Democracy Lab

A Recipe for Freedom

Five lessons from South Africa's transition to democracy. Excerpts from a recent speech by the country's ex-president.

I would like to address some of the lessons that we have learned in South Africa -- lessons that might be helpful to all the countries around the world that are in the process of transition, that strive to clamp down on violence, that hope to fight poverty and improve the quality of life of all their people, that aim to move towards democracy and to bring freedom to their people.

I don't have time to elaborate on all the lessons we have learned, but I want to mention five.

First, if you want to break out of the cycle of violence, if you want to lay the foundations for a more prosperous society, if you want to democratize, then the departure point is that leaders must become convinced that fundamental change is necessary.

This happened in South Africa. I and my fellow leaders in the National Party became convinced that we had to change. We could not improve apartheid. We could not make it more acceptable. We had to abandon the concept of separateness and we had to embrace a new vision of togetherness, of one united South Africa, with equal rights for all and an end to discrimination. But we also had to make sure that South Africa would not become caught up in the chaos that resulted from over-hasty decolonization in many other parts in Africa and which led to dictatorships and despots.

So we were convinced that we had to change fundamentally, to make a 180-degree turn. Likewise, President Mandela and the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) had to accept that they could not win a revolutionary war, that they had to abandon the idea of gaining power through force, and that they had to embrace seeking power through a democratic model. We both had to compromise. Both sides did, and these compromises resulted in the negotiations which followed. So the departure point is to convince leaders that fundamental change is necessary.

Secondly, any new dispensation will best succeed if it is based on agreements forged in inclusive negotiations. Why do I put the emphasis on "inclusive" negotiations? In most conflicts there are many parties involved in the conflict, with different agendas, with different concerns, with different fears and different aspirations.

And only if you reach an agreement based on a broad consensus -- one that is inclusive of an overwhelming majority of the population, who then say, "we take ownership of this new constitution, of the principles of this agreement reached in negotiations" -- can you be sure that it will last.

Which brings me to the third point: Such negotiations, and the agreements reached as the result of negotiation, must accommodate the reasonable concerns and aspirations of the parties to the conflict. This means sacrifice from all sides. It means that the negotiation process should not end with victor and vanquished.

It means that participants from all the parties involved must be allowed to take enough of their main concerns back to their constituency to say, "we had to make concessions on A, B, and C, but we got D, E, and F, which are fundamental for us, and therefore let's accept that we have lost on A, B, and C."

This happened in South Africa. There were painful concessions on both sides. Tragically, within just the past few months, the ANC has opened a new debate, saying they want to revisit the agreements reached in 1993 and in 1996. It's disturbing. They are attacking and questioning the cornerstones of what was a solemn accord that this was the foundation on which a new South Africa would be built. But that is a subject on its own.

The point I want to make is the negotiations must be on a give-and-take basis. Everyone has to have some pain, but everyone also has to get some satisfaction out of the negotiations.

Fourth, a balance needs to be struck between the concepts of unity and diversity. Most of the conflicts in the world today -- just think about them -- are not between countries. They are between people living in the same country. There aren't many wars between different national entities and countries at the moment.

A recent study has shown that of the 25 most serious violent conflicts in the world, only two were between countries. Twenty-three were between people living within the same borders, and sharing the same overarching nationality.

The challenge is how to accommodate diversity, how to manage diversity. And if you want to resolve the problems, if you want to bring peace to those countries in transition, you need to strike a balance between unity (the greater whole) and diversity (the building blocks that make up the greater whole). Important minorities need to feel that they are not marginalized, that they are recognized as important constituent parts of the whole.

And then, above all else, countries emerging from violent conflict need to find a formula for dealing with what we described in South Africa as political crimes, crimes committed with a political motive, not to enrich yourself but to serve a cause which you believe was an honorable one.

In many countries there is one big stumbling block to successful negotiation. It is one that prevents leaders from taking initiative to change the situation, to move towards democracy, towards greater freedom. It can be summed up in two questions: "But if I lose power, will I go to jail? Will there be retribution against me?"

The generals in Zimbabwe are holding President Mugabe upright because they are afraid of the retribution that will come for what they've done under his regime. The same thing happens in other countries. And therefore you need to find a formula. In South Africa we settled on a formula of massive amnesty that actually went further than I wanted to go.

The ANC insisted on amnesty regardless of the seriousness of the crime. I favored the Norgaard Principles that were applied in Namibia. They approved amnesty, yes, but not for cold-blooded murder and assassination and rape and the like. Amnesty cannot be justified for deeds falling outside the rules of war.

I recall one of the most painful concessions I had to make to President Mandela and his team. We had to agree to an amnesty for a man who, in cold blood, threw a bomb into a bar where innocent civilians were sitting, having a drink, and killed six of them. We had to agree to amnesty for a white man who took a repeating rifle into a bus and shot 10 people just because they were black.

