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LESSONS DRAWN FROM NATIONAL DIALOGUE MECHANISMS IN TRANSITIONAL COUNTRIES PDF Print E-mail

The importance of power balances


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Dialogue mechanisms have not been uniformly successful in bringing about a transition to democracy.  Between 1991 and 1993, Benin, the Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), Madagascar, Mali and Niger organized national conferences as dialogue mechanisms.  These conferences were followed by peaceful elections that precipitated changes in political leadership. However, national conferences organized between 1990 and 1991 in Congo (Kinshasa), Gabon, Guinea, Nigeria, and Togo did not lead to the same outcome.  In 1993, Gabon, Giunea and Togo held controversial multiparty presidential elections, which were won by the incumbents.[1]  Furthermore, Togo and Zaire experienced violence while the national conferences met.  Thus, dialogue mechanisms cannot independently engineer a successful transition when the political will is absent.  

 

At the end of the 1980s, the authoritarian governments in Benin, Congo and Niger faced economic collapse, defection of the army and loss of international support.  In these cases, authoritarian leaders agreed to convene national conferences in order to build national consensus through dialogue.  In these cases, the incumbent leaders accepted the authority and conclusions of the national conferences and eschewed violence.

 

 

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In Benin, President Kerekou accepted the decisions of the national conference including the one which stripped him of most of his powers.  Although he initially described the decision as a ‘civilian coup d’etat,’ he accepted it given his weak position which stemmed from the disastrous state of the economy, the strengthening of the opposition, the withdrawal of French support, and the ambiguous position of the army.[2]  In early 1991, in Congo (Brazzaville), Col. Sassou-Nguesso was forced to agree with opposition demands that the national conference should not need government approval for its decisions.[3]  Given his unwillingness to use the army to keep himself in power, Sassou-Nguesso became sidelined as the national conference took the lead in the transition.  In Niger, the Seibou regime had lost its credibility through its repression of the student demonstrations and through its disastrous economic policies.  Seibou lost his power within a month of the national conference.  He decided to step down from the presidential nomination in order to avoid humiliation.[4] 

 

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[1] Christopher Fomunyoh, “Democratization in Fits and Starts,” Journal of Democracy, vol 12, no 3, July 2001, 40.
[2] Peter Harris and Ben Reilly, eds, Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators (Stockholm, Sweden: IDEA, 1998), ‘Case Study: National Conferences in Francophone Africa,’ 2 (electronic copy); Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle, Comparative Politics, vol 24, no 4, July 1992, 424; Kathryn Nwajiaku, “The National Conferences in Benin and Togo Revisited,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol 32, no 3, 1994, 438-440.
[3] ‘Case Study: National Conferences in Francophone Africa,’ 1998, 3.
[4] Myriam Gervais, “Niger: Regime Change, Economic Crisis, and Perpetuation of Privilege,” in John F. Clark and David E. Gardinier, Political Reform in Francophone Africa (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), 92.

 

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