Volume 19 Number 5
No Time to Dance the Tango
01 October 2006

Themon Djaksam joins Africans from across the continent to address the issues of corruption and good governance.

PEOPLE FROM 24 AFRICAN countries converged on Caux in August to attend 'An Honest Dialogue for a Clean and Just Africa'. The conference brought together 463 delegates from 70 countries in every corner of the globe: from Alaska to the Cape Peninsula in South Africa,and from Australia to Chile. Among them were participants in the Global Indigenous Dialogue (see p 17), which took place in the framework of the conference.

The conference was opened, in English and French, by Cornelio Sommaruga, President of Initiatives of Change International. 'Gathered here in this unique conference centre, we cannot live in isolation,' he said. 'We have to look further than Lake Geneva and the Alps. We have to look at the world and appreciate constantly the actuality of the international situation.'

He was followed by Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano in Nigeria, who spoke in Hausa, one of Nigeria's three main languages. 'Africa today is at a critical point where many more nations are embracing the democratic process,' he said. 'The big challenge is how do we sustain this process and maintain the basic principles of freedom and democracy.' Africa could draw on its raditions to teach the world how to care for one another and co-exist.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced 'an invisible tsunami' every six months, for years, said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, in his keynote speech. A former Prime Minister of Portugal, Guterres condemned the marginalisation of Africa in the world's media. 'Money follows the TV pictures,' he said. 'But in a globalised world, we cannot afford to leave one continent behind.'

In response to this drastic situation, Guterres called for massive investment in people, in education and training, in conflict resolution, and in the 'software of democracy'. Although war had come to an end in several countries, he said, 'a bridge had never been built to a working democracy with viable institutions'. In Liberia, for example, teachers earned less than £1 a day and there was no running water or electricity in the capital—yet the country was still repaying loans to the World Bank.

A year ago, Guterres continued, he had been optimistic about Africa, with progress in Sierra Leone, Angola, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 'Now, with the situation in Darfur, Chad and Eritrea, it is harder to remain upbeat.' He concluded, 'We cannot let the indifference go on; it is a duty for mankind.'

Each day started with a morning reflection, led by the participants in the Global Indigenous Dialogue. Then the conference proper got under way, with its format of plenaries and working groups. The first plenary focused on the major theme of corruption and good governance. Speakers included the Archbishop of Kigali, Rwanda, Emmanuel Kolini Mbona, and Dr Reuel Khoza, current Chairman of South Africa's Nedbank and former Chairman of the electricity giant, ESKOM. Said Khoza: 'Corruption is not a solo act, it is a tango. We talk a lot about corruptees, but there are many willing corrupters to corrupt us.' Addressing how to tackle the scourge, Paramount Chief Massa Yali Tham of Sierra Leone stated: 'Give people jobs and corruption will go away.'

Lucy Koechlin, a lecturer at the University of Basel and Vice President of the Swiss chapter of Transparency International, sounded a chilling note when she presented a world map of corruption. 'Corruption kills,' she said. 'Doctors, policemen, teachers who don't do their work produce at least as much damage as "big corruption".' Echoing a well-established mantra of Initiatives of Change that change begins with each one of us, she said: 'We all need to fight corruption, we cannot just blame multinational companies or governments.'

In the remaining days of the conference, participants described the situation in their countries: from Sudan, where the war in the Darfur region is nowhere near reaching an end, to Uganda, which stands as a shining example to be emulated in the fight against the AIDS pandemic. Somalia is about to enter its second decade without a central government, yet the country's elecommunication and banking systems are among the best on the continent, thanks to the determination of local citizens and the diaspora. Farmers described their efforts to increase production at village level: such as the Kenyan milk cooperative which started out with 210 members in 2002 and now has 5,000. Daily milk production had gone up from 4,500 litres to 20,000, said Duncan Nduhui Karinga, one of its founders. 'The face of my village has changed.'

The conference ended, as it started, with a compelling address, this time from Nigerian Msgr Fortunatus Nwachukwu, a member of the Permanent Mission of the Holy Sea to the United Nations in Geneva. He deplored the effects of 'centuries of imposed or accepted slavery' which made most Africans consider themselves as 'good enough only for second pipers'. He attacked the way Africans underrated each other. 'How can Africans justly expect others to give them that which they do not give themselves?' he asked. Africa, he urged, was not a failure, but a continent on its way. 'It is time for us to begin a new Africa,' he said. 'We talk, but let's do it.'

Two stories

'When the victim is ready to take the first step, reconciliation becomes possible,' said Mathilde Kayitesi, who lost her father in the Rwandan genocide. Now the coordinator of a women's organisation for peace education and conflict resolution, Kayitesi spent 20 years in exile. Until 2004, she was a member of Rwanda's unity and reconciliation commission, working to rehabilitate the 100,000 prisoners believed guilty of the genocide.The genocide left hundreds of thousands of orphans, she said. Rape was used as a weapon of war, with attendant pregnancies and a boom in AIDS. 'The infrastructure was destroyed, along with the social fabric. The genocide saw people of the same religious confession killing each other: neighbours, colleagues from work, and even members of the same family.'

The commission used the traditional 'Gacaca' justice system, exercised through village courts, which include the whole community. These aim to establish the truth, and elicit confessions, in return for reduced punishments. 'I've been challenged by many victims who don't understand,' she said, 'but the fact that I lost my own father, and despite that believe in reconciliation, means that we can talk.'

'How do you sit and eat with people who have mutilated, raped?' asked Betty Bigombe, who for more than ten years has been the principal negotiator between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army. 'How do you deal with victims who then become the perpetrators of such brutality?'

The civil war in her country has been described by the UN as the world's worst forgotten emergency. Up to two million people have been displaced, and an estimated 30,000 children abducted. 'The boys are turned into killing machines, often being coerced into killing members of their own families or communities to make any return home impossible,' she said. 'The girls are turned into sex slaves.'

Bigombe claimed that in both Uganda and Bosnia, peace had been delayed by competition between peace-makers. 'Peace-making is becoming an industry, it is seen as an easy way of making money,' she said. She called for the world to invest far more in the prevention of war.

Since she spoke, there have been further negotiations, and some moves towards peace in Uganda.
Andrew Stallybrass.