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Commonwealth forum for governing and opposition parties opens in Tanzania

7 May 2012
Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, former Ghana President Jerry Rawlings and National Assembly Speakers from Rwanda and Uganda among speakers on strengthening democratic culture in 54-member Commonwealth

Governing and opposition parties from East Africa will attend a Commonwealth forum in Tanzania next week to discuss their roles, rights and responsibilities in ensuring a flourishing democracy.

The forum in the coastal city of Dar es Salaam is convened by the Commonwealth Secretariat in partnership with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Tanzania’s National Assembly. It brings together representatives from parties and civil societies from Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Uganda and host Tanzania.

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba leads a delegation from the Secretariat that includes Political Affairs Director Amitav Banerji, Head of Democracy Mark Stevens and Deputy Director for Communications and Public Affairs Manoah Esipisu.

“Our aim is to promote the necessary relationship between government and opposition as well as how to create the conditions and environment in which this relationship can flourish,” Mrs Masire-Mwamba said at the formal opening of the three-day 7-9 May 2012 event.

“Government and opposition have to see themselves as partners. Government must acknowledge that there needs to be democratic space for the opposition to function and to enable other view-points to exist. The role of the opposition is a very real one in holding governments accountable and ensuring service delivery.”

Also speaking at the opening ceremony, former Ghana President Jerry Rawlings praised the Commonwealth as a force for good in Africa – where 19 of its members hail from. He called for sustained efforts to grow democratic culture.

“Democratic culture does not come with one or two elections. It does not grow overnight. Democracy cannot just be about rhetoric. It must have a meaning, strong foundations and vibrant institutions. It must be inclusive and it must touch the lives of people,” former President Rawlings said.

“Democracy is about providing space – to the opposition, to statutory oversight institutions, to civil society and to the media.”

Tanzania’s National Assembly Chairman Sylvester Mabumba and Zambian legislator Harry Kalaba, who represented the CPA, also addressed the forum. They outlined the roles and responsibilities of government and opposition parties in parliament.

Some 40 representatives of political parties are attending the forum, the sixth in a series aimed at exploring the relationship between government and opposition parties and their contribution to the democratic process. Similar forums have taken place in the Caribbean, Southern Africa, the Pacific, West Africa and Asia.