THE POINT OF VIEW OF
MARIA JOÃO SANDE LEMOS,
member of the Workshop on Africa.
Born in Mozambique, Maria João Sande Lemos returned to Portugal at 18 years of age, in 1960. Her father was an official of the Portuguese Government.
She was a foundress of the Portuguese Social Democratic Party, where she was an active and enthusiastic militant from 1974 to 1999. She was actively engaged in the promotion of Feminine Condition in Portugal. She was also a member of the Portuguese Government Delegation at the United Nations Conference on Women at Peking in September 1995.
She is also member of Amnesty International, Portuguese Section, and Founding Member of the Association :”Tratado of Simulambuco – Cabinda House”.
In September 1992, she was an international observer at the elections of the Popular Republic of Angola.
In June 1994, she was invited in Mozambique. She participated in the Portuguese Forum for Peace and Democracy in Angola.
One of the main challenges for African societies in search of Democracy as a system of government of participation and participation is the formation and strengthening of the space of civil society. It is in this space that citizenship, organized and independent from the State, lays down the institutions and the individuals with the power of mediation in the relations and conflicts between Society, the Electorate, and the Government as an elected group to represent the State. Besides, it is in the autonomy of this space that the citizen can and has the power of controlling the actions of the State, and exerts over it a pressure for its being held responsible.
The idea of a civic society requires, first of all, a cursory observation. Achille Mbembe, an African academician of great fame, trusts in the use of the word. For him, civil society cannot be mistaken with the simple existence of autonomous associations , out of State control, nor with society in general. Mbembe’s argument is that civil society emerges and acts within a frame where the public institutions are autonomous, and provided with the capacity and authority to put in practice the “checks and balances” in the governing system.It is within this frame that civil society can effectively play its mediating part between the State and Society.
How can we contribute, then, to this wish, in the emergent democracies of Africa, where the high-handedness of the political leaderships, as in the case of Angola, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial-Guinea, Gabon, etc. maintains the paralysis of the public institutions, and demoralizes the capacity of the citizen to claim changes effectively ? How can we characterize the civil society of these countries, when the political oppositions are gagged, brutalized, corrupted, or co-opted to the point of turning them meaningless, or to turn them in partners in the system and of the problem ?
History gives us an important lesson. The process of independence in Africa was partly due to the emergence of nationalist political leaderships which stimulated their peoples and the Continent on the ideal of self-rule. Cabral, Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nyerere and Senghor are some names among the principal who gave substance to the redeeming of African conscience, asserting eloquently their place in universal history. During this period, solidarity movements originating from different sectors of the world organized themselves to support the self-rule of the Africans.
However, the process of democratization is stained by ironies.. A large number of African leaders chose to abandon the principal pledges of the nationalism which consisted in the struggle against ignorance, poverty and disease, in favour of the arbitrariness of power and of personality-cult.. In exchange for resources, the West henceforth guarantees the security of these regimes, as in the case of Mobutu’s Zaïre, Bongo’s Gabon, etc. The period of democratization has turned to be the period of the imposition, from the viewpoint of the West, of structural adjustments which have led to the worsening of many African economies, and to the strengthening of policies of coercion. One of the sectors where this policy is noteworthy is in the support of the civilian societies. In the more frequent cases, those who determine the agendas of the social groups are the international donors, in the countries to which they offer funds.
Thus, it is fundamental to to restore the principle of solidarity, of backing the active civic leaderships which manifest themselves, in a clear and organized form, in favour of the autonomy of the public institutions as the preliminary condition for the development of the intermediate sectors of society. The autonomy of these leaderships, in relation to external agendas, should be unequivocally guaranteed, in respecting the right to request, by their own initiative, civic solidarity and material assistance, according to their own ideas, priorities, a,d urban forms of organization and civic action.
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