EMERGING DEMOCRACIES FORUM: Finalizing Preparations for the Big Event! [Archives:1999/19/Law & Diplomacy]

May 10 1999

She was beaming as she spoke. “We have secured the necessary funds, thanks to the generosity of the donors,” said Kendall Dwyer, of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs which is organizing the event. She was referring to the Governments of Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, and the National Endowment for Democracy.
Ms. Dwyer is charged with the actual preparations for the Emerging Democracies Forum, a high-level gathering of pro-democracy activists. This will take place under the theme “Managing the Twin Transitions – Political and Economic Reform in Emerging Democracies” during 27-30 June, 1999.
“Already, we have over 50 confirmations (for participation) and we are still some two months away from the events,” she beamed again. Those confirmations include notables such as Alpha Oumar Konare, President of Mali, Zurab Zhvania, Speaker of Parliament in Georgia, two ministers from Morocco, two members of parliament from Macedonia, and a host of other decision makers and influential people in several countries.
Invitations were sent out to roughly 160 persons. “We expect an average of 10-person delegations from Benin, El Salvador, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Macedonia, Malawi, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, and of course, Yemen.
The Yemeni delegation is headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and includes the prime minister, several senior state officials,
politicians, as well as representatives of civil society.
Representatives of the donors and organizations supporting the political and economic transformation are also invited.
The organizers of the Forum are keen to shed light on the achievements of these democratizing countries, which they call “the second tier of transitional democracies.” That is because these countries ‘seldom receive the attention they merit.’ Thus, a large corps of local, regional and international journalists is invited to cover the events.
Aside from the recognition aspect of the gathering, the conference does address substantive issues that relate to the political and economic transformation process. The four major topics of discussion are the following:
1. “Setting the Context of Democratic Transition” which tackles the hard choices that need to be made;
2. “Confidence Building Measures” which address issues of the public trust, governance, elections and communications;
3. “Participation” addresses the democratic decision-making process and the contribution of women, civil society, etc.
4. “Management” which looks into good policy dimensions such as rule of law, fighting corruption, etc.
Mobilized to chair and moderate the plenary sessions, panel discussions, group action meetings and levels of debate are well-known international personalities who have proven leadership qualities and demonstrated commitment to democratic values.
The importance of the summit is that it re-invigorates the commitment to democracy. This is vital in light of the “backsliding” that has been witnessed in the recent past. Some countries have moved forward quickly with democratic reforms, only to entrench when faced with economic difficulties, public unrest or political challenges.
The main outcome that is envisaged from the gathering is:
1. A common statement identifying potential solutions to problems inherent in democratic transitions and defining tangible goals…
2. An agreed-upon action plan for follow-up activities and initiatives involving partnerships…
3. A summit report with findings and recommendations.
The three-day conference is expected to serve Yemen well. “It will put Yemen firmly on the map of democratizing countries,” said Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, editor of the Yemen Times and member of the Yemeni delegation to the summit.
But it is Derek Butler, the NDI representative in Yemen, who is excited about the event. “I am sure this occasion will bring deserved recognition to Yemen for staying the course of democratization in spite of visible hardships,” he said.
He also expressed the enormous benefits to the pro-democracy practitioners and activists in Yemen because of the exposure to the important experiences of other democratizing nations. “Rubbing shoulders with people who are in the same situation will definitely offer much insight into how to engage and interact in the future,” he explained.
Even opposition politicians are upbeat about the event. “We are happy if at least it will make our officials back-off a little bit. You know some elements in the establishments are not as tolerant as they should be. This international meeting will force them to take the back seat, at least for a while,” said a beleaguered journalist who works for an opposition newspaper.
Academic circles are also enthusiastic. A Sanaa University professor saw an opportunity for new research. “The information and experience of these countries will definitely be food for thought at more than one level,” said a professor at the Political Science Department of Sanaa University.
By: Afra Zubair, Ramzy Saqqaf,
Anwar Al-Sayyadi, and
other Yemen Times staff.