The European Union promoting democracy in South Africa: strengths and weaknesses



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The European Union promoting democracy in South Africa: strengths and weaknesses

Lorenzo Fioramonti, University of Siena and Research Affiliate, University of Pretoria

Email - fioramonti@unisi.it
1. Introduction: the EU promotion of democracy and South Africa

The EU (European Union) is the largest donor of external assistance in the world. Democracy promotion became a relevant aspect of the EU’s international role in the early 1990s, during the post-Cold War international relations [Burnell 2000; Youngs 2001c]. Despite a lack of conceptual clarity in its democracy promotion strategies [Crawford 2000], the EU has often declared that the aim of supporting democracy throughout the world must be understood within the general framework of also ensuring social and economic development, referring to the indivisibility of human rights enshrined in the Vienna convention of 1993. Such an approach to democracy promotion can be interpreted, even more prominently, in the light of the UN flagship Millennium Development Goals, to which the EU attaches high priority in its external assistance policies [Commission 2003b]. Often criticised to be incoherent and inconsistent in its punitive measures [Smith 1998; Crawford 1998, 2000], the EU has demonstrated more efficacy in its positive measures aimed at democracy promotion, especially when the aim of consolidating democracy was doubled with important rewards (membership, association, etc.).

The case of South Africa confirms strengths and weaknesses of such a multi-pronged approach. Since the late 1970s, South Africa has become an important issue for European foreign policy. The fall of apartheid was the goal to be reached until early 1990s, while the strengthening of the new democratic system became the central objective of EU democracy assistance after 1994. This paper shows how the EU followed different strategies before and after democratic transition and how different strengths and weaknesses can be detected. Given the strategic position of South Africa in the region and its symbolic importance, this case study is extremely noteworthy. Moreover, given the prominent role of the EU in the country1, South Africa seems to be a relevant ‘test-bed’ for EU democracy promotion policies in the world, especially nowadays when long-term issues of consolidation seem to offer a more fertile ground for the EU multidimensional development strategy.

This paper examines both negative measures (sanctions, embargoes, etc.) and positive measures (democracy assistance) for supporting democracy in South Africa between the late 1970s and early 1990s. Successively, a specific section is devoted to the analysis of democracy assistance policies carried out after the transition until now.



2. The EC/EU and South Africa before 1994

1977-1990

During apartheid, relations between the EC (European Community) and South Africa were marked by a dual concern: the necessity to pressure for political change without involving unacceptably high costs which would have made any collective action unrealistic (and, in many cases, ineffective) [Barber et al. 1988]. It has been argued that until 1977, the EC policy towards South Africa was generally aligned to the UK positions2. The Community produced its first declaration regarding South Africa when the President of the Council of Foreign Ministers, Gaston Thorn, in 1976 stated on behalf of the Ten the ‘condemnation of the policy of apartheid in South Africa’ [Holland 1988: 31]. Despite a number of cost-free declarations of principle3, division was often the final outcome among the Member States and such a lack of common position was also evident in other international arenas, like the General Assembly of the United Nations4. No action was taken until 1977, when the EC adopted a Code of Conduct for European enterprises operating in South Africa5. The Code also introduced two important elements in the rhetoric against apartheid: an emphasis on negotiating with Black trade unions and a procedure for monitoring compliance. Notwithstanding declared commitment, it was agreed that reporting mechanisms would be voluntary and exclude any form of oversight by the European Commission [Holland 1998]. However, as Barber has argued, the primary reason for the Code was ‘to defend the European Governments from international criticisms’ [Barber 1983: 94].

It must also be kept in mind that the Code was born in an atmosphere in which the debate on the viability of sanctions was also strengthened by the fear that tough measures would undermine the entire region, highly dependent on the South African economy. In order to assure more economic autonomy in the southern African region, the EC supported the constitution of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), whose first meeting was held in Arusha in 1979.

Until 1984 the Code was the only Community instrument used to promote change in South Africa, showing how the informal nature of the then European Political Cooperation (EPC, the first form of consensual common foreign policy) led to the lowest common denominator philosophy. Moreover, the Code was far from constituting a concrete example of a coherent, although timid, position against the apartheid government, as the visit of P.W. Botha to most European national leaders confirmed6. The events of 1985 brought about a relative shift in the EPC, with the explicit condemnation of the behaviour of the security forces in Uitenhage and the opposition to the state of emergency declared by the South African government [EPC Bulletin 1987: 85/050]. Following a unilateral decision taken by France, all ambassadors were recalled7. After a troika diplomatic mission to South Africa, a new policy was proposed which called for harmonised negative and positive measures. On the side of negative measures, the proposal called for: the withdrawal of military attachés between Member States and Pretoria; the ban of nuclear and military cooperation, plus the sale of EC oil and sensitive technology; the freezing of official contacts and international agreements in the sphere of security; and an embargo on exports of arms and paramilitary equipment. Finally, the proposal discouraged all sporting and cultural events ‘except where these contribute towards the ending of apartheid’8.

