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USAID Regional Center for Southern Africa: Democracy and Governance Assessment

April 12, 2003


John Harbeson, Team Leader, MSI
Joshua Forrest, MSI
Chris Landsberg, MSI

This document has been posted with permission of USAID's Regional Center for Southern Africa, Botswana
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Executive Summary

The Task

Through a Management Systems International team1, USAID commissioned this assessment for the purpose of developing recommendations for an RCSA strategy for addressing major barriers to, and consolidation of democracy in the Southern Africa region. These recommendations were to be framed in terms of prioritized higher-level outcomes accompanied by thoughts concerning how these outcomes might be achieved.

The Higher Level Objective

The team recommends that RCSA work within the framework of a new sub-goal: strengthening internal governance within key institutions of the democratic process. It recommends that RCSA adopt at its key higher-level objective, within the foregoing sub-goal, the strengthening of internal political party governance. This strategic objective embraces in one way or another all the central empirical requirements of democracy but especially the objective of effective political competition. Vigorous political competition during and between elections is necessary to democracy but not sufficient in and of itself, as often chaotic and undisciplined, sometimes intimidating and violent Southern African politics attest. Equally important are agreed-upon rules that allow the expression and advocacy of political ideas and agendas free of intimidation and suppression by others. The team sees improved internal governance within key democratic institutions as the key to furthering democratic consolidation


In proposing this strategic sub-goal, the team works within conception of democracy shared by the academic community and USAID itself, with one additional criterion: processes of interest articulation and aggregation. It works with a conception of civil society that centers on its function, well grounded in political theory, of defining and defending the basic rules of the political game. It envisages a broadened focus of the rule of law to include not only formal constitutional and legal provisions, but also the internal rules by which key democratic institutions govern themselves.

Trends and Obstacles

While Southern Africa has participated actively in democracy's Third Wave, we perceive an implementation crisis in getting governments to accept limits on their power and to live by agreed norms, values and principles. This implementation crisis threatens future democratization progress and may endanger popular support for democratization. The countries of the region have experienced uneven democratic progress. However, all confront major obstacles to further progress including lack of rule-based political behavior, lack of civil society capacity, inadequate implementation of the rule of law, slow implementation of gender equity, insufficient implementation of human rights guarantees, inadequate policy implementation capacity, emasculation of subnational governmental autonomy, and insufficient care and nurturing of human resources - most notably in the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Regional Approaches

The team recommends RCSA implement this strategic objective via one or more regional civil society networks with which it shares the objective of strengthening internal party governance. It recommends this venue rather than working through one or more SADC-related inter-state platforms. It views this strategy as complementary to, rather than duplicative of USAID bilateral democratic governance programming. Evidence suggests that rival political actors can work more effectively with each other at regional levels than within national environments within which their rivalries emerge.

Implications for Civil Society

The recommendation implies a broadened role for civil society as both a cause and effect of maturing new democracies. To sustain their ongoing influence on the advancement and defense of democracy, civil society organizations should combine advocacy capabilities with expertise with which to engage governmental and political bodies in actually strengthening their internal governance. The recommendation assumes continued civil society motivation to further consolidate democratic governance and its recognition that internal governance within key organizations of the democratic process is a major obstacle to realizing democratic consolidation.

Implications for USAID's Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA)

The strategy envisages RCSA as a clearinghouse for mobilizing expertise on democratic internal party governance, which it would make available to one or more regional civil society networks sharing that objective. Limited USAID funding would go for making technical expertise available to designated civil society networks, helping to fund their periodic regional meetings for considering this expertise, and for RCSA staffing appropriate to this enterprise.

  1. John W. Harbeson is Professor of Political Science in the City University of New York and a former USAID Regional Democracy and Governance for Eastern and Southern Africa. Joshua Forrest is Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, currently affiliated with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Chris Landsberg is Director of the Center of Policy Studies, Johannesburg, South Africa

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