Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cape Verde leader: Democracy on move in Africa

Recent elections in Liberia and Sierra Leone suggest democracy is on the march in Africa, says an architect of democracy in the West African nation of Cape Verde.

Antonio Manuel Mascarenhas Monteiro (photo), the former president of Cape Verde, addressed dozens of Elizabeth City State University faculty on democracy and citizenship at a lecture held at the K.E. White Center Wednesday.

Antonio M. Monteiro, former president of Cape Verde, Africa, speaks at the K.E. White Center at Elizabeth City State University, Wednesday.

A Belgian-educated lawyer, Monteiro founded Cape Verde's bar association. In 1991, he became the West African nation's first democratically elected president and went on to serve two terms. While in power, he chaired a regional human rights conference and joined a goodwill mission to Angola.

"Democracy empowers all of the citizens in a society as a whole," Monteiro said.

Monteiro said the meanings of both "democracy" and "citizenship" have evolved over time. At one point, democracy did not include universal suffrage, and the elderly and the enslaved were not considered citizens, he said.

Monteiro also drew a distinction between being a member of a state — a citizen — and a member of a nation. He said nationality is a broader term, while citizenship requires that certain criteria be met.

"Citizenship also means participation in the life of a democratic state," Monteiro said. "Democracy needs the active participation of all citizens in order to survive."

According to Monteiro, civil society forms the backbone of democratic movements. He said states must respect individual freedoms — such as free speech and a free press — in order to become democratic. Civil society, he said, formed the resistance to totalitarian regimes in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and '90s.

At the same time, Monteiro said democracy must involve political society as well. He said democratic states depend on the interaction between civil and political society.

Looking toward his native continent, Monteiro said he sees signs of progress.

"Africa is in step with a worldwide move to democracy," he said.

He pointed to the election of a female head of state — Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — in Liberia and an opposition victory in recent elections held in Sierra Leone. For Monteiro, a constant drive toward a democracy of citizenship can make the world a better place.

ECSU Chancellor Willie Gilchrist presented Monteiro with a distinguished service award as the Chancellor's Distinguished International Lecturer for Fall 2007. Last year's speaker was Jerry John Rawlings, former president of Ghana.

The lecture came during the university's multicultural day. Faculty, students and staff at the university were encouraged to dress in traditional international attire and sample international cuisine.

Jose Gil, a professor of foreign languages and a native of Spain, said the university has strong international representation among its faculty, particularly in math and the sciences. He estimated at least 30 faculty have international backgrounds.

"It's very important that we have steps to advance our understanding of the global community," said Bismarck Myrick, a former U.S. Ambassador to Liberia and Lesotho who also was visiting ECSU on Wednesday.

Myrick said cross-cultural communication has improved in recent years, driven by the needs of businesses, government and education.

"Everything is interconnected," he said.

Cape Verde leader: Democracy on move in Africa