In addition, a series of harmonised positive measures was announced to finance non-violent9 anti-apartheid organizations (particularly the churches), to assist in the education of the non-White community (including grants for university studies), to support SADCC and the frontline states, to increase awareness among the citizens of Member States living in South Africa, and finally to intensify contact with the non-White community in a variety of sectors10.

But it was only in 1986 that resistances to adopting further restrictive measures were finally overcome. On 27 September, the EC agreed upon a partial adoption of the package of sanctions decided upon at the June meeting of The Hague. These measures included a partial ban on the import of iron and steel. Moreover, the EEC engaged itself in investigating Community-wide legislation prohibiting the sale of Krugerrands and new investment in South Africa. The steel and iron concession was marginal, affecting just 2 per cent of South Africa’s exports to the EC in 1985. The full Hague package would have affected 16.5 per cent of South Africa’s 1985 exports to the Community (ECU 1,559.8 million); without a ban on coal (which was opposed by West Germany), this fell to 3.5 per cent. Unilateral measures taken by France and Denmark reduced EC imports of South African coal by 17 per cent in 1986 [Holland 1988]. In sum, the adoption of restrictive measures turned out to be extremely vague and scarcely consistent11, while implementation procedures, and especially lack of enforcement, definitively undermined any effectiveness12. The general reactive approach essentially characterised punitive measures against apartheid.



On the other hand there was the adoption of positive measures, generally more precise in defining objectives and thus helping bridge the gap between ‘capability’ and ‘expectations’ [Hill 1993]. The Special Programme for the victims of apartheid that had been established a year earlier was finally launched in 1986, with funds of ECU 10 million, rising to 20 million in 1987. Prior to this policy, aid to the victims of apartheid was exclusively bilateral – no Community scheme existed. In order to avoid direct politicisation of the Commission’s work in South Africa, four channels were established in the country through which Community aid was to be distributed: the South African Council of Churches, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the trade unions and Kagiso Trust, a body specifically established to give access to funds to non-union and non-ecclesiastical organisations. These four were chosen after various discussions with South Africa’s anti-apartheid groups. Owing to political rivalry, the Community had to exclude some organisations in favour of others, although all overtly political groups were automatically excluded (disqualifying the United Democratic Front and Inkatha, for example). According to the Programme’s criteria, aid was to be devoted to projects that promoted non-racialism and were able to exert any influence on popular participation, local ownership being a relevant aspect of this initiative. No support could have been given to initiatives which were likely to receive backing from the apartheid government, also excluding all organisations controlled by homeland governments or by so-called independent states (Transkei, Ciskei, Bophutatswana and Venda).
A first problem the EC had to face was a lack of credibility, given the hesitant political initiatives of those years and the Black perception of the Community as merely an economic friend of the South African government [Holland 1988]. An additional and mounting problem was the impact of the South African government’s restrictive activities, often leading to police raids, with a number of organisations involved in the aid programme suspended and their activists held in detention13.
The Special Programme was unique in its form: it had no international equivalent within or outside Europe14. During the first phase, most of the funds went to education and training activities (around 50%), with a further noteworthy part devoted to humanitarian and social programmes (40%) and a remaining sum to legal aid (10%)15. Nevertheless, as some have pointed out, in spite of the relatively low disbursement for legal provisions “the topic got special attention from the EC, as the court trials involving apartheid issues and thereby human rights questions were used as an instrument to broaden the room for democratic action in South Africa” [Olsen 2000].
The success of the Programme exceeded expectations. The mutual suspicion that existed between certain Member States on the one hand, and various groups among South Africa’s disadvantaged population on the other, declined after the first years. While the level of funding was relatively small given the scale of the problem, the impact of the EC scheme outstripped its financial contribution. Moreover, aid for the victims of apartheid did seem to be the first step in rehabilitating the position of the Community in the eyes of anti-apartheid movements [Holland 1988]. In some cases, the EC had to intervene by means of diplomatic pressure to protect the Programme from growing control from the authorities [Burnell 2000], and this could have been of a certain symbolic importance.
The first phase of the Programme ran between 1985-1991 and a total of 402 projects were sponsored worth ECU 130.7 million [Holland 1997]16. Given its growing extension, the programme became the “Union’s largest, programmable aid programme of any kind” [Tsie et al. 1997].


