered greatly in this regard has been Sudan, represented for the first time at a meeting of the SI by the SLM. The Committee heard that the end of the military regime had not solved the problems of the country. Independent armed forces continued to operate and are destabilising the country, making peace still a priority in order to deal with the problems created by the former regime.
The Sahel region continues to face major threats to peace and security from terrorist forces, as outlined by delegates from Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Senegal, among others. The contributions on this grave threat to regional peace called for more solidarity from the international community to deal with the lack of development and opportunities that cause and exacerbate insecurity in the region. The Sahel is a key to security in Africa and the entire world, and such a multidimensional crisis requires joint solutions. Parts of the territory have become a no man’s land favourable to drug traffickers.
For a country such as Mauritania, the opposition RFD was struggling to bring about change through a process of evolution rather than revolution, and considered a spirit of cooperation between the countries of the Sahel would help to reinforce the strong human and cultural links in the region. This partnership could transform perspectives on the current security situation and set an important example for the continent. Representatives from Mali also stressed the importance of regional cooperation and the work done to stabilise the country, which was suffering from a complex crisis since the 2012 rebellion by a group that wanted to detach a part of the Malian territory. The only response was the full realisation of the democratic project, through which the multi-secular population of Mali could continue to live without exclusion or stigmatisation.
The lack of peace and security in many parts of the continent are a major driving force behind the migration flows through Africa and across the Mediterranean. This phenomenon had an impact on many countries including Morocco, which while facing internal problems such as youth unemployment and healthcare provision, could not also act as the gendarme of Europe, The USFP called for the question of Western Sahara to be treated under the auspices of the UN, with the participation of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front.
The Committee received a report on the recent regional meeting of SI Women held in Niamey, with the participation of the SI secretary general. This meeting was an opportunity for SIW to analyse the question of parity in Africa, in connection with the African Union's Agenda 2063 "the Africa we want", particularly in regards to political participation, conflict management and peace and security processes as well as land management, and to underline that female autonomy was a prerequisite for sustainable development.
Those represented at the meeting faced both common challenges and unique national situations. Despite diverse circumstances, there was a shared sense of optimism for the future potential that could be unlocked in Africa through good governance with social democratic values. With the right leadership, solid democratic foundations, cooperation within and between nations, Africa will be well placed to take advantage of its natural resources in a sustainable way that ensures prosperity for many future generations. SI member parties had been fundamental to the liberation struggles and the establishment of democracy across Africa, and the SI will continue to have a crucial role by facilitating dialogue and ensuring that all of its member parties can draw benefit from the collective strength and experience of the organisation.
In addition to its working agenda and the exchanges on the state of social democracy in Africa, the Committee had the task of electing a new chair in accordance with the decisions of the last two SI Council meetings in Geneva and Santo Domingo. Following consultations involving all the SI vice-presidents from the region, a consensus was reached that Bokary Treta (Mali, RPM), SI vice-president, should take on the responsibility of chairing the Committee for the remainder of the inter-Congress period, in accordance with the statutes of the SI. His candidacy was accepted by the Committee by acclamation and he thanked those present for their faith in him, adding that the Committee could count on his commitment.