Transcript of interview with Charles Ako of Radio Equinox, Douala, Cameroon
Friday, December 6, 2002

Equinox Radio: Good afternoon listeners ,good people of the province . You're welcome to this special broadcast on Equinox Radio. As we announced in our various news bulletins, our guest on this special broadcast is Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, he's a seasoned political scientist and African director for the National Democratic Institute , that's the NDI based in the United States of America. He's in Cameroon as part of a sub regional tour to assess and continue the spread of the doctrine of democracy, that is the most important tenet of his organization , and for one hour, well we say for fifty minutes , he would be talking about the NDI democratization in Cameroon , Africa, conflicts on the continent and the current world phenomenon of terrorism and other issues. Good afternoon Dr . Chris.

Dr. Fomunyoh: Thank you Charles and thanks for having me.

Equinox Radio: Yes, the team that will be keeping you company, there is Libero at the dashboard, and of course for supervision we have Severain Tchonkeu , that's director for Equinox Radio and for presentation my name is Charles Ako. Well, listeners, you are reminded that in the course of the program , you might have something to chip in , you just dial the numbers 343 94 84. That is 343 94 84 or 950 5792 to ask questions to the guest on the program. Once again you're welcome doctor.

Dr. Fomunyoh: Thank you.

Equinox Radio: Now leaving United States of America to Cameroon seems to be a change between two different worlds that have just a little similarity if I would say. Now what is the reading you would give to this transition?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, I think that's the challenge that we all face, the challenge that is faced by Cameroonians and Africans living in the Diaspora, the ability to be able to live and work in one environment where things seem to look pretty good. Where citizens feel their lives are being improved on a daily basis and having to remind yourself that you've left people back home who may be living under different circumstances but knowing also that it is important to, from time to time, come back and be able to reconnect with them , get a sense of what their concerns are, their interests are , make sure that you remind yourself of home, and where your base is and also get a chance to see whether there are ways in which those of us in the Diaspora can continue to make a contribution. So that is the spirit that pushes me to make these trips now probably more often than was the case in the past.

Equinox Radio: And you must have changed your diet . Have you had any problems?

Dr. Fomunyoh: I haven't, but I can tell you that I've probably put on a little more weight in the few days that I've been here. I'm sure if my family saw me now, they'll probably complain because of all the good food that I've missed over the years.

Equinox Radio: Now Doctor, when one hears about the National Democratic Institute, he's tempted to think that it's an institution where you go there to study ,you obtain a degree for a course you must have pursued. What really is the NDI for which you are the Africa Director?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well you're right, the title may be a little, the word "Institute" in the title may be a little deceptive, but we are a non governmental organization that was set up in 1983, by the Congress of the United States for the purpose of promoting and supporting democracy worldwide. Even though we are funded by the Congress we are an independent organization that operates and conducts its activities internationally . We do not get involved in American domestic politics and we also conduct our activities on a non-partisan basis - the sole purpose being to support democrats, small "d" democrats wherever they may be.

Equinox Radio: And of course , you've been working for the organization for ten years today. Can you tell us what image of Africa the NDI holds when issues about democracy and human rights are being discussed?

Dr. Fomunyoh: I'm sure that the views or perceptions of NDI would be the same that are shared by even most Africans themselves, because when they look around , they see a continent that is got a lot of crises. We're currently talking about Cote-d'Ivoire, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; yesterday it was Angola and Sierra Leone, Sudan and so they see these crises and they worry about the future.

But at the same time, they also see successes. The fact that Apartheid has come to an end in the last decade; the fact that a country such as Namibia, that was considered a colony of Apartheid South Africa has now gotten independence; the fact that countries such as Senegal and Benin and Mali and Ghana have gone through credible elections that have brought about a change of power through the ballot box; and there is some hope that Africa's future does exist and that the younger generation of Africans, even if it inherits a continent that's got substantial problems, is going to be able to make a contribution to make the continent much better.

I also feel that this is a continent with potential resources, well over seven hundred million inhabitants with a lot of wealth, a lot of natural resources, and that if democracy continues to take hold and if we put in place institutions that can guarantee responsible, accountable government, where elected officials are held accountable by the ordinary citizens, then we could make our contribution and have a seat at the table as the rest of the world continues to move forward.