1990-1994

As we have seen, by the end of the 1980s the EC had in place a variety of sanctions against South Africa: embargoes on specific scientific, military, diplomatic, trade, sporting and cultural contacts [Table 1]. During the early 1990s, while there was a de facto progressive suspension of certain sanctions by many Member States, the slowness of the process of gaining a consensus to remove sanctions saw the bulk of measures only revoked in 199217. The resultant policy void was addressed in the October 1993 joint action decision. Instead of adopting the ‘minimalist approach’ of abolishing sanctions and employing a laissez-faire attitude towards political normalisation in South Africa, the EU selected this country as one of the first five ‘joint actions’ introduced by the Maastricht Treaty18. The joint action consisted of a multi-tiered approach, individuating a wide range of tasks and goals to achieve: monitoring the election process in 1994; the negotiation of a new bilateral economic framework; and a commitment to long-term involvement with the Special Programme of development assistance [Holland 1997]. In the field of election monitoring, the EU demonstrated skills and engagement in a relatively new field of pro-democracy external assistance19. The EU initiative was the largest and the most lasting of all international observers’ actions [Holland 1997]. In terms of new economic and trade relations, the aim was once again to take into consideration the strategic importance of South Africa in the general dynamics of SADC (Southern African Development Community), even though future negotiations would have been directed towards bilateralism. As to democracy assistance, the Special Programme formed the basis of the new policy, now more explicitly oriented towards initiatives devoted to consolidate the new democracy. By 1994 the Programme had grown to ECU 110 million per annum, making it the largest single programmable development project in Africa [Holland 1997]. Conditionality was again introduced, ‘in particular in relation to the elements of democratisation, rule of law, human rights, good governance and popular participation’ [Development Cooperation Council 1993].


The establishment of a political dialogue was both of practical importance and symbolic of the normalization of relations. In parallel with the EU’s bilateral relationships in the world, a new emphasis was placed upon support for democracy, the rule of law, social justice and the promotion of human rights as core themes in the effort to sustain the new democratic regime. As a consequence, the sui generis character of mechanisms and procedures for development projects in South Africa that were necessitated by the apartheid structure was replaced with a normal donor-recipient structure. In December 1993 a Commission Delegation was established in Pretoria, opening for the first time direct diplomatic contact between the EU and the Republic20.

3. The EC/EU and South Africa after 1994

In April 1994, the EU Council adopted a Commission’s proposal to offer South Africa an interim trade framework coupled with conditionalities on human rights [General Affairs Council 1994]. The relevant concern about transition outcomes probably made the Council call for a substantial level of funding. After the election of Nelson Mandela, the EU asked for a closer and long-term relationship with the country, by first agreeing upon a package of immediate measures21 and, later, by signing a simplified cooperation agreement with the new government in October 1994. As with many agreements the EU had signed with third countries, the agreement contained a human rights and suspension clause. Earlier in September, the Berlin Conference between the EU and SADC had highlighted the regional perspective, making evident that any structure for future cooperation should have included a strong regional component.


On 24 April 1997, South Africa became a member of the Lomé Convention (now Cotonou Agreement), even though its partial membership excludes South Africa from, among other things, European Development Fund (EDF) aid22.

Given to the specific status of ‘associated’ member of Lomé, South Africa had started negotiations with the EU in 1995 in order to define a bilateral agreement. Opposed by the European Parliament which stood against the reductive status of South Africa within Lomé, the EU Council adopted its twin-track mandate (associate membership and free trade area) in June 1995. After long negotiations23 the two counterparts agreed on the so-called Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement (TDCA), establishing a free trade area between the two countries24. Especially purported to fight poverty as a means of ensuring general political and social results, the TDCA also established democratisation, human rights and the strengthening of civil society as objectives of the EU activity in the country (Title V). Paradoxically, though, such a differentiate position of South Africa in the regional framework of sub-Saharan Africa could relatively reduce the impact of EU political initiatives aiming at regional integration, one of the main goals the EU would like to attain in southern Africa.


