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Democracy movements in North Africa aren't simply compatible

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Mozambique's former president Joaquim Alberto Chissano says that the conditions in African countries are very different. There are no solutions that are applicable to all nations.

Joaquim Chissano

Chissano is currently mediating Madagascar's political crisis

Joaquim Alberto Chissano served as president of Mozambique from 1986-2005. He is credited with having turned war-torn Mozambique into one of Africa's most successful democracies. Following his political career, Chissano has taken on the role of 'elder statesman' - often called upon by bodies like the United Nations to be an envoy or negotiator.

DW: You are the facilitator of the peace-building process in Mozambique. Why is mediation in Africa sometimes so difficult, for example in Ivory Coast? Why are the obstacles to a peace process in Ivory Coast so high?

Joaquim Alberto Chissano: Well, it is because the causes of conflict in Africa must be seen in all perspectives. You have some causes the international community perceives, which are the immediate causes. But the real causes are not being perceived.

Take Kenya: the cause seems to be the mere fraud in elections. But you had a deeper cause, which was the question of land, the land distribution and the tribal conflict dominant in that moment.

In fact, you find this same thing in Ivory Coast. Maybe they don't have a problem of land, but there is a problem of ethnicity. So here, we can be addressing just the question of the elections, the outcome. But it is not the real and only problem. The core of the problem is the ethnicity, which is there. So a solution must be found, which can deal also with the real causes - to stop the animosities, create an atmosphere where the mediation can act. That is why there are all these difficulties, because the problems are themselves very difficult and complex.

We say that ethnicity and tribes are not bad per se. But tribalism and ethnicism - which are bad - are things which are fabricated by politicians. There is no process to deal with the tribalism so that the values of the tribes are kept as a heritage for all. As long as you don't deal with this issue, then there will always be people who are going to take advantage of the existence of tribes - to put one tribe against the other. So the arguments are many and can be brought in by many different players.

If you look at Northern Africa, the situation in Tunisia or in Egypt, which is one of the key players on your continent, would you see that this is perhaps an opportunity for a democratic spillover coming from the northern part of Africa?

image of protesters and fighter jet

The solutions to northern Africans' discontent are varied

No. You cannot deny that this can spill over to there. But I can say that it should not be desirable that there is a spillover, because the conditions in each country are different. In the northern part of Africa, you see that the reactions are different from what happened in Tunisia and in Egypt, in Algeria, but what is happening in Libya? So the reactions are different. It does not immediately produce the same effect. It is one-sided. So we have to be careful to see what the risks of this could be.

The second thing is: we should be careful that this good will of the people to have a change by themselves, who take to the streets and call for change, is not hijacked by the bad characters, who will enhance their own interests there for power and not for the good of the people.

There are voices in Africa, for example Ethiopia and Rwanda, who are promoting a fairly development-oriented political agenda. But on the other hand, they are quite seriously limiting citizens' rights. Is it possible to obtain sustainable development without a fundamental respect of human rights?

No. The respect for human rights is a paramount thing. Although I believe that the ways of defending human rights cannot be the same in all places, because the institutions which we have to put in place may differ. But the aim will be the same. You cannot obtain the results at the same time. Maybe you have to go through steps because sometimes, you have to educate people, change their attitude.

farmer hoeing land

Many farmers in Africa still till their land with traditional methods

Some of the things which we believe in, in the modern days, go against some traditions which the people themselves revere. We also have to change this attitude, so that people start knowing what their rights are.

When we installed multi-partism in Mozambique, I had to go to the people and tell them that they can vote for the opposition, if this is their wish. They said "What? Can we vote for these people?" and I said "Yes! Make your own judgment." So we had to teach people that they have got rights - it is their right. And it is not just go and vote if it was a duty. They were told by the government that they should go and vote. If they were not told, they would not even care. But we have to teach them that it is their right and what it means - the same for other rights, for human rights. The way of doing this maybe differs from one country to another.

Interview: Ute Schaeffer / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge

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