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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 July, 2005, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Africans on Africa: Governance
Each day this week, the BBC is looking at African problems through African eyes.

Here, Rafael Marquez, an Angolan civil rights activist and tribal leader, reflects on African governance.

I first got involved in civil rights 12 years ago, when I was a journalist. I refused to be silenced by my government and I was drafted into the army as a punishment.

But I've continued fighting because I believe that my people have the right to a functioning democracy.

Angola and the rest of Africa should cast off the corrupt remnants of all foreign imported models of governance, like colonialism, communism and what I call "jungle capitalism".

Angola has been greatly shattered by 500 years of Portuguese rule and the neglect that came with the 27-year civil war between Unita and the governing MPLA, a war that only ended three years ago.

Its tribal chiefs, the sobas, have tried to preserve the people's culture and traditions.

Community power

One of their most important roles is the community meetings they hold, often called jangos, where a council of elders helps the soba to rule on community issues.

It has been suggested by some that this could be a truly home-grown African form of democracy, based on consensus.

Indeed, Angolan specialist on democracy and governance, Elias Isaac, argues that for many Africans, this is the only real forum they have to address their concerns.

Opposition supporters
Opposition supporters are calling for general elections in 2006
"We have the national parliament, but at the local level is where you find the gap - and that is where the real people live, the communities," he told me.

Because the sobas are the only form of authority in communities, the government copied the colonials to try to reach out and control their domains. It comes to no surprise that in modern Angola this policy should continue.

And it is clear the sobas are useful to the authorities. In 2002 the government held a national meeting of sobas in Luanda to define their role in society, and in many African countries governments are doing the same.

Antonio Faria, Angola's director for local government, says the government has been looking at other African countries' plans to work together with traditional leadership.

Amongst those planning to do this are Uganda, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa - which last May passed legislation to formally establish a House Of Chiefs.

South Africa's acting ambassador to Angola, Siphithi Sibeko, said he believed this was a good model of regional integration for Angola.

"This is going to enhance understanding, because in most of these traditional societies, be it in Angola, be it in Namibia or South Africa, traditional rule is part of it," he told me.

"Therefore what might be working in South Africa might work in Angola and Namibia."

Mobilising people

That sounds all well and good for South Africa which is a far more advanced democracy - but in Angola I am very suspicious of the government's intentions.

I think they just want to use sobas to control people in the countryside.

Sobas are mostly old, illiterate, very poor and vulnerable to corruption.

Rural worker in Angola
People must get rid of their mentality that the government is the only entity that has the right to solve all the problems

I always watch on TV government officials, including the president, presenting sobas with laughable gifts, often bicycles and radios. Like myself, Elias Isaac says that many of the sobas, these days, have virtually become government agents.

"When there is a political event they are called to mobilise people. This is not the real role of traditional leaders," he told me.

Here in Luanda, whenever I walk around the city, I see examples of institutional corruption everywhere.

It is not just the sobas who are being bought off. A patronage system has replaced the need for real salaries and work.

Defending our lives

The government stimulates people to live off scams. Even opposition parties, represented in parliament, are bought off with perks such as cars.

The result is a parliament that endorses everything the government wants. And the national is absolutely controlled by the government.

What impresses me the most about South Africa is its grassroots activism and the leaderships that emerge from it. Why doesn't that happen here?

A fellow civil rights activist, Ana Faria, argues that being a citizen means that people have to develop a social awareness and a feeling of cooperation - and must get rid of their mentality that the government is the only entity that has the right to solve all the problems.

Woman carrying clothes at Angolan camp near Johannesburg in South Africa
Angola's civil war left thousands of displaced people
And people aren't just lazy, says Ana, but they have also become selfish.

"The other day I saw a woman selling bananas, in the streets - she started to be prosecuted by the police, and she was beaten and then the other women just run away and left the other woman alone," she told me.

"After I interfered and talked to the police not to beat the lady anymore, five minutes later all the women came back later and I asked them why and how did you leave your colleague alone?

"This is our life, we have to defend our lives, but your lives are the lives of that woman as well."

We need a radical change of mentality for people to think beyond the next meal, and to start work towards the common good.

But we cannot expect good governance to be delivered to us on a plate. We must fight for it.

But we need more than that, we need a democratic modern government that can represent us on the global stage, that incorporates western-style checks and balances.

A government that serves the people and not the interests of western powers and government officials.

But we also need to adopt a modern democratic system, to learn as it clashes with our traditions, to master it and make it our own.


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