Equinox Radio: Now what do you think is the interest of the United States to preach democracy which is a kind of open tenet for life that is prone to individual choice and all the like? Why should the United States be so pushful in promoting democracy in the world?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well that's a question that many people ask but it's one that I guess could be framed differently because I do not believe that the United States preaches democracy. I think Africans and people on other continents aspire, the ordinary people aspire to democratic governments.

And while countries such as the United States and other Western countries may make financial contributions from time to time, I think the highest price to the pursuit of democracy is paid by the ordinary citizens, who on a daily basis, put their lives on the line for some of them to try to achieve the rights and liberties that a lot of people enjoy or take for granted in established democracies.

When thousands of people take to the streets to advocate a change in the system of governance, I think those people are the committed democrats and those are the people we try to be supportive of.

Equinox Radio: Now I was asking that question because there is a lot of tongue wagging that the US is using this issue of democracy to pry into the natural resources of other countries, tapping these resources and rendering those countries kind of poor, so to keep their capitalist tendencies burning ?

Dr.Fomunyoh: Well it's a serious question, but I couldn't help laughing because if you're in Washington or in New York, you'll be fascinated by the kinds of battles that take place between organizations such as NDI and Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and Amnesty International - these organizations that are advocates for human rights , good governance and democracy - the battles that we all fight with various corporate interests.

And I would tell you, for one thing, if you talked to people in the business sector they probably would want , some of them may even tell you that it was easier for them to do business with regimes that were not transparent because they had fewer actors to deal with, questions of transparency didn't occur…

Equinox Radio: That looks intriguing.

Dr. Fomunyoh: In Nigeria for example, when Nigeria was under military rule, a lot of companies went in and raped as much as they could get but nobody could raise a finger because the political system didn't allow for citizens to monitor the political activities of the government. So I don't think that there's an intent here to make democracy a way of life for people who aspire to it, just for the sole purpose of being able to tap into the resources of African countries .

Equinox Radio: Yes , before we take the perspective of the African countries , let's narrow down our discussion to Cameroon. The NDI had the opportunity to monitor the first ever multi party elections in 1992 and your organization issued a very stern report in which the authorities in place were indicted for having not implemented the real democratic tenets in the election. Do you feel, ten years after the report, that Cameroon and the NDI could still be good bedfellows when it comes to politics or democracy?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Somehow I should have anticipated that NDI's report of 1992 would become part of this discussion, because I know that people still think about it and in some ways it's gratifying for the people at NDI who got an opportunity to work on that program. In some ways I have mixed feelings about where we are today, ten years after the NDI report of 1992, because on the one hand if I were just an ordinary NDI staffer, I would feel vindicated because a lot of the short comings that we identified then in 1992, a lot of the irregularities that we complained about and wrote about were still being reported up until recently.

For example, the fact that the registration process ought to have been improved upon , the fact that the electoral calendar should have been known in advance and respected so that elections don't get shifted back and forth at the will of a few individuals. The fact that polling sites ought not to be in the house of chiefs or people who have traditional authority over the voters in a way that could influence the ability of voters to cast their ballots in secret. These things that we identified already in 1992 seemed to have cropped up again in the last elections and so in many ways, if you're an NDI staffer, you could take solace in the fact that we said it ten years ago and it's borne itself out and even other organizations that have come to Cameroon since then have also complained about the electoral process that is currently in place .

On the other hand, I think as a Cameroonian , I feel a sense of depression knowing that some of the pitfalls in which we still find ourselves could have been better addressed if there'd been continued dialogue about the recommendations that were made by NDI at the time, and if some of those recommendations were reviewed and actually implemented so as to give Cameroonians and all of us a credible solid, rock solid, electoral system, that would produce results that would be viewed by Cameroonians as a genuine expression of the will of the people.

Equinox Radio: Not to cut you short Doctor, many people criticize the NDI for not being able to reinforce what it preaches. What sense does it really exist there when you keep on complaining that the electoral system is bad and you don't have the mechanism to reinforce the changes in the countries which you're criticizing?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, this question is very related to one that you posed initially and to which I responded by saying in most countries, even including some of the established democracies of today, you can go back to the United States and the fight for independence - and let's not forget the United States was a former British colony - you can go to France under Louis XVI and the French revolution, all across the world that the momentum for change has always come from within. That's where the people are, that's where the numbers in terms of size and strength are, and that's where the grievances are, people who feel the pinch of all lines within the system. And the momentum has always come from within.

