Donor-Driven Initiatives and Media Training in Africa

Article excerpt

In 1992, the U.S. Agency for International Development, (AID), launched a $15-million program to consolidate democracy in Zambia. The aid program followed multiparty elections which ended the 28-year reign of Kenneth Kaunda and the United National Independence Party, (UNIP). For 17 of those 28 years, Zambia had operated a single-party state, with UNIP serving as the sole, legitimate party (Bratton, 1992). The defeat of Kaunda and UNIP at the 1991 general elections, and the victory of former trade union leader, Frederick Chiluba, and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy, (MMD), was seen by many as an opportunity to consolidate democratic pluralism in Zambia (Bratton, op.cit.).

It was this vision of democratic pluralism that led the U.S. government, acting through its Agency for International Development, (AID), to embark on a bold initiative it termed the Democratic Governance Project (DGP). The central objective of this initiative was to render "public decision making more accessible and effective."(USAID Project Paper, 1992).1

Five years after the launching of the project, AID is scaling it down, uncertain about the future of democracy in Zambia. Part of the pessimism stems from the performance of the Chiluba government and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, (MMD), in the post single-party government era. Dogged by charges of corruption, economic mismanagement, and political intolerance throughout much of its first term, critics of the MMD government say that its record so far has been just as bad as that of the Kaunda regime it succeeded (Bratton and Liatto-Katundu, 1994). Others point to more systemic problems. According to Ihonvbere (1995), Zambia is "caught in the contradiction of nurturing and consolidating plural democracy under very difficult socioeconomic conditions" (Ihonvbere, 1995:23).

The controversies over freedom of the press, and the failure to conduct free and fair elections at the end of Chiluba's first term in office, are perhaps the most significant emblems of this failure at consolidating democratic pluralism in Zambia. For example, Chiluba's entire first term was marked by several tussles with the press, particularly the private-enterprise press. Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the private-enterprise independent press, those supporting transition to democratic pluralism argue that the frequent tussle with the press over critical and sensational stories against members of the Chiluba government did not help with the image of progress toward democracy.2

As for constitutional reforms, the government's failure at compromise with the opposition over several issues, including proposals for an independent judiciary, the need for an independent electoral commission, the procedure for adopting the constitution, and plans to include a Bill of Rights in the main constitution, seriously undermined the legitimacy of the constitution.5 Worse still, the refusal to rescind a clause in the new constitution which forbade former president, Kenneth Kaunda, from contesting the elections as a presidential candidate because his parents were not of Zambian origin, seriously compromised the integrity of the democratic process . The subsequent boycott of the elections by Kaunda's UNIP, and the denunciation of the 1996 elections by several groups as unfair, and undemocratic, was one by-product of the failure at constitutional reforms.

Significantly, two of the key components of the U.S. Agency for International Development's democratic assistance plan for Zambia dealt with freedom of the press and constitutional reforms. Is-ow that Zambia is under attack on both of these scores, it is not surprising that AID is scaling back its commitments to assist Zambia in achieving democratic consolidation. This paper examines AID's media assistance plan under the Democratic Governance Project initiative, with particular emphasis on three aspects: (a.) the attempt at policy reforms that were intended to protect freedom of the press and ensure the privatization of mass media institutions in Zambia; (b. …