Government of National Unity – back to the future?

Although I have wanted to write about this topic for a while, I had not found the moment or excuse, to do so. However, a piece of news known last week, has made this topic a bit more relevant. Last saturday an agreement was signed in Addis Abeba between the current President of Madagascar, AndrY Rajoelina, and his predecessor Marc Ravalomana, who Rajoelina brought down after a long political crisis last March. Through this agreement, supported by the UN and the AU, both politicians become «co-presidents» of the country. It is surprising here, the position of «co-president», but behind the title hides an institutional model which is becoming more common in the continent. I mean the formation of Governments of Nautional Unity (GNU), as a solution to serious political crises, which often have led to violence. While this solution is not unique to the continent – see the agreements reached in Honduras – the growing popularity of this alternative raises, at least, two series of interesting questions.
Current Madagascar President, Andry Rajoelina (photo AFP)
The first one, more immediately relevant to current affairs, revolves around the question of whether these solutions work, and whether they contribute to a better governence of the country. It is clear that these agreements bring stability to the country. This was the case for example in Kenya, where the agreement between Odinga and Kibaki served to bring an end to the post-electoral violence that caused over 1,000 deaths at the beginning of 2008. But, it needs to be asked whether the price paid for stability is not to high, and whether these agreements serve only to legitmise the continuity in power of leaders that have got (or have maintained themselves) there in a non-democratic manner- Thus, had the popular will, reflected in the votes, been respected in Kenya and Zimbabwe, Kibaki and Mugabe would have abandoned the government after the elections. However, through fraud and violence first, and the signing of GNU agreements after, both remain in power. Leaders like Rajoelina (or Micheletti in Honduras) reached power through the use of violence, and through these agreements achieve certain ligitimacy. It is neccesary then, to be critical with the use that political leaders seeking only to remain in powe, can make of these agreements.
Equally important to determine the extent to which these solutions can be positive, y to analyse the functioning of these GNUs, and their decisions. For example in Zimbabwe, the ZANU-MDC relations are dominated not only by a bitter rivaly, but also by mistrust – and this makes extremely difficult to reach any decision. Furthermore, despite having entered into the GNU, Mugabe continues attacking its functioning, arresting MDC members for example, something that has led Tsvangirai to boycott the agreement (although he backed down from this position later). Another important risk involved in the formation of a GNU is that the leaders of the main political parties (all included now in the government) may become complacent and clientelistic, and that this may lead to a lack of response to the demands from the population. The case of Kenya is particularly revealing: here, the political class, grouped around the Kibaki/odinga government has completely failed in clearing the political and criminal responsabilities for the violence in 2008, and has left this search for responsibilities on the hands of civil society and international institutions like the ICC. As we have mentioned before.
Zimbabwean PM, Morgan Tsvangirai (left), with the President, Robert Mugabe
A second series of questions around these GNUs is less direct, and refers to the model of government most adequate for the different African countries, and the preference for one or another showed by the different actors in the continent – the population, political leaders and the international community. It is particularly interesting the question of whether some of the elements of the political though of leaders of the African independence, like Nyerere or Kaunda, could re-emerge in the African political discourse some time in the future. And, it needs to be noted, the GNUs existing at the moment bear a striking resemblance with the wide coalitions formed by these leaders within their single-party governments. A model which these leaders/theoreticians defended for two reasons. First, as the best way of defending the national unity of these countries – and to contain what they considered a threat from a political pluralism which may give wings to ethnic and regionalist movements. And second, as a way of promoting a form of consensual democracy, not majoritarian, closer for these leadrs, to the ideal of democracy in precolonial Africa in which the «the Elders sit under the big tree and talk until they agree» (Nyerere). These ideas lost relevance in the 1970s as most African governments moved towards authoritarism, and disappeared completely under the wave of multi-party democracy that swept the country – with the support of the international community – in the 1990s.
It is clear that most leaders that promoted single party regimes, ended up doing this this as self-interested decisions, and that the ideas of precolonial democracry were largely idealised. But this should not deny the value of the ideas of «consensual democracy» defended by these leaders (and later by philosophers such as Kwasi Wiredu – in his «plea for a no-party polity), seeking a model for African democracy different to the Western one. Neither can this hide the fact that the democracy promoted – together with an eceonomic liberalisation – since the 1990s by different actors has barely resulted in large benefits for the majority of the african population. What is more, in many cases, the democratic transitions have constituted cosmetic reforms directed to an international audience. This has been pointed put brilliantly by the Nigerian political scientist Claude Aké in his book The Feasibility of Democracy in Africa, (Dakar,CODESRIA,2000),, in which he denounces the irrelevance and emptiness of the liberal democracy adopted by african governments – with great degree of international support (or pressure) – and contrasts this with the social democracy – guaranteeing not only political, but also economic rights – trully necessary, and for which the majority of the population fights.
Cover of C. Aké’s book.
In conclusion, the appearance of GNUs in diverse countries accross the continent constitutes in my opinion, an interesting process. There are clear risks – as we have pointed ou – which require attention regarding their functioning. But perhaps, if any of these experiments is successful and manges to give to these countries not only stability, but a real benefit for the majority of the population, it may be possible to establish a more open dialogue about the meaning of democracy in Africa, removed from the fetish of multi party elections. A dialogue in which there may be space for ideas that many may believe buried, about social democracy, the redistribution of economic benefits and in which there may be a greater freedom and creativity for the establishment of government institutions trully representative and adequate for the African continent
Un diálogo en el que quepan ideas que muchos quizás creían extinguidas, sobre la democracia social, la distribución de los recursos económicos, y en el que exista una mayor libertad y creatividad a la hora de establecer instituciones de gobierno verdaderamente representativas y adecuadas al continente africano.

2 respuestas a “Government of National Unity – back to the future?

  1. Elizabeth Gitungo mayo 21, 2010 / 8:17 am

    Thanks a lot for the insight you have give to people about GNU.

  2. nodfrey diciembre 8, 2010 / 10:41 am

    i need to know the meaning of government ofr national unity in africa and the factors whuch lead the formation of it

Deja una respuesta

Introduce tus datos o haz clic en un icono para iniciar sesión:

Logo de

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Salir /  Cambiar )

Foto de Facebook

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Facebook. Salir /  Cambiar )

Conectando a %s