“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”
- Nelson Mandela
United for Africa’s Democratic Future is committed to working with Africans and others in promoting democracy on the continent. Democracy has helped develop and sustain peace, stability and prosperity throughout the world. However imperfect democracy is, history has yielded no better system of governance. Elected leaders are accountable to their constituents and in return, populations included in the political process feel a stake in its progress and protection. Leaders need to demonstrate progress in expanding freedom and economic opportunity and enhancing the security of their fellow citizens or know they can and will be replaced by voters. In addition, an independent judiciary, competent administration and stable institutions allow economic activity to flourish.
The journey to Constitutional democracy in Africa has been arduous. The frustrating and often tragic saga is well known. When a century or more of colonial rule gave way to newly independent states in the middle of the 20th century, borders were drawn arbitrarily, splitting tribal and regional identities. This impeded the development of a sense of nationhood in many states. Early hopes for democracy were often dashed as unscrupulous and ambitious leaders seized on political disorder and internal divisions. Many of them proceeded to empower and enrich themselves at a great cost to their people.
Too often, corrupt strongmen were enabled by foreign governments and commercial interests who placed their short-term political and economic objectives ahead of the long-term interests of the new states and their people.
With the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, there was renewed hope that democracy could at last begin to take root in some countries, notably in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela emerged from nearly three decades in prison. He went on to win the presidency and lead his nation through reconciliation, providing an inspiration to the entire world. At the turn of the millennium, many developed countries embraced a spirit of starting anew and forgave debts that had long hampered the progress of many countries in Africa. These developments have created, however temporarily, a hospitable environment in which democracy could take root and grow.
At the same time, internal strife, poverty and natural calamities such as drought have impeded fair and free elections and the triumph of transparent democracy is far from assured. Africa’s political leadership is populated by presidents, prime ministers or monarchs who have been in power for decades. In July 2015, the president of Burundi, Pierre Nkrunziza retained power in a disputed election despite a Constitutional ban on a third term. The European Union withheld funds to conduct the election when Nkrunziza announced his intentions. Togo’s Taure Gnassingbe won a third term, extending a tenure that began with his father 48 years ago. Nine African countries have a leader who has been in power for 21 years or more. When Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré sought to extend his 27-year rule in October 2014, massive protests left at least three people dead. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979. Paul Biya has governed Cameroon since 1982. Yoweri Museveni has governed Uganda since 1986. Omar Hassan al-Bashir has governed Sudan since 1989. In Zimbabwe, 91-year-old Robert Mugabe is bequeathing a country in economic ruin and a potentially dangerous power vacuum after a reign that is now its 36th year comes to its inevitable end.
This gallery of strongmen puts faces on the often grim assessment of the state of democracy in Africa by think tanks and journalists. For example, Freedom House, in its 2015 “Freedom in the World,” reported that 21 of Africa’s 49 sub-Saharan countries are “not free,” and 18 are partly free and only 10 nations, representing a mere 12 percent of the total population, are judged “free.” Only Guinea-Bissau could demonstrate that political rights or civil liberties were improving. On the other hand, democracy and freedom declined in 11 other countries, based on Freedom House’s democratic metrics.
Whether blame rests with the colonial powers or the African strongmen who rose to power over the decades, one conclusion is clear to all: The current state of affairs in non-democratic Africa threatens world peace and continues to degrade the opportunities for the people of these countries.
Against this backdrop, U.S. President Barack Obama, on a recent visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, issued a strong rebuke to leaders standing in the way of democracy and declared, “Nobody should be president for life. Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas.”
Indeed, the next year and a half will be critical. Parliamentary or presidential elections are scheduled in nearly half of the sub-Saharan African countries, with combined populations totaling 150 million people. They include Africa’s second-largest country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a population of 79 million; Tanzania, 51 million; Cote d’Ivoire, 23 million; and, we hope, Burkina Faso, 19 million.
Obama spoke directly to leaders such as the DRC’s Joseph Kabila whose reported actions to undermine potential successors and redraw the country’s political map belie his stated commitment to honor the DRC’s Constitutional prohibition against a third term. Obama offered a hypothetical situation in which he himself wanted to stay in office and U.S. voters would welcome this, even if the Constitution does not allow it. “But the law is the law, and no person is above the law, not even the president,” Obama affirmed.
“Nobody should be president for life. Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas.”
- President Barack Obama in a speech before the African Union in July 2015
“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.”
- Pope Francis
In the absence of stable, transparent democracies, the social and economic development to which Africans aspire will remain elusive. So long as authoritarianism is regarded as the expedient path to stability, governments will use extra-legal and often ruthless means to suppress dissent and contain perceived challenges to the established order. United for Africa’s Democratic Future believes the world can no longer turn a blind eye to the suppression of free speech, the arrest, torture and killing of peaceful protesters or remain complacent as ethnic and religious minorities and women are oppressed, mistreated and denied basic human rights.
Thomas Friedman has convinced us in his book, “The World is Flat,” that the lives of people in all countries are linked though commerce, technology, and stewardship of finite resources. Our mutual interest in each other’s fate is even stronger today than when the book was published ten years ago. Economic development and the primacy of human rights will not come to Africa until its institutions are democratic and linked to other democratic institutions throughout the world.
Human Rights Watch’s 2015 survey of human rights around the world catalogues countless violations in African countries; political repression, rigged or perpetually delayed elections, atrocities, suffering masses of refugees and political killings are realities in many countries on the continent. United for Africa’s Democratic Future seeks to turn shock and pity over these conditions into determined action to change them through the creation of transparent, democratic institutions.
As former President Jimmy Carter once said, “America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America.” An underlying tenet of United for Africa’s Democratic future is when the spirit and talent of each member of a community is free to thrive, the freedom and potential of the entire community expands, setting off a reinforcing cycle. Africa’s free and democratic future depends on the freedom of men and women to participate in and contribute to building and strengthening democratic institutions. When boys as well as girls in Africa have access to education and are encouraged to participate in elections, to express their views and offer ideas on how to improve their countries, democratic and transparent governance will become the rule not the exception in Africa. When this occurs then human rights violations will recede from the reality of daily life there.
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
- Kofi Annan
“We are enjoying in Africa what I call the democracy dividend. The progress we are seeing, economic development are all part of the dividend of good governance, respect for human rights, rule of law. It has created an enabling environment that allows not only foreigners to come in and invest but for Ghanaians to invest. It has created an atmosphere for our young people to be creative, innovation…”
- President John Mahama, Ghana at 2014 World Economic Forum
Africa’s known natural resources are vast, worth tens of trillions of dollars. The unexplored potential is almost beyond calculation. Rising foreign direct investment is contributing to economic growth in countries throughout Africa. United for Africa’s Democratic Future seeks to encourage development strategies that are comprehensive and sustainable for the long term and avoid the temptation to exploit a single resource for short-term wealth that is not invested broadly in the people of various African countries. The establishment of democracy through elections will strengthen this trend but also ensure Africa’s people take part in an economic development model based on inclusion instead of exploitation and trade instead of aid.
Africa accounts for three-quarters of the world’s platinum supply, and half of its diamonds and chromium. It has up to one-fifth of the world’s gold and uranium supplies. Oil and gas production is at an early stage in over two dozen countries. Many countries have deposits of rare earth elements needed to produce high tech devices