In 1995 the Commission inaugurated a far-reaching development programme within the framework of the European Programme for Reconstruction and Development (EPRD), which had substituted the Special Programme and broadened its scope25. Through Multi-Annual Indicative Programmes (MIPs) and constant dialogue with South African institutions the EU also began a phase of strict cooperation with the new government. This close relationship with the government can also be seen in the general objectives of EU development policy in the country: indeed, while during 1995-1996 the EPRD was centred on supporting the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which had been the flagship programme of the ANC electoral campaign, in 1997 the objective shifted towards the new national programme of Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) which substituted the RDP, becoming the new central policy of the South African government.
Since 1996, three Multi-Annual Indicative Programmes (MIPs) have been decided upon, with the last for 2003-2005 still under implementation, for an average of € 122 million per annum. Consolidation of democracy was one of the four focal areas of all MIPs, while in the period 2003-2006 a specific reference to deepening democracy has been made. In the period 1995-2001, democracy-related projects absorbed 19.2 per cent of EPRD resources (€ 149 million) with an implementation rate of 53 per cent [MIP 2003-2005].
In the two following sections I will illustrate EC democracy assistance in South Africa by concentrating my description in two main areas, which I have defined strengthening institutions (assistance to government) and deepening democracy (assistance to non government and civil society) [Table 2]. In these two respective areas I will concentrate specific attention to the parliamentary support programme and the human rights programme as relevant examples of the whole EC policy in the country.
Assistance to government: strengthening institutions

A relevant share of democracy assistance has gone to government or government-related institutions [Fig. 1 and Table 4]. One example of such a case has been the justice system reform programme (E-justice), a cooperation between the EC and the Department of Justice, whose extensive aim has been to address the shortages of the legal system in the country, by ensuring training for public officials and by, among other things, monitoring the respect of fundamental rights (such as rights to a legal defence, rights of detainees, etc., all rights enshrined in the Constitution). In 1996, the EU also provided financing for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work. Other relevant amounts of funding have been directed to the National Development Agency (NDA), the governmental agency that is in charge of redirecting most of the funds administered under decentralised cooperation26. In the field of security the EC has supported the institutional development of the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Department of Safety and Security (DSS), and assisted police forces in Eastern Cape. Moreover, part of financing has been devoted to improve the administration of government departments (in particular the National Authorising Officer, which is responsible for the planning of the overall democracy assistance strategy).


In the context of institution-building programmes, a certain importance has been given to the Parliamentary Support Programme (PSP), a wide-ranging initiative started in 1996 to improve the functioning of the national parliament of Cape Town, but also local legislatures in all nine provinces. The real independence of the legislative from the executive has often been questioned during apartheid, when the legislative was mainly used to ratify decisions taken in the cabinet [Murray and Nijzink 2002], and also recently with the dominant party system constituted by the ANC unchallenged position [Lodge 2003]. Beyond technical assistance and provision of equipment, the PSP has also been intended to promote closer contact between representatives and the population, especially in the key level of local government. Local government can be considered crucial for the reason that implementation and delivery take place at the local administration level. Moreover, provincial legislatures have a recent history, since they were constituted in 1996 with the first local elections, and local administration had a very poor political role during apartheid [Murray and Nijzink 2002]. Although mainly concentrated on providing technical support to the daily functioning of the legislative27, the PSP has also implemented more specific initiatives devoted to encouraging a closer relationship between the legislatures and the citizenry, at least, in two respects: by supporting a project aiming at employing plain language in official documents and by supporting public participation campaigns. Nevertheless, it has been noticed that, especially in the second case, the mere act of participation has demonstrated to relatively satisfy people since they are given a voice in the simplest sense of the process with no power to affect outcomes [EU-PSP 2003] 28.
This observation about public participation leads to a further analysis of the adaptability of the PSP to the continuous evolutions of local political processes. Given the importance of local institutions in general, it must be noted that changing dynamics and new priorities have often crashed against the scarce flexibility of the PSP itself: beneficiaries of PSP have underlined how the aims set down by provincial legislatures have encountered problems in matching those established in the PSP, calling into question its real ‘local ownership’ [EU-PSP 2003]. To give an example, after negotiating the outline and the tasks on the programme, it took more than twelve months to get it going when several needs had already changed. Beneficiaries and stakeholders have questioned the excessive attention devoted to procedural aspects and the lack of flexibility in assumptions [ibid.]29.
Despite the crucial historical conjuncture under which provincial legislatures have lived since their inception in 1996 and their role in the general goal of consolidating democracy and participation, the national parliament attracted the lion’s share of programme’s funds during all phases [Fig. 2]. This seems to be mainly due to scarce flexibility in the programme’s assumptions: indeed, the rigid requirements and the decision to place the programme management unit (PMU) in Cape Town have obviously influenced the destination of the bulk of funds. This has also affected the monitoring of the programme, with the PMU facing difficulties to extend its evaluation system beyond the confines of the central office to all provincial legislatures. Critically, though, it is necessary to bear that “support for Provincial Legislatures is a strategic priority for long term processes of democracy and governance” [EU-PSP 2003: 58].

