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A Decade for Democracy in Africa - P.J. Dobriansky

A Decade for Democracy in Africa

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Sponsored by Freedom House
Washington, DC
March 29, 2006

Ambassadors, members of the Freedom House Board, distinguished guests. Thank you, Jennifer for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here today. I want to extend my warm appreciation to Chairman Peter Ackerman for his leadership, to you, Jennifer, for organizing this event, and to all the staff at Freedom House for their steadfast dedication to strengthening democracy around the world.

President Bush, in his National Security Strategy, has reaffirmed our conviction that "democracies are the most responsible members of the international system", and that "promoting democracy is the most effective long-term measure for strengthening international stability, reducing regional conflicts, countering terrorism and terror-supporting extremism, and extending peace and prosperity."

Consistent with this bold vision, across Africa, and throughout the world, the United States is promoting human rights and democracy as an investment in freedom and security -- for this country, and for the future of that continent.

We are focusing on countries where the application of our resources, diplomatic initiatives, and other tools can make a tangible difference to every man and woman -- especially those insisting on having a voice in their own communities, villages, and countries. This is what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has defined as "transformational diplomacy" -- working with partners to "build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people" and helping others "better their own lives, build their own nations, and transform their own futures."

Significantly, we are not alone in this quest; we have partners throughout Africa. A recent Afrobarometer survey found that nearly 70% of those surveyed in 15 African countries say they prefer democracy over all other forms of government.

We see this spirit in Mali, the current Chair of the Community of Democracies (CD), a coalition of over 100 nations that seek to strengthen democracy across the globe by coming together to share best practices, and to lend a helping hand to countries that are still struggling with their democratic process. Mali recognizes, as do other African nations, that this pooling of resources is an effective pro-democracy strategy. At the Dialogue on Democracies in 2003 -- a roundtable discussion organized by the United States bringing together African and Latin American democracies -- Cape Verde's Prime Minister Jose Neves said, "Africa is now trailing the roads to freedom. It is our responsibility, in this community of democratic nations, to socialize and stimulate positive changes, by supporting the efforts toward achieving peace, toward creating and consolidating democratic institutions, toward the decentralization of power, toward intensifying civil society and winning the battle of development."

CD countries like Cape Verde, Mali and others are demonstrating that Africa has important resources to offer when it comes to democracy promotion. For example, Cape Verde participated in 2004 in a multi-national mission of practitioners from nine countries as part of the Community of Democracies East Timor Initiative to meet with their counterparts working to strengthen and consolidate democratic institutions in East Timor.

While much debate has been recently centered on the question of what should come first, democracy or economic development -- we believe both of these goals should be advanced simultaneously. This view is shared by our partners. Mali's focus and chosen theme for the 2007 Community of Democracies' ministerial in Bamako is democracy and development. Both are inseparably linked. We agree that democracy can yield a range of tangible benefits to the people of Africa by encouraging stability and good governance which are essential for economic prosperity. Accountability in government and in business should go hand in hand, just like free enterprise and free speech. We look forward to working with Mali and other CD countries to further the dialogue on the mutually reinforcing benefits that the democratic process offers to the achievement of democratic growth and poverty eradication.

Indeed, as we look around the continent of Africa, we see what Mali has already identified: that economic development and democracy are mutually reinforcing and should go hand in hand. At the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development, the global community elaborated the Monterrey Consensus and concluded that, "Good governance is essential for sustainable development. Sound economic policies, solid democratic institutions responsive to the needs of the people, and improved infrastructure are the basis for sustained economic growth, poverty eradication, and employment creation."

Significantly, these are the principles upon which the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was founded. Through the MCC, we are granting substantial poverty alleviation assistance to countries with solid policies in ruling justly, investing in people, and fostering economic freedom. Three of the eight approved MCC compacts are in Africa (Madagascar, Cape Verde, Benin), as are three of the five approved threshold programs (Ghana, Mali, Lesotho), for a total of $573 million in assistance. An additional nine African nations are pending approvals for compacts totaling almost $2.7 billion.

In addition to focused aid, we support fair trade. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), provides significant trade benefits to countries that are making continual progress toward establishing the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and a fair environment for foreign investors. AGOA is an ambitious initiative that is helping increase exports from Africa to the United States in key sectors such as chemical and agricultural products.

South Africa, a multi-party democracy itself, is also playing a significant role in promoting democracy on the continent. We know that Pretoria is trying to persuade some of its more recalcitrant neighbors to democratize and we welcome and commend this effort.

We see this spirit in Liberia, where men and women from across a country that not long before had been rocked by civil war flocked to the polls and elected Africa's first woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, head of state in free and fair elections.

