Democracy in Africa depends on countries' vibrant civil societies
Makau Mutua's Nov. 29 Opinion piece, "How to keep Africa from backsliding," provides a succinct survey of the African political landscape. But Mr. Mutua errs in his policy prescriptions.
First, he recommends exorcising, then renewing and expanding the African political elite. But today this would be destabilizing. Second, he recommends detribalizing African politics. But tribalism and small folk communities are part and parcel of sub-Saharan African society; one cannot remove history and culture without altering indistinguishably a society. Third, he recommends demarginalizing African women, the "voice of the powerless." Here, I would point the reader to the Monitor's profiles of "peace seekers" Betty Bigombe (Sept. 13) and Petronille Vaweka (Sept. 14). I am hesitant, then, to generalize African females as powerless; but I agree that women must be brought more completely into the political fold.
What is needed to prevent Africa from "backsliding," in my opinion, begins closer to the ground. Grass-roots movements are necessary to build vibrant, flourishing civil societies. This requires, first, the attainment of basic human needs - such as clean water, sustainable foods, and healthy living conditions - and, later, educational opportunities and domestic security. Only then will African nations have polities capable of pursuing democratic forms of government.
I am less sanguine than Mutua about what needs to be done to bring African nations into the community of democratic nations. But I agree that the future does rest in the hands of Africans themselves. And they are no less capable of democracy than any other people.
Donovan C. Chau
Dr. Chau is the Africa Desk Officer in Applied Marine Technology Inc.'s Intelligence and Terrorism and Analysis Group.
Regarding the Nov. 21 article, "Americans look to the next Baja boom town": How has the news of the development at Loreto Bay spread so rapidly? Many people over the years have come to sleepy Loreto for a week of winter sun and heat, some good fishing, and little nightlife only to be disappointed.
Loreto does not have a tropical climate. My husband and I live there 10 months per year and know the winters can be chilly. And the strong north wind might blow for a visitor's whole vacation, making it unpleasant and at times dangerous to go out on the sea.
To enjoy Loreto, one must be willing to spend a lot of time waiting for that good safe day to go out on the water. If buyers are looking for the lifestyle that generally goes along with a million-dollar home in a tropical paradise, or a sure-thing week in the sun as a break from northern winters, perhaps Loreto is not the place for them.
The Nov. 25 article, "Moral stakes of exiting Iraq," was excellent. We need to see more of this kind of questioning while our struggles in Iraq continue. Also, the tenets documenting what constitutes a "just war" need to be blasted into all of our American minds. These moral tenets of war need a prominent place in everyone's heart.
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