I didn't want to do it. The ANC insisted on it. It was one of the most painful concessions I ever made, but it was needed in order to move forward, in order to reach a negotiated settlement. This is the sort of issue that will raise its head in all countries coming out of violent conflict. It is an issue that will need to be addressed in a principled way, and the solutions that are found to it will have to alleviate the fear of those who have to give up their stranglehold on power, to assure them that they won't have to pay a price that they are not prepared to pay.

These are lessons that I can think can be applied in the Egypts, in the Tunisias, in the Libyas of today, in the Congo and in Sudan, in Burma and in Syria, and in Israel and in Palestine.

If you analyze why things aren't progressing in all of these trouble spots, why leaders aren't taking initiatives to break out of the cycle of violence and repression and finding a path towards negotiated solutions, then these are the lessons which need to be taken to heart in trying to resolve the problems in the trouble spots of the world.

Francis Fukuyama said that "this is the end of history." There is, ladies and gentlemen, no end to history. We are making history again. The outbreak of fanatic Islamic terrorism has started a new era. The alleged failure of capitalism -- or, perhaps more accurately, the alleged failure of the type of capitalism that was practiced for so many years -- has created a new era. There is no end to history.

As my compatriots in the ANC like to put it, the struggle continues and always will.

 (Note: This article is excerpted from a speech given by De Klerk at a March 5 event in Washington sponsored by the Legatum Institute and Foreign Policy to mark the launch of Democracy Lab.)



What David Cameron Can Teach the GOP

American Republicans have all but destroyed their brand during this election cycle. Their once-and-future Tory allies across the pond can teach them how to build it back up.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visits the United States this week, there will be the usual garlands of praise hung around the neck of the "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom. We will hear, ad nauseam, that no two countries are closer and no two peoples (save perhaps the poor forgotten Canadians) have more in common. Like much political blather, there is some truth to this. The transatlantic cousins are, and will remain, close. There is too much history, too much culture, for it to be otherwise.

But with election season in full swing in the United States, one can't help but notice the widening gulf between Cameron's Conservative Party and its American counterparts on the right as the latter undergo a grueling primary. Despite periodic bouts of 1980s nostalgia on the campaign trail -- Newt Gingrich has never met a problem a "Reagan-Thatcher" strategy can't solve -- memories of that era are fast fading. British Conservatives and American Republicans were genuinely close then; they are very much more distant today. So much so, in fact, that in many respects many British Tories are closer to the right wing of the Democratic Party than they are to the mainstream GOP.

Although the United States and Britain face many similar problems -- a middle-class adrift, faltering social mobility, uncomfortably high unemployment, increased health-care costs, and a crisis of confidence in politics and political institutions -- it is striking how few ideas Cameron's government has borrowed from the American right. Tellingly, Sweden, not the United States, is the inspiration for the prime minister's flagship school-reform program. Meanwhile, Cameron's approach to budget-balancing includes cutting defense spending while his government's enthusiasm for "green energy" is firmly within the European mainstream and a long way from the GOP's "drill, baby, drill" approach. Indeed, Cameron has sharply increased taxes on oil companies.

Moderation was once a conservative -- or at least a Tory -- virtue. But from a British perspective, the Republicans appear to have abandoned the conservatism of Edmund Burke in favor of a repressed and vindictive scorched-earth brand of right-wing politics that owes little to any of conservatism's more distinguished forefathers and rather more to the bile-strewn splutterings of ratings-chasing talk radio hosts (Rush Limbaugh's recent troubles notwithstanding).

That is, doubtless, a feature of the fact that the present campaign for the Republican Party's nomination appears dominated by cultural factors and a race to the bottom to see which candidate can portray President Barack Obama as some kind of fifth columnist actively seeking to undermine or, worse, destroy the United States. Seen from afar, this appears an unpersuasive review of the president's time in office.

Moreover, again when viewed from the Atlantic's eastern shore, the distemper afflicting the American conservative movement seems somewhat disproportionate. To put it another way: Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health-care plan would, in outline anyway, be more than acceptable to the faction of Tories who are unpersuaded by the infallibility of government-run health care -- considered well to the right on the British political spectrum. Or take taxing and spending: British conservatives want to reduce spending, but they're prepared to raise some taxes to help pay for it. If they were American, these right-wing Tories would be apostates or RINOs -- Republicans in name only.

This is a matter of temperament as much as policy. Although it was once possible to see trace elements of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" in Cameron's vision of "The Big Society" -- a plan to transfer control of services from government to local associations, including faith groups -- the truth is that Cameron's localism has its roots in British, not American, politics. (More to the point, it hasn't achieved much yet.) In any case, Bush's tarnished legacy continues to hurt the Republican brand outside the United States.

The incomprehension, mind you, is mutual. American conservatives might wonder whether they really have anything to learn from a party that, until the Great Crash of 2008, felt itself unable to oppose Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown's runaway spending plans. Until reality dictated otherwise, Cameron and his closest aides paid little attention to fiscal policy. Like many others, they supposed the Age of Plenty would last forever.

