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UN Report Shows Progress, Problems of Africa's Transition to Democracy

A new report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, or ECA, looks at how Africans are rating their government’s transition to democracy. It also shows the continuing failure of many administrations to tackle corruption.

The new African Governance Report is based on data collected over the past three years. It shows public confidence in the democratization efforts of 27 sub-Saharan countries. It also shows support for the reforms, including the introduction of multi-party politics, the delivery of services and improvements in public security.

Professor Okey Onyejekwe– who helped compile the study - is the director of the ECA Development Program Management Division in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia : “If we look at the issue of the legitimate alternation of power, countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Benin, and South Africa (were) ranked uppermost…by their people. These are countries that have had successive, peaceful and democratic [changes of government]. “

The report also shows some of the problems in developing democracies in Africa. It found that opposition parties often lack access to resources and security, and electoral commissions are not fully independent.

Also, many of those surveyed indicated dissatisfaction with their government’s efforts to decentralize and to create efficient tax systems.

The report found that corruption influenced the public’s views on the state’s ability to improve their lives – with only a third of respondents expressing confidence in government’s ability to tackle problems relevant to them. The report found that the delivery of public services in most states still remains poor – as seen in inadequate responses to the AIDS pandemic.

The report also exposes some of the problems in creating a system of checks and balances among the presidency, the legislature and the courts.

Onyejekwe says may countries still lack an independent judiciary -- one that not only protects civilians, but also enforces business contracts, attracts foreign investors, and enhances economic growth. One problem, he says, is manipulation by political leaders – who often name judges based on friendship and not educational merit.

Many African countries also have weak parliaments, which are not able to practice their constitutional responsibilities of managing budgets and formulating efficient policies. According to Onyejekwe: “ When you look at some countries, you may find that only (about) 10 percent have up to a high school education. So you can tell that of the people who make it to parliament, [many] don’t even have the basic knowledge to engage in this exercise. [But] some countries have been able to recruit candidates with some substantial level of education who understand the process.”

Onyejekwe says the ECA, USAID and other groups are helping train specialized parliamentary committees improve their abilities to manage budgets and provide oversight. He says among the countries that have provided training for their parliamentarians are Rwanda, Benin Namibia.

The report also shows that in some countries, private and public partnerships are working well to promote transparency, cut corruption and improve social services.

The E-C-A official says the African Governance Report offers guidance to both politicians and the public. He says it shows leaders what voters expect in return for their support. It also shows voters the importance of electing leaders who have the education and character to run their governments honestly and effectively.