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'Democracy is not easy: People have to struggle'

Violent power struggles and human rights abuses remain a source of concern across much of Africa. However, the founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which campaigns for good governance, sees recent events as encouraging.

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Mo Ibrahim

Dr. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British mobile telecommunications entrepreneur, created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to campaign for better governance in sub-saharan Africa and beyond.

Deutsche Welle: How far do you see that Africa is on track concerning democracy? Do you see that there are more set-backs ahead?

Mo Ibrahim: Yes, the road to democracy is not easy. It is bumpy. And people learn about democracy by practicing democracy. And practicing democracy means development. Democracy itself is not a sure way to ensure good governance - Hitler came to power through the ballot box. But people learn from the experience and it takes time. What we can see now is that there are genuine steps towards democracy. We can see young people more and more engaged with politics. There is a sense of outrage at injustice, a sense of outrage against corruption. These are very healthy feelings.

But how disappointing are experiences like the violence that followed the presidential elections in the Ivory Coast or the escalation of violence after the Kenyan elections in 2007 and 2008?

I think, actually, it is positive what is happening. Since independence in Kenya there has not been a single election that has not been rigged. Now, people refuse to accept that. This time people took to the streets and said: "Look, our voice counts" and that produced the mayhem that we have seen. That was positive

Let’s take the Ivory Coast as an example. How do you view the behavior of a political elite that reinvented a racial nationalist idea to preserve access to political and economic resources for the ruling elite at the exclusion of other parts of the population?

There is no question. What Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe, or what Gbagbo has been doing is not acceptable. What I am saying is that, twenty years ago, this was seen as normal. If Mugabe and Gbagbo had visited Berlin on a state visit then, they would have been received as if nothing had happened.

Now, things have changed. And, at least in the Ivory Coast, people managed to kick him out. It cost lives, unfortunately, but that is a lesson for other people who hang on to power. Look, we have Gadhafi still hanging on in Libya and people are dying as a result. But still, people have to stand up and have to ensure, that he is also kicked out. Look, people do not go away by people wishing they would go away. People have to struggle to make it happen. There are going to be sacrifices. The important thing is that people are rejecting what is happening. Twenty, thirty, forty years ago, that was business as usual.

Are the African instruments of self-healing and mediation sufficient? If you take the efforts of the African Union in the Ivory Coast - aren't they a disappointing example of the weakness of the African Union?

I think the situation in Ivory Coast was helped a lot by the wonderful position taken by ECOWAS, the regional organization, which froze assets and suspended banking facilities. And that - in the end - was crucial in suffocating the regime. It was deprived of money. They could not pay the soldiers. So that was crucial. There was some confusion within the African Union but the important thing is: The regional organization stood fast, and the international community stood fast and there was no division in the ranks of the international community. And it is done. The job is done. So that is a success. I see these things as positive.

Is the commitment of the international community still quite important to get Africa out of the crisis?

Absolutely. International community support is important and we should not play politics, and we should not allow people to play against each other. We really need to stand for simple principles of really supporting the people. And this is a friendship which lasts. Dictators come and go, but the people stay.

Author: Ute Schaeffer
Editor: Rob Turner

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