And what groups such as NDI and others do is to provide some support, is to serve as a catalyst, is to provide some broad ideas and case studies, comparative case studies from other countries' experiences so that the democrats, the small "d" democrats within the country who are committed to putting in place a credible democratic system can borrow lessons learnt from other experiences …

Equinox Radio: Now when you say small democrats , what do you mean?

Dr. Fomunyoh: I just want to make a distinction between those people who are committed to democracy and people who may belong to a political party that has the word "democratic" in them; for example in the United States, if you say the word "democrat" with a big "D", it means you're an activist or a member of the Democratic party of the United States; if you say you're a democrat with a small "d" , it means you're committed to democracy irrespective of your political party. I'm sorry, I probably should realize that your audience wouldn't even get caught up in that small "d" , big "D" distinction .

Equinox Radio: But that could be interesting so that one day we might dream up borrowing that aspect from the United States. But then, most of the conflicts we have in Africa usually their roots are from implementation of democracy, good governance and all the like but then the NDI has never been at the forefront of being involved in brokering peace deals between belligerent factions. Why?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, you're right about the origins of some of the conflicts that we currently face in Africa but I probably should qualify a little bit by saying the conflicts in my opinion come from the poor management of political transitions. It's not from the implementation of democracy, it's the poor management of that transition….

Equinox Radio: But it would require some democratic will!

Dr. Fomunyoh: Yes it would require a lot of political will and we can see that the countries that … if you take two countries that have the same ingredients, one in which there's political will and one in which there's no political will, and one example that I've sited would be Togo on the one hand and Benin on the other hand; these are two relatively small countries with similar population sizes, people with the same ethnic mixtures - in one country, Benin, there's the political will and Benin's been able to make progress. Next door in Togo there's no political will, and the democratization process in Togo has stalled.

So it needs a lot of political will and it's when that political will is absent that the management of the transition becomes difficult and in some cases it could result in conflict. I should say that while NDI doesn't have the expertise in conflict resolution, that you may find with other organizations such as Search For Common Ground which is a US- based organization, or even President Carter's Carter Center in Atlanta, that in a number of cases we've been involved very early on in trying to broker reconciliation and consensus among political leaders.

For example, in Cote d'Ivoire a year ago, NDI succeeded in sponsoring a program that consisted in taking 18 top political party leaders from Cote d'Ivoire to South Africa on a study mission and we kept them in South Africa for ten days and provided an opportunity for them, first to talk amongst themselves, because that wasn't happening in country, and secondly to be able to talk to South Africans, President De Clerk, President Mandela and people from the ANC and other groups, to learn first hand from the South African experience about how South Africa had gone through its peace and reconciliation process.

And I'm pleased to say it's when those 18 leaders had returned to Cote d'Ivoire, that they got a consensus about the Yamoussoukro Agreement, that finally led to the National Forum which was held in December of last year, and which began to lay the foundation for peace and reconciliation in Cote d'Ivoire. Unfortunately, as the political will has dried up with time, things have broken down to the situation in which they are today.

Equinox Radio: You effectively took part in the Yamoussoukro deal. Now that Cote d'Ivoire is at this level, when you get back, take for instance you are called up there , what other innovation do you think you would inject in that deal that you brokered a few months ago to cool the situation there now?

Dr. Fomunyoh: It's extremely difficult for an organization such as NDI that doesn't have the implementation force - something that you referred to earlier, to be able to get into a situation where there is fighting, there's armed conflict, I don't think that we can make a difference.

On the other hand, if the initiatives that are currently undertaken by the ECOWAS member states were to bear fruit or to arrive at a peaceful agreement, we could work with Ivorian partners, Ivorian civil society organizations and political parties, and even the government, to try to implement that kind of peace agreement — whether it's by way of civic education programs, peace and reconciliation forums, political party training or civic education — in a way that could make the peace hold. But first someone who has the force of implementation is to broker the peace.

Equinox Radio: Yes I was about asking you the relationship between the NDI and sub regional groupings like the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, the Central Africa Economic and Monetary Union and all the like . What's the relationship between the NDI and these sub-regional organizations?

Dr. Fomunyoh: It depends. It varies from region to region, we do not have a formally structured relationship, it depends on the request that these organizations will make to NDI and if these requests fall within our terms of reference, the areas in which we've developed expertise, then we'll be willing, we're always willing to respond .

