Leaders from opposition and ruling parties in seven Southern African nations came together recently for the region’s first conference focused exclusively on policy development.
At the Political Party Strengthening Institute (PPSI), rival political parties put aside partisan differences to discuss ways to improve how policies are developed to reflect the concerns and priorities of citizens in their respective countries. The March 2-6 conference was organized by NDI and held in Pretoria at the University of South Africa (UNISA), which was a sponsor.
Leaders from the top three political parties in South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana, and two party representatives from Angola attended the five-day event, including two party presidents, five members of parliament and eight party deputies/secretaries general.
Hon. Mmamoloko Kubayi, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, African National Congress (ANC) member of parliament and chair of the South African Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services, welcomed the party leaders to South Africa on behalf of South African Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe.
“The process of developing policies is an important consideration for every party, ruling and opposition,” said Hon. Kubayi. "In order to ensure citizen participation, parties must design processes that enable ordinary party members to have their views considered and to make contributions to the policies being developed by the party.”
Throughout the week, international experts led presentations and seminars on how political parties can use various tools and techniques to put together policy platforms that channel the demands and priorities of citizens.
Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the U.S., former governor of Vermont and a member of NDI’s Board of Directors, shared insights on how parties can improve communications with party members. He emphasized how social media and other online communications tools offer unique opportunities to share ideas so party members’ political priorities can be better represented.
Governor Dean also joined a panel with Janine Hicks, commissioner from the South African Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), and Professor Mmatsie Mooki, senior lecturer at UNISA College of Law, to discuss how and why parties should develop inclusive policies that reflect and promote the political voices of women and youth.
In another panel, Ambassador Nora Schimming-Chase, former Namibian ambassador to Germany, challenged participants to come up with new language that would help them work together, such as describing themselves as “governing and non-governing” parties rather than “ruling and opposition.”
On the same panel, Dr. Ozzonia Ojielo, regional cluster leader of the Governance and Peacebuilding group at the United Nations Development Programme, identified challenges and opportunities confronting political parties today. Among the major challenges are the lack of consultation with party members in policy formulation and the lack of representation of marginalized groups in the policy making process. Opportunities included the fact that the democratization process is still unfolding on the African continent and the marketplace of ideas is available to everyone because of the information and communication revolution.
Traci Cook, senior advisor for NDI’s Southern and East Africa programs and an expert on public opinion research, led a discussion on how political parties can incorporate opinion research into policy development. “I appreciated the opportunity to take a step back and remember that you can’t use your guts in politics,” said Edith Zewelani Nawakwi, president of the Forum for Democracy and Development political party in Zambia. “You have to get the facts, you have to do focus groups, you have to try and get to a community, listen, feel and observe, and then from there, the citizens guide you on what they want.”
Citing the nonpartisan atmosphere of the conference, many participants expressed interest in bringing the same group together for a future event to continue their discussions and expand on lessons learned. Zaida Matola, head of the training department for the FRELIMO party in Mozambique, noted that she looked forward to future events that incorporated more discussion time and opportunities to collaborate with participants.
“I didn’t even think we could sit and drink tea. I wish this meeting could be extended to senior politicians in other countries too. Just getting together like this to have tea may ease the tensions in a number of places and serve as a basis for conflict prevention,” said Nawakwi, referring to the aftermath of the contentious Zambian presidential by-election held in January.
“I will be leaving here with a lot of exposure and experience and real lessons, which I’ve liked, in particular bringing the high level presenters to share with us their experiences, the true experiences in their political life,” said Ibrahim Matola, secretary general for the People’s Party in Malawi. “It has really inspired me.”
Other speakers included: Ivan Doherty, director of NDI’s political party programs and former secretary general of the Fine Gael Party in Ireland; Alberto Ruiz-Thiery of the Centrist Democrat International; Christophe Sente of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies; Aimee Franklin of the Africa Liberal Network; Keith Jennings, director of NDI’s Southern and East Africa programs; and distinguished faculty from UNISA’s Department of Public, Constitutional and International Law, including Chairman Dr. DT Mailula.
As a follow-up to the event, participants will be able to stay connected through online social platforms, bi-monthly emails, and peer-to-peer mentoring by the trainers and facilitators. NDI plans to hold a second political party institute event with the same participants within the next year.
The program was supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the United Nations Development Programme, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, the Africa Liberal Network, and the Centrist Democrat International.
Published on May 4, 2015