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Civil Society & the Growth of Democracy in Africa

The Role of Civil Society in the Growth of Democracy in Africa

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Remarks at the National Endowment for Democracy's 2006 Democracy Award Ceremony
Washington, DC
June 27, 2006

As Delivered

Good evening. Carl, Congressman Payne, Congressman Meeks, Congressman Clyburn, ambassadors, honorees, and distinguished guests. Thank you Vin for your gracious introduction. I'm delighted to be part of this ceremony honoring four extraordinary individuals with the Endowment's 2006 Democracy Awards. These awards recognize the courageous and creative works of these remarkable activists who have advanced the cause of human rights and democracy in their respective countries.

In his National Security Strategy, President Bush, expressed our conviction 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."

For the United States, the promotion of human rights and democracy is central to our foreign policy, as is our methodology of transformational diplomacy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has defined 'transformational diplomacy' as 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 futures."

The 'partners' to whom Secretary Rice referred are other donor states and international organizations that share our values and goals. They are also the governments of those states that are seeking to strengthen their democracy and to secure the human rights of their citizens. But our most important partners in this work are the dedicated and capable non-governmental organizations around the world who have worked with all parts of civil society. It is they who promote and protect the rights and liberties that mark the boundary between freedom and oppression. They are the advocacy groups, religious organizations, human rights defenders, civil libertarians, professional associations, environmentalists, and worker organizations.

In the nations of sub-Saharan Africa such as those our honorees call home, the job of promoting democracy and human rights from within a given society is always difficult and sometimes dangerous. In Africa, the status quo and tradition can be fierce opponents of progress. But an illustrious African American activist, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, spoke a central truth that confronts anyone who sets out to change her or his society. Speaking in 1857 of the efforts to end chattel slavery in the United States, Douglass said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress . . . This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

Significantly, next year the Community of Democracies (CD), a coalition of over 120 democratic nations, chaired by Mali, will come together to share best practices and support civil society as the engine of democratic change. Mali's theme for the 2007 Community of Democracies' ministerial in Bamako is democracy and development. Both are inseparably linked. Democracy can yield a range of tangible benefits to the people of Africa by encouraging stability and good governance which are essential for poverty eradication and economic prosperity.

Tonight, we stand in great admiration and respect for the courage and leadership manifested by each of the individuals being recognized and their organizations, for not only what they have achieved on behalf of the advancement of freedom in their own societies but the exemplary behavior that I know will be emulated by countless others struggling for fundamental human rights in Africa and across the globe. We salute you.

Since its founding in 1982, the National Endowment for Democracy has provided financial support and capacity-building assistance to thousands of NGOs that, in turn, have nurtured the aspirations and given voice to the grievances of millions of people in Africa and around the world. This partnership -- United States Government, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the collective civil society organizations throughout Africa -- will endure as long as we Americans remember the abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights workers, labor organizers and religious non-conformists who brought us to this place and time, and as long there are men and women like those we honor tonight who are willing to dedicate their lives to the struggle for liberty and democracy.

Thank you.


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