One concrete example that comes to mind, you did mention ECOWAS and CEMAC for West and central Africa but it's also within the Southern Africa region, SADC, which is the Southern Africa Development Community. Within SADC , the elected members of parliament within SADC formed a SADC Parliamentary Forum within which you find members of parliament from each one of the member states of SADC and the SADC Parliamentary Forum has been working with NDI for the past five years to build their own internal capacity to monitor elections.

And I would say that the SADC Parliamentary Forum has been very successful, in sending delegations of Southern African parliamentarians to monitor in member country states. They monitored elections in Tanzania, very successfully in Malawi, I believe, in Namibia and even most recently in Zimbabwe, where the SADEC Parliamentary Forum was the first group to come out very strongly against the manner in which the last elections were conducted in Zimbabwe, and that was a very courageous move.

Equinox Radio: Yes, this kind of forum seems to be absent within CEMAC and ECOWAS. Don't you think you can borrow an olive branch from SADC to help CEMAC and ECOWAS think all politically like SADC is doing?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, we haven't had any formal contacts with CEMAC yet, but we've had some discussions with elected officials, elected members of parliament within ECOWAS. Very recently, a few months ago, I led an assessment mission to Mali and Nigeria; Mali because at the time President Konare was the chief of ECOWAS and Nigeria because that's the Headquarters of the ECOWAS parliament, they intend to have a parliament based in Abuja, and we discussed with speakers of various parliaments, ways in which we could collaborate with them but also provide a forum for them to exchange experiences with their colleagues in the Southern Africa region, to see whether the ECOWAS parliament can begin to undertake similar initiatives to those undertaken by the SADEC parliamentary forum.

Equinox Radio:Yes, the NDI is mostly heard in Africa .We don't know whether it's limited to Africa only or it's spread across the world.

Dr. Fomunyoh: It's actually spread across the world and we've conducted activities in over eighty countries in the world and do have offices in about sixty of them as we speak.

Equinox Radio: Even in European countries?!

Dr. Fomunyoh: Absolutely, absolutely. We do have offices in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, former Soviet Union, Asia and Latin America and lest we forget, late President John F. Kennedy always said Democracy is a never-ending endeavor; you have to keep working on it on a day-to-day basis.

Equinox Radio: The United States, any organization that is linked up to the US is at times prone to having the favor of the United Nations because of most of what they say at the UN, is dictated by the United States . What's the relationship between the NDI and the United Nations?

Dr. Fomunyoh: We do not have any formal relationship with the United Nations…

Equinox Radio: But there could be some relationships in the background!

Dr. Fomunyoh: Not really, I should say so. Not really because the United Nations is a governmental body, it's made up of member states whereas NDI is a non-governmental organization. However , I'm proud to say that last year, NDI had the privilege of giving the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan , our Democracy Award, which is an annual event during which we recognize international leaders who've made a contribution to the pursuit of democracy and for the second time, we had an African, Kofi Annan, be the recipient of the Award last year.

We have in a number of countries worked with UNDP, which is one of the agencies of the UN system, in Mali, in Sierra Leone, and Niger, where UNDP has funded some of our programs in partnership with our local partners in strengthening civil society organizations or parliaments.

Equinox Radio: Well, listeners , you're reminded that you're in the company of Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh. He's Africa director of the National Democratic Institute of the United States of America . He's in Cameroon as part of a regional tour to assess the functioning of what the NDI has put in place in Africa and of course he's our special guest on this special program today and like I said earlier, if you want to contribute you ask questions to get clarifications on certain issues he's raised here , you can just dial 343 93 84 or 950 57 92 and of course your worries shall be attended to. Well, before we come back to discussions we have this musical break.

(Musical interlude)

Equinox Radio: It's exactly twenty four minutes to four pm .You are reminded that you are on a special program …and it's in honor of the Africa Director of the National Democratic Institute Doctor Christopher Fomunyoh. He's in Cameroon as part of a regional tour to assess the up keep of his organization. And of course we shall still be continuing with our discussions .Well, Doctor you are Cameroonian born and certainly when you're working in the NDI your heart will always turn back home. You came to Cameroon since Monday and you've been holding discussions with different shades of opinion . Can we have a gist of the worries of the people you've met so far.

Dr. Fomunyoh: I should say that I'm really grateful to the Cultural Center of the US Embassy for inviting me to be part of a program — a speaker series — that they've put together, that allowed me, while in Yaounde, to meet with members of civil society organizations, the Justice and Peace Commission, the National Observatory of Elections, to speak to students at the university and that was very refreshing for me.

