Andrew Feinstein, former ANC member, gives his account of GPG’s recent conference on “Cross-Party Relations and Political Transitions” held in Tunis.

As a former facilitator in the transitional negotiations that led to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, and an African National Congress Member of Parliament after those elections, it was a great pleasure to visit Tunisia, and in fact North Africa, for the first time. I joined politicians from Tunisia and Egypt who gathered in Tunis to discuss and exchange experiences on the topic of cross-party relations and political transitions at a conference organised by GPG with the Arab Forum for Alternatives and UNDP.

At the outset, I was struck by the breadth and diversity of the delegates from the two countries. Ranging across political parties, they provided a mosaic of views on their experiences. They interacted constructively even though, in the case of Egypt, significant strategic differences exist between the parties on whether to participate in upcoming elections or not.

It was noticeable that the Tunisian representatives all felt that the transition had been largely successful and, while significant challenges still exist, the country is generally on the right track. I was impressed by the analytical insight and commitment of the country’s delegates. As an MP I worked extensively on issues of accountability, so was delighted to learn of the Ethical Agreement Pact that Tunisian politicians and parties had agreed.

The Egyptian participants were keen to engage with those of us presenting our own countries’ experience of transition, and were passionate and committed in their deliberations with each other. They clearly elucidated the challenges facing their country, particularly the need for political parties to gain credibility in the eyes of the population. It struck me that these political parties need to both educate their supporters about the nuances of their role, while also working with each other in a manner that builds their credibility and standing.

As I left this exhilarating exchange of ideas and the wonderful city of Tunis, I was reminded of Nelson Mandela’s sage words:

“In our language there is a saying Ndiwelimilambo enamagama – I have crossed famous rivers. It means that one has travelled and, in the process, gained much experience and knowledge.”

I certainly did and was grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important conversation. More importantly, I am hopeful that the impressive delegates from Egypt and Tunisia did so too.

Andrew Feinstein
Director of Corruption Watch and Former Member of the ANC