Assistance to civil society: deepening democracy

During apartheid, civil society organisations were unavoidably central to the effort of contrasting apartheid. As we have seen, religious organisations and trade unions were privileged partners of the EC prior to 1994. With the ban of political movements, organised civil society became the substitute of the state for the neglected majority of South Africans, basically excluded from both political participation and social services, and it spread copiously during the nineties, reaching a peak before the elections [James and Caliguire 1996]. After the establishment in power of the first democratically elected government, many of these organisations have been confronted with a general destabilisation, mainly due to a lack of leadership (since many role-players went to occupy government positions) [Habib and Taylor 1999], a dramatic reduction of external aid for the sector [Landsberg 1999] and, finally, to the new challenges coming from a changed political environment, with the government rightly reclaiming its role to deliver policies for all South Africans30. Moreover, the relationship between the ANC-led government and organised civil society has not always been smooth: even though recognising the importance of NGOs (especially those working on social services) in the general economic and social development of the country, the government has been understanding these organisations as partners in development more than as independent actors31.

The EC has declared, since the adoption of the EPRD, that aid to civil society was not to be overlooked in carrying out democracy assistance to South Africa, but ambiguities have not been absent. First of all, even though designed to favour political participation, much of civil society aid goes to specialised think-tanks, often urban-based, with scarce membership and little capability to represent the needs of the poor. This is not only due to a deliberate political choice (by virtue of the so-called democracy ‘template’), but also due to the procedures required to get financing, which often exclude small and less well-equipped organisations that are, however, more likely to improve popular participation at the grassroots [Kihato 2001]. Secondly, the strategy of decentralised cooperation, although positive in theory, has been showing shortcomings in practice because of the way in which it has been implemented: not all intermediary institutions have ensured independence for civil society. The NDA is a case in point, given that it is controlled by the government. Besides this aspect, the general performances of the NDA have been recently questioned and the EU is looking for an alternative strategy for the bulk of decentralised cooperation [CSE 2002].

A last observation might me made with respect to trade unions. During the 1980s, the Special Programme devoted a relevant share to financing labour movements and trade unions during a political phase in which these movements constituted an important opposition to the apartheid regime. In the consolidation phase, the EU has implemented a project to support the Trade Union Movement32, whose general amount of funds has been relatively poor (around € 4.5 million in 1995-2001) when compared to other projects in the sector of democracy and human rights [Table 4]. This seems at least a debatable choice given the significant role that labour unions play in the current South Africa and their relevant engagement in the social development of the country.


The EC has also funded the activity of specialised think-tanks, like in the case of the project Closing the Gap Between Policy-Making and Implementation, or the financing provided to the Institute for Security Studies. In the field of education on human rights and democracy, the EC has intervened to fund legal clinic and university-based centres33. In the field of trauma sector, the EC is also engaged in supporting the network of service providers Themba Lesizwe, a partnership between different civil society organisations that operate under the South African Network of Service Providers (SANTSEP). Having been generally concerned with training and counselling activities, the programme has been recently paying more attention to deepening relations between its affiliates and the grassroots [EUSA 2003].
Once again, local political development seems to be crucial in defining the quality of democracy and the gains of the new system, especially if compared to the one it has substituted. Particularly relevant as to deficiencies in implementing social development policies, local government has also been a source of instability for the country. The difficult relationship between elected representatives (councillors) and traditional leaders (amakhosi) is a case in point. Prior to transition, the general relation between liberation movements and amakhosi was far from smooth, given the allegation that traditional leadership collaborated with the apartheid government to benefit from the apartheid system [Mandela 1994; Terreblanche 2002]. Prior to the 1994 elections and also in the aftermath, many fights had broken out in the country, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. Nowadays, tensions are still present with a particular reference to land distribution issues34.

As to the issue of traditional leadership, the EC has promoted studies and projects that have advised the institutionalisation of amakhosi assemblies in the local government structure (even though the real status of such a new chamber and the financial resources to devote to it are still pending issues). In KwaZulu-Natal, where traditional leadership is stronger and conflicts have been exacerbated in the last years, the EC funded a project implemented by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA). Despite that the project was negatively affected by the over-bureaucratic management of EU democracy assistance, leading to a temporary interruption of the project itself, there is little doubt that the initiative had a positive impact in reducing the distance between councillors and amakhosi. Moreover, IDASA’s project explicitly advised the constitution of an assembly of amakhosi both at local and national level.