And then here in Douala to also meet with some media outlets and just get a sense of what people feel, the sense the people have of where the country's headed and it's been very refreshing for me. So I'm very grateful to the US Embassy and the Cultural Center for putting that together.

Also I have on my own tried to reconnect with old school friends and most of the time, it happens very often, people tend to forget that I'm from Cameroon and I went to CPC Bali, I went to CCAST Bambili and the University of Yaounde and just coming back and getting to reconnect with those school friends is very heartening, it's very refreshing.

So I've done a lot of that and I think I will be going back not just refreshed and strengthened in my pursuit for democracy in favor of Africa, but also with a good sense of where the country is at this point and how much work we still need to do to accomplish the pursuits or the aspirations of the ordinary people of Cameroon.

Equinox Radio: You said you met with members of the National Elections Observatory, and that is an organization that has been on the lips of people out here especially after the last twin elections Cameroon had. Well, the public, well let's say political minds were blaming the National Elections Observatory for having not done a good job to stem what they said were gigantic electoral fraud, but then government insists that this is the best structure to organize free and fair elections in Cameroon. What's your reading of NEO - that's the National Elections Observatory - through its texts to what political observers tell you?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, I should say that, because I wasn't here during the twin elections as they are called - although I wonder why they are called "twin" elections, because when you give birth to twins you want to see them grow and progress - and I don't know that the formula that was used then is something that we want to encourage.

However, that said, I wasn't here then, NDI didn't have a delegation on the ground and so my meeting with the National Elections Observatory was more to hear from them and to learn what they went through in that first experience for them. It's a matter of public record, it's known that when the text, the law was voted by the Parliament, I was on the record, not as in parliament, but in interviews with Cameroonian newspapers even from out of Washington, I was on the record as feeling that the text did not really provide that organ with the powers that were required to have it weigh positively and heavily in making sure that the elections were properly conducted.

And as I talk to people, including political leaders and civic organizers and get more sense of what short comings there were, I'll probably get a better sense of how much the NEO has performed thus far and how much it will need to be strengthened.

Equinox Radio: Now like a seasoned political scientist, what holes have you picked from the texts governing the National Elections Observatory , if you've had time to go through?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Yes I did as soon as the text was created and I had some real concerns. For example, the manner in which the organ was set up; the fact that all eleven members would be appointed by one individual who is most likely to be a competitor in the process himself. I've watched other countries try to put in place those kinds of structures and in some countries, they've broadened the membership or how the members get appointed.

A portion may be appointed by the executive, another portion by the legislative branch, there may be some reserve slots for members of civil society organizations and professional organizations such as the Bar Council, the Human Rights organizations or the Associations of Women's Jurists. So that was one of the criticisms that I had and also, by and large, I had the feeling that if they get appointed and they can't even elect their own governing body, because it still has to be appointed, and it's just like adding insult to injury and it makes it difficult. But I do know for a fact that there are some credible individuals within the organization, very professional people.

Well, people who know us and know our organization, know that we don't shy away from difficult, challenging environments but also I think it just happened that we weren't really focused on being engaged in those elections and as resources become difficult to come by, it becomes increasingly difficult to make a case on the Washington side for putting resources into an environment in which we may not have as much positive impact as may be the case with other countries that may be clamoring for our assistance.

Equinox Radio: Now, let's talk about this phenomenon that has taken the world aback — terrorism. You were in the US when it happened on Sept 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers of the Trade Center in New York were blown off, when Washington was attacked by the terrorists. How did you feel that day?

Dr. Fomunyoh: I did feel a sense of vulnerability because I live and work in Washington and so when New York was attacked first and a few minutes after the Pentagon, almost everybody felt this sense of vulnerability in knowing that you could no longer be safe, no matter where you found yourself.

And I was also very struck by what I saw as a global sense of sympathy and solidarity all around the world; messages were coming, not just official messages from governments to the government of the Unites States, but even personal messages. In fact we at NDI opened a register, in which we had emails, phone calls, faxes, from people who had worked with us in various countries around the world, just checking in or calling to find out if any of us was affected and to express their sympathies.

And so I really felt a global sense of solidarity within human society to combat or put an end to international terrorism and I think the recent events in Kenya, a country that has now been hit twice, and Tanzania before that, is an indication that all of us are vulnerable. It could be you, it could be me, and it could be any one else, no matter where we are, no matter what we're doing, even no matter our political persuasions. I think terrorism is something that needs to be strongly condemned.