We are responding to this yearning for democracy with programs to encourage a representative political process; to empower women; to strengthen civil society, democratic institutions, and the rule of law; and to help decentralize government functions and improve transparency and accountability.

Through USAID, we spent $137 million last year to implement democracy and good governance programs in Africa. This was a 30 percent increase in spending over the year before. We have supported, for example, free and fair electoral processes in Angola, Liberia, Burundi, and Sierra Leone. We're building the capacity of civil society to push back against repression in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. We're providing political leadership training to women in Mali. We're training investigators and prosecutors in South Africa to help prosecute commercial crime, to combat fraud and corruption and to restore investors' confidence. We're providing training and exchanges to Parliaments in Kenya and Namibia to help with their capacity-building and efforts to improve outreach and accountability to the public.

In the last 3 years, the United States has also spent over $36 million to combat trafficking in persons in Africa. Working with governments and NGOs, we have rescued and rehabilitated children trafficked into forced labor or sexual exploitation in Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso; strengthened the ability of police in Senegal and Guinea to arrest and prosecute human traffickers; and funded trafficking prevention campaigns in South Africa and Benin.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's election was a powerful reminder of the critical role of women as agents for democratic change. Working with our African partners, we are fostering the next generation of women leaders through scholarships from the Africa Education Initiative that enable disadvantaged girls to go to school. By the end of this decade we will have given scholarships to 550,000 girls as part of this $600 million multi-year program. We want to do more.

We are supporting women's justice and empowerment in Africa through a $55 million Presidential initiative to assist the existing efforts of four African countries (Benin, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia) to develop the capacity to enact new laws on sexual offenses, to enforce higher penalties for sexually violent crimes against women, to protect victims of human trafficking, and to give women equality in matters of property and inheritance. As the programs in these four nations develop, their successes will produce a ripple effect through other countries in their regions.

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the international community agreed that sustainable development can be best achieved through dynamic partnerships among governments, the private sector, NGOs and other elements of society. Moreover, the summit participants embraced the principle of good governance in the Johannesburg Plan of Action.

The U.S. government has embraced public-private partnerships, and they are delivering concrete results. Through one of the partnerships that came from the Johannesburg Summit, for example, 48 Sub-Saharan African countries eliminated lead in gasoline by the end of 2004, boosting the health of the 733 million people living in these countries. Through another alliance -- the Global Village Energy Partnership -- over 12.9 million people have increased access to modern energy services.

Indeed, 320 such partnerships for sustainable development -- 78 of which are working on sustainable development in Africa -- have been formed since the Johannesburg summit. Over half of these are working to protect natural resources, while others are developing agriculture, looking at energy sources, providing for rural development and protecting water resources.

One example is the Congo Basin Forest Partnership which brings together governmental, private and corporate stakeholders to protect tropical forests through the promotion of ecotourism and the implementation of measures against illegal logging.

Other examples of public-private partnership include a project in West Africa, where local NGOs funded by the U. S. government provided children who had been forced into cocoa production with education and training. Over 6,000 children have been rescued from some of the worst forms of child labor through such a program, and are now enrolled in school. Meanwhile, Freedom House is creating an African Institute for Democracy and Rule of Law which will be African-run and U.S. funded. We are supporting the work of the National Endowment for Democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the NED is working with several local NGOs to strengthen the rule of law and to promote human rights and democracy. And in Sierra Leone, we are backing the efforts of ABA/CEELI to improve the judicial system, especially as it concerns war crimes in that country. These are only some examples of the kind of public-private partnerships which we support.

We recognize that, for all the progress, considerable challenges lie ahead on the road to democracy and prosperity in Africa. Repression and intimidation continue in Zimbabwe. Countries emerging from devastating conflicts face massive challenges in infrastructure, employment, and basic human needs. Food insecurity, famine, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, infant mortality, displacement of communities, and sexual violence continue at an unacceptable rate. Darfur still suffers the horrors of genocide. While we are providing humanitarian aid to the displaced people and refugees, we are working hard bilaterally and multilaterally to end that nightmare.

Despite these problems, there is reason to be hopeful about Africa. It is clear that democracy is taking hold in many parts of that continent and that, with the spread of democracy, citizens are being empowered, rule of law strengthened, the chances of conflict reduced, and the likelihood of achieving sustainable development increased.

Democracy is a process, or, as an African proverb says, "Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." The United States will remain steadfast with our African partners in this process, as we work together towards the vision articulated by President Nelson Mandela: "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." Thank you.

Released on April 4, 2006


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