An interesting feature of EU democracy assistance to South Africa is assistance to Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), a rather appropriate instrument to oppose civil society decline and encourage grassroots political development. A main actor in this sector is the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), an independent institution that partly inherited the model of intermediaries employed in the past during assistance to pro-democracy organisations. The FHR is composed of South African staff, and led by a directing board in which EU representatives have the role of observers, as well as by the Department of Justice. The main aim of the programme has been ensuring an effective and more even legal system, with the conviction that “the first step to justice is through the understanding of those rights that each citizen has”35. The stress on legal issues can also be explained by the legacy of apartheid, during which legal vindications were a means to undermine the solidity of the non-democratic regime. Since 1996, the FHR has funded many organisations, with a more evident stress on civil rights during the first phase (1996-1999) and more attention paid to social, economic and cultural rights during the second phase (2000-2003). During all activity, HIV/AIDS has been a crosscutting theme and during the period 2000-2003 a major effort was made towards more social issues, like workers’ rights, gender issues, domestic violence and welfare issues (like social grants provided for in the Constitution). Moreover, the FHR has worked on establishing a network of organisations and institutions with the aim of getting them to work together: most of these organisations were legal clinics and lawyers’ associations capable of giving advice to small organisations on legal or democracy-related matters. Further, important institutions like the Human Rights Commission have worked side-by-side with the FHR in this networking strategy. This activity has led to the establishment of a litigation fund36 within the FHR which aims at supporting public interest law litigation on relevant issues: the underlining rationale of this design is to make the Constitution a ‘living thing’ by rendering as many people as possible aware of their rights, but also using its potentiality as a means of protection for democracy and human rights.

The FHR is unique in South Africa and a source of added value to EC democracy assistance programmes. Its high level of ownership of programmes and the knowledge-based approach are particularly valuable, besides the relevance of a general approach which takes into account different aspects of democracy and the important level of grassroots civil society.


Notwithstanding merits, shortcomings are present. First of all, the FHR does not oversee the entire initiative of local civil society aid: other institutions like the network INTERFUND and, also, the NDA provide support to this sector. This could easily bring about a waste of resources, especially when correlated to lack of coordination, in a sector in which knowledge should be used in common by sharing approaches and best-practices. If such a division can be explained in terms of different aspects of development addressed by the respective institutions, nevertheless more communication and cooperation should be achieved in dealing with organisations that are not always capable of meeting all requirements to get funds from donors. Moreover, sustaining grassroots CBOs is not an easy task and, in many cases, the funds available are relatively little to face the problems of local associations: CBOs’ sustainability and political influence have not been assessed so far, even though these are said to be some of the objectives of strengthening civil society.

Despite the fact that general evaluations have positively described the performance of the FHR programme, it is impossible to overlook that the programme has showed one of the largest gaps between commitment and actual disbursement [CSE 1994-2002].


4.Conclusion: strengths and weaknesses

As has been outlined in this paper, the EC/EU has devoted relevant resources to foster South African democratisation, for reasons of internal solidity and international actorness [Hill 1993; Holland 1997, 1998]. Before and after the 1994 transitional elections, the EC/EU strategy has demonstrated strengths and weaknesses. Prior to the fall of apartheid, the main weakness was the incapability of finding a common position within the framework of EPC, especially regarding the implementation of restrictive measures [Holland 1998], while positive measures turned out to be effective both in terms of practical results and ideal meaning. After 1994, the new strategy for consolidating democracy has shown some main features: the strict dialogue and cooperation with the government and the more extensive employment of positive measures. This approach has overcome many shortcomings of traditional models of development cooperation which are highly prescriptive and often disadvantageous to the developing countries concerned, especially when burned with debatable political and economic conditionalities. On the contrary, the EC-South Africa policy is what could be called a ‘partnership for consolidation of democracy’, with many programmes co-funded by the EC/EU and the South Africa government. Obviously, this approach has also potential negative effects. The key-role of the government in planning all policies, including those regarding democracy assistance, can be questioned on the ground that democracy is not what the government understands as such and that, accordingly, important actors which are not welcomed by the ANC government could be excluded from getting financing or hindered during their activities.