Equinox Radio: Now the US is leading a war against terror and some political hosts say analysts have seen the current US-led war against terrorism as a literal battle that cannot be won and a metaphor that offers only a continuation of the frozen abstract hatreds made possible by the Cold War. Your reaction.

Dr. Fomunyoh: Wow!! Well, I should take back the expression, because I hope it's one that the audience is familiar with. What's the alternative? Would that mean that we should throw up our hands and say 'okay we'll never win this battle!'? And then what happens in six months, in twelve months? What happens if , God forbid, the terrorists had their way because nobody thinks they could win the battle?

It's the whole world that's really exposed. It's a way of life and a civilization that's been attacked and I don't think that we can give in. On the contrary I think we have to take the battle to the terrorists where they are, first as individuals, because they're the ones that are committing the criminal acts but then secondly, to look at the society that breeds terrorism and see if there are things that we can do concretely that can mitigate the grievances that would give rise to that kind of extremism.

If you look at the origins of terrorism you would definitely know that terrorism is being bred in environments that don't allow for open discourse, where people don't find channels to express their political grievances and be listened to, in closed societies that are found to be very oppressive and so, as these grievances get bottled up, they then explode to the surface at a certain point and make people to believe that they can only take up violent means to express themselves, despite provisions of international organizations that could address the concerns that they may have.

Equinox Radio: Those who are opposed to the US war against terror blame the United States for provoking the terrorists to react the way they've been reacting for the past few months. American foreign policy is seen as being aggressive and it doesn't allow people who, in certain areas where the US has not got its interests, to talk against the United States when it wants to infiltrate. Take for instance the oil in Baghdad and of course , along the Gulf. Like you said, we have to look for mitigating ways of trying to identify why the terrorists are insisting to strike like that. Don't you think the US trying to get this war through is instead adding insult to injury?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Somehow, as I travel around the world and I read international newspapers, I realize that there is probably a confusion in most people's minds about the issues pertaining to US foreign policy in the Middle East, the situation in Iraq and the fight against international terrorism and of course, I don't speak for the US government , I'm not an employee of the US government……

Equinox Radio: Just like somebody who lives in the US and is working for a democratic Institute………

Dr. Fomunyoh: Yes, and is also an observer of international politics, and I do also teach at the University of Georgetown, so I have an opportunity to discuss with students as well. And the sense that I get is that there's probably a confusion in people's minds. First on the issue of terrorism, I think there is unanimous condemnation of terrorism and there's a broad coalition that wants to fight terrorism and to take the war against terrorism to wherever it may lead.

Secondly there is the Iraqi question and I think that has to do with UN resolutions that need to be implemented. I think it was a fortunate development that the US government, the Bush administration took its case to the UN Security Council and got a unanimous decision by all members of the Security Council to engage Iraq, to send out this inspection mission and to also have a resolution; give a clear sense that this was Iraq's last chance to disarm itself and do away with weapons of mass destruction. And so even if the US is perceived as being aggressive, it is in the implementation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. I think if the US hadn't taken that approach and kept the issue as a bilateral issue between the US and Iraq, the US would obviously be in a weaker position.

Equinox Radio: But the United States is still accusing the Iraqi regime of being undemocratic, it's too autocratic, killing people to rule; now we don't know whether the NDI, which is a US organization, has had some time to talk over democracy with Iraqi authorities ?

Dr. Fomunyoh: No we have not. We have not but we have talked in the past, even before the recent events of 9/11 of last year and the current situation. In the past NDI has sent an assessment mission to Northern Iraq and have talked to the Kurds who are in the Northern part of Iraq, about their aspirations to democratic governance, but when you say the US is accusing Iraq of the list of things you mentioned, I haven't seen one country that has come out to say Iraq is a democracy! So I think the US is just putting on the table things that everyone knows about Iraq.

Equinox Radio: But its neighbors around are saying that Iraq has a perfect regime that reflects the ambitions of Iraqis themselves!

Dr. Fomunyoh: No I don't think so. I beg to disagree. I think the neighbors, even the Arab league was unanimous to allow the inspectors to come back. There may be some disagreement about the means to make it happen but I don't think there's a regime that feels extremely comfortable having Saddam Hussein as a neighbor , after all ..

Equinox Radio: But the Iraqis have re-elected their president with a 99.999%!