Government today, however, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a matter of making do with less. For political, not economic, reasons, Cameron has chosen not to reduce the 50 percent income tax rate paid by the highest earners even though evidence suggests it is likely costing the Treasury money. Instead, he is slowly cutting corporate taxes and, more significantly, eliminating income taxes on low-paid workers altogether. Many within his own party would like to see a more aggressive, supply-side approach to boost growth.

Like leaders across the developed world, Cameron is still wrestling with the twin imperatives of controlling deficits while also boosting growth. Despite thousands of headlines to the contrary, the British government has not pressed ahead with "savage" austerity measures. Spending will remain constant in real terms, though higher debt-interest payments will squeeze departmental expenditures. Nevertheless, Cameron's plans are only different in degree, not kind, to those proposed by the Labour government his coalition replaced.

Many American conservatives would, I am sure, consider the Oxford-educated Cameron a "squish" -- and an aristocratic, silver-spooned squish at that. Nevertheless, Cameron's rise to power does offer one valuable lesson for the Republicans: Change cannot be limited to removing the other party from power; it must involve changing your own party too.

Obama built a formidable electoral coalition in 2008, albeit in circumstances that were unusually favorable for a candidate of his type and quality. In 2012, as best it can be discerned from overseas, the Republican Party seems content to play on much the same demographic map as it did four years ago: unhealthily dependent on the votes of the super-rich and lower-income white men. These, particularly the latter, are of course important constituencies, but concentrating on them to the exclusion of almost all else is a risky strategy that leaves little margin for error.

If Cameron appreciated anything, it was that the core Conservative vote would not be enough to take him to Downing Street. He was, in some respects, the surprise winner of the 2005 Tory leadership election, defeating rivals possessing both purer conservative credentials and greater parliamentary experience. But, battered by three consecutive heavy defeats, the Tories grasped -- dimly in some cases -- that the party needed a new playbook. How could it be otherwise, when polling showed that popular policies became less popular when voters were told they were advocated by the Conservative Party?

Cameron offered a "detoxification" program designed to persuade voters that the Tories were no longer "the nasty party." Part of that meant talking about issues the Conservatives had traditionally neglected. At times this verged on self-parody, as when Cameron traveled to the Arctic for an elaborate photo shoot designed to show he "got" global warming. Cameron boasted that he would lead the "greenest government ever." Similarly, he emphasized his commitment to universal, state-funded health care, insisting that the National Health Service, another traditional Tory weakness, would be safe in Tory hands.

In office there has been some slippage on some of these policies (the faltering economy swamps all else), but there was a reason Cameron insisted on modernizing his party: It gave voters not usually open to Conservative messages room -- even permission -- to listen afresh to the Tories on matters traditionally considered Conservative strengths. Cameron was prepared to sacrifice a yard to gain two.

As Francis Maude, a former chairman of the Conservative Party and a key figure in the "modernization project," said in a speech this month: "The Conservative Party will always suffer if it's seen to be almost trying to turn the clock back to an imagined golden era. You can't drive policy looking through a rose-tinted rearview mirror. If we're seen as being defined by backward-looking social attitudes, we will be seen as unacceptable and unelectable."

Perhaps the Republican Party has no need to make any kind of comparable gesture. But there is a sense, surely, that this primary season -- choked with fools and charlatans and extremists as it has been -- has tarnished the Republican brand to the point that it will soon need serious polishing.

Of course, the British and American systems are very different, and one should be cautious about suggesting that lessons from one are automatically applicable to the other. Nevertheless, I fancy that the American conservative movement's hostility to same-sex marriage (and even birth control!) is severely damaging its standing with younger voters, especially those with college degrees. I suggest, too, that this damage hurts the Republican Party even with younger voters who might otherwise be sympathetic to conservative views. When the electorate moves, wise political parties think about moving too.

Something similar might be said of immigration and the Latino community. It's not as if Obama and the Democrats have been able to "fix" immigration. But unlike the Republicans, they are able to talk about the issue in ways that don't repel Hispanic voters. Here again, the British Conservatives have learned the power of framing. According to Maude, polling found that "voters confronted with the party's immigration policy, if it were presented in a neutral way … supported it by two to one, but when told that it was a Conservative policy, the proportions reversed. This was all about the motives that were attached to us."

With recent polls showing slumping Hispanic support for the GOP, the Republican Party could use a detoxifying agent to attract a demographic that, as recently as 2004, was as much as 40 percent Republican.

In terms of right-of-center politics, the Atlantic Ocean has not been this wide since at least the 1930s. An old line has it that Britain and the United States are "two countries divided by a common language." Frankly, that has rarely been truer than when one contemplates the great conservative divide between the party of David Cameron and the party of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain. To shake their own "nasty party" problem, Republicans might consider looking across the ocean for inspiration.

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