Although understandable in the new political environment, the EC strategy has not always achieved valuable results. A first weakness must be signalled in the general framework of capacity building, sometimes too vague in defining clear results to achieve. During 1996-1999, a first evaluation of the EU strategy in the country underlined how the scope of action was too broad to be effective [CSE 1999] and, although only partly, this was still an issue in 2002 [CSE 2002]. This has led to duplications, especially in the context of decentralised cooperation, and to relatively small support to important social actors, like trade unions, that are particularly crucial to South Africa’s social development. This general stand can be partly explained by the trust the EU has in the government’s general policy for development, an element that is far from being immune of criticisms. Moreover, the technically-oriented assistance to political institutions seems to be often incapable of responding to concrete problems coming from local exigencies of politicians. In short, what seems to be missing in pro-democracy programmes is a general coherent design on which all initiatives can be based and measured. The most recent independent evaluation has concluded that despite several important gains (mainly a dynamic vision and creative approaches to the development of civil society, coupled with a systematic focus on institutional development and sustainability, and a concern to improve the knowledge base and adaptability), programmes devoted to human rights and democratisation have showed a scattered portfolio without strategic linkages and a relative lack of emphasis on governance issues, revealing the absence of a clear definition and overall strategy: there have been choices of projects, rather than an integrated programme approach [CSE 1994-2002: IV].

A second element that might have a negative effect on EU democracy assistance is the lack of wide-ranging evaluations on the impact of programmes and projects. Although development projects are relatively better monitored, specifically pro-democracy initiatives are often assumed to have a positive effect without any kind of impact assessment. Financial audits and single-programme evaluations of outputs cannot be a substitute for broad evaluations taking into account the real (or, at least, the potential) outcome of democracy assistance. Even though the European Commission has rightly criticised the excessive trust in evaluating pro-democracy programmes with formal indicators (which are more common in the case of other donors, e.g. USAID), this does not seem to justify the assessment void in which policies keep on being implemented. In order to become a solid knowledge-based donor, the EU must absolutely improve its system of monitoring (during the project implementation phase) and its ex-post evaluations of impact, perhaps concentrating on the micro-level in the first place and then attempting linkages with meso and macro-levels [Brouwer and Schmitter 1999]. As to 2002, dialogue and agreement over the kind of performance indicators to be retained were still said to be important challenges for the general evaluation of impact, even more prominently in the field of democracy assistance [CSE 1994-2002]. In the field of civil society aid, impact evaluations seem extremely necessary given the risk that projects become self-referring and that, instead of promoting real independence of local organisations (both NGOs and CBOs), democracy assistance negatively contributes to trigger a relationship of donor-beneficiary unsustainable dependence. Paradoxically, while the goal of deepening democracy has a specific focus on the local level, this latter is the sector in which the elaboration of performance indicators is the slowest and where means of verification have not yet developed at all [MIP 2003-2005: annex 1].


A third point to underline is the one of flexibility, in both decision-making and implementation procedures37. Country Strategy Evaluations have confirmed what this research has found during fieldwork: lengthy contracting procedures have delayed, and often rendered less effective, the implementation of projects [CSE 1999; CSE 2002]. As in the case of IDASA in KwaZulu-Natal, the complex system of allocating funds has not only contributed to produce a gap between commitment and real disbursement, but also negatively influenced the performance and the results of ongoing programmes. Also, the South African government’s representatives have underlined how this aspect could reduce the impact of EU democracy assistance, favouring other more flexible donors and private foundations. In sum, despite that the EU conveys the largest amount of aid to the country, its real impact can be seriously undermined by difficulties in making those funds easily available to local actors.
This latter point is rendered more serious with the new financial regulation which redefines the rules of contracting and procurement for the general budget of the European Communities. Decided on to prevent cases of mismanagement, the financial regulation also restricts the room of manoeuvre of local actors in South Africa. For instance, the FHR might see its capacity of intervention undermined. Indeed, the new system of funding will require a more lengthy process to establish financing and a less flexible reallocation once a project has started: a first casualty of this strategy could be the litigation programme, which obviously requires a more dynamic and timely allocation rationale. Moreover, given the South African exceptional exclusion from the EDF, funds devoted to programmes in South Africa might be reabsorbed into the general budget in the case of late disbursement and, theoretically, employed for different purposes.
This system could negatively affect the process of regional economic and political integration that the EU claims to support in sub-Saharan Africa, with the aim of consolidating peace, preventing conflict and integrating these countries in the world economy to enhance prospects of economic growth and sustainable development [Commission 2002b: 26].

