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Former African Leaders Cautious about Democratic Progress


Three former African presidents have expressed optimism that the continent will be able to experience economic growth and good governance. The former leaders of Botswana, Cape Verde and Niger said the continent is making much political and economic progress -- but warned that transition to democracy will be a learning process.

Former Presidents Ketumile Masire of Botswana, Antonio Manuel Mascarenhas Monteiro of Cape Verde and Mahamane Ousmane of Niger spoke to reporters Friday during a visit to VOA headquarters in Washington.

The former leaders came to the United States as part of the African Statesman Initiative, a forum for retired African statesmen who say they want to share their experiences with others in order to promote the continent's political and economic growth. Before visiting VOA, they held talks with State Department officials and members of Congress.

The condition of developing countries has been a matter of growing importance to world leaders in recent years. Five years ago, United Nations member states adopted a set of goals calling for them, among other things, to halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day, to 500 million worldwide by 2015. Earlier this year, the G8 group of leading industrialized nations plus Russia agreed to double aid to Africa, to $50 billion a year by the end of this


Mr. Ousmane, who led Niger between 1993 and 1996, said Africa and other developing regions need a change in the trade practices of industrialized countries which, he said, place significant tariffs on their products. "Less developed countries contribute to one-third of the trade of developed countries. But they contribute two-thirds of the customs receipts of industrialized countries," he said.

Speaking on political trends in Africa, Mr. Masire, Botswana's president from 1980 to 1998, said current African leaders are more likely than their predecessors to leave office at the end of their term rather than hang on to power. "You are entitled to be in that position for a spell and know you are running a relay race. You must perform your stint and, before you drop down with exhaustion, hand over to somebody else so that you make it possible for your team to win the race. That is, I think the philosophy which, I think is now dawning upon the minds of the current leaders. And therefore, we should not be in office until death with the presidency do us part," he said.

Mr. Monteiro of Cape Verde, who was in office from 1991 to 2001, said transition to democracy will take time. He said he finds it regrettable that some African leaders removed constitutional term limits in order to remain in power -- something that has happened in recent years in countries like Guinea and Togo.