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, now we begin to get a good sense of what those high percentages mean in elections. It reminds me coming back to the African continent of the early years of the democratization struggle in a country such as Malawi, where they had a president for life, who said all the people of Malawi would vote for him in previous one party, one candidate elections, he had a hundred percent of the vote but then, when multi party-ism came, and he reluctantly asked the people in a free referendum whether he should stay in power or not, he lost by two thirds of the vote. So were Iraqis to vote in an open, peaceful, secret ballot, would they still give Saddam Hussein a hundred percent of the vote? I don't know, but that's only one election where nobody was sick on election day, nobody cast a wrong ballot, everyone person that was on the voter registry went out to the polls and voted one way, it's quite a wonderful country. It must be!

Equinox Radio:Yes, Doctor, we are often made to understand that monarchies do not really go hand in hand with democracy and we still have absolute monarchies in Africa. How does the NDI manage to go through these monarchies in search for democracies in these countries; take for instance Morocco , Lesotho, and Swaziland where we still have monarchies?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Some of them have tried to transform themselves into constitutional monarchies. Morocco is one case in point where the king has been trying to devolve much of the powers that the late King Hassan had to the elected representatives of the people and I think, in the last few years, Morocco has made a lot of progress, they've had turn over of government with a Prime Minister from a party that has been in opposition for so many years now being the head of government. And just very recently, they had thirty five women elected to Parliament for the first time and I'm pleased to know that NDI does have an office in Morocco and we worked with all the political parties to train the women candidates on how to run for public office and the result that they obtained is something that we're very proud of.

So in a country such as Morocco and even Lesotho, there's enough political space to be able to work with those who aspire for more open democratic societies. Swaziland still has a distance to go and I think it'll take a while for Swaziland to meet up the criteria or the benchmark of Morocco or Lesotho.

Equinox Radio: Apart from monarchies still holding back on democracy, let's look at the Sharia that really contradicts democracy where there is a tooth-for-tooth justice or whatsoever. How do you reconcile the Sharia and democracy because the Sharia we still see it persisting in a country like Nigeria.

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, I think what is happening in some states of Northern Nigeria, just to be more specific is very unfortunate because one would think that, Nigeria, with its 120 million inhabitants, would really be a power house — both in political as well as in economic terms — on the African continent. But to see the country tear itself apart over issues of religious differences and the Sharia is most unfortunate.

I think most democratic societies try to establish a distinction, a separation between church and state, so that religion doesn't become the system of government that prevails, especially in our countries where we know there is a diversity of cultural background, education and religious practices. Hopefully as Nigeria really emerges from many years of military rule, and works to consolidate its democracy, that ways would be found to make sure that religious beliefs and practices can exist side by side with a secular state that would allow Nigerians to live and work in all parts of the country.

Equinox Radio: Doctor, tomorrow you have a rendez-vous here in Douala, with the Bonendale Women's Association.. What interest?

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well thank you for coming back home because that's something that I'm really heartened about. The SAWA women of Bonendale village set up an organization three years ago to empower women, and to encourage them to participate in the cultural, economic and political development of their people and their country; and to have been invited to be the special guest for this third anniversary is something that's been very heartening.

I hope that is an indication of the encouragement that I've tried to give them in the past but I think it's also testament of the dynamism of the chief of Bonendale, Moise Ikollo Ndoumbe, and his wife Jacqueline Ekambi Ikollo, who've been working very hard to give a new dimension to the village of Bonendale and to the Sawa tradition, with regards to women's participation. And to have someone such as myself, a Cameroonian, not from the Littoral province, be acknowledged and accepted in that regard is something that's very heartening to me.

Equinox Radio: Yes listeners , you were listening there to doctor Chris Fomunyoh. I would like to call him Dr. Chris Fomunyoh. Well he is director for the National Democratic Institute in the US. Just a few more seconds for your last word, doctor.

Dr. Fomunyoh: Well, I just want to express my appreciation to Radio Equinox for having me, and to you in particular for giving me such an intense interview and for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with fellow Cameroonians, and to thank you also for what you are doing - you and your colleagues — to expand democratic space in Cameroon.

Equinox Radio: Thanks a lot listeners, that was Doctor Christopher Fomunyoh, that's the Africa Director for the National Democratic Institute, the NDI in the US; he has had more than fifty minutes to talk about his institution, what he is and of course what prospects the institution holds for Africa. Well, I'm Charles Ako, thanks for listening, until we meet again, God bless you all out there.