The budgetary aspect of EPRD could undermine its effectual impact at the regional level, given that the EDF is not part of the budget. In 2002, the evaluation of EC strategy in South Africa highlighted the need for reform in this field: in any case, this would require either the need to revisit the provisions of Cotonou or the integration of EPRD with the EDF, allowing for a more flexible allocation of funds. Such a remark further calls into question the special status that the EC/EU has given to South African in the region: the unique regional status of South Africa during apartheid has been replaced with another unique status in which this country is member of SADC but only associated member of Lomé first, and Cotonou then, only case of a FTA with the EU. Besides specific trade and economic arrangements, the exclusion of South Africa from non-budget funds might play against a smoother regional integration and render more difficult local-ownership of programmes and consequential disbursement.


However, despite these weaknesses of democracy assistance to South Africa, several important strengths cannot be overlooked. Two points are of a certain importance.

The attention paid to local government as a key element in the general democratic consolidation of the country has been a noteworthy element of EC democracy assistance, given that the South African formal democracy is not effective if it falls short of reaching the majority of citizens, both in terms of policy delivery (and implementation) and in encouraging popular political participation. As to the South African Constitution, local government is responsible for encouraging “the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government”, “to ensure the provision of services to communities in sustainable matter”, and “to promote social and economic development” (Art. 152). According to the EU analysis of the country, local governments “are entrusted with rising responsibility for providing access to services and enhancing the economic and social well-being of communities within their constituencies. Raising the capacity of local government to deliver will be a yardstick by which the performance of the central government will be measured” [MIP 2003-2005].


With regard to local ownership of programmes, despite shortcomings coming from decision-making and over-bureaucratic mechanisms, the choice of individuating local actors from a wide range of civil and non-civil actors has its merits. Moreover, the general strategy of entrenching political aspects with broader social and economic elements proves extremely opportune in the case of South Africa, where formal democracy can live side-by-side with extreme poverty, anti-democratic practices and huge inequality: in a word, where formal democracy struggles to produce substantial democracy.
The role of the EU as democracy promoter aims at going beyond the factuality of numbers and figures. The value of more extensive approaches to democracy promotion and the historical linkages with the African continent make the EU a favoured actor in this region of the world. Indeed, given to its past the EU has also an undeniable ideal meaning for South Africa, southern Africa and Africa as a whole. Thabo Mbeki has recently affirmed to look at the EU structural funds policy to develop a more equitable and cohesive economic policy in South Africa [Mbeki 2003]. Romano Prodi, as president of the European Commission, has often resembled the European integration process to the construction of the African Union as a vehicle to peace, prosperity and democracy, by underlining important communalities in the two continents and by calling on the donor community to support the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) [Prodi 2002, 2003]. This additional role of the EU seems crucial for Africa and, consequently, for South Africa. The future of peace and democracy in this continent will also depend on the coherence and effectiveness of the European political strategies.

Figures and tables about EU-SA democracy promotion policies
Table 1 - EC/EU main policies to promote democracy in South Africa

Initiative

Date of implementation or agreement

Date rescinded

Code of Conduct (original version)

September 1977

November 1985

1985 sanctions on:

oil exports

paramilitary goods

sensitive technology

cultural, sporting and scientific contact


September 1985

April 1992

1985 sanctions on:

nuclear cooperation

military cooperation

exchange of military attaches


September 1985

September 1985

September 1985


November 1993

October 1993

October 1993



Code of Conduct (revised version)

November 1985

November 1993

Special Programme

September 1986

-

ECSC Decision 86/459 prohibiting certain iron and steel imports

September 1986

January 1992

EC Decision 86/517 prohibiting new investments

September 1986

December 1990

EC Regulation 3302/86 prohibiting the import of Krugerrands

October 1986

January 1992

European Community Observer Mission to South Africa (ECOMSA)

October 1992

-

Development Council Framework

May 1993

-

Council statement on post-Transitional Executive Council

June 1993

-

Accreditation of Commission Delegation

December 1993

-

European Electoral Unit Observer Team (EUNELSA)

January 1994

May 1994

Commission Proposal for a new cooperation framework

April 1994

-

Council adopts new coordination framework for bilateral relations

April 1994

-

GSP regimes introduced

April 1994

-

Berlin Declaration

September 1994

-

Simplified cooperation agreement signed between EU and SA

October 1994

-

Multi-Annual Indicative Programme signed (1997-1999)

May 1997

-

Associated Lomé status granted

April 1997

-

EU-SA Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement entered into force

November 1997

-

Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) signed

October 1999

-

Multi-annual Indicative Programme signed (2000-2002)

June 2000

-

Multi-annual Indicative Programme signed (2003-2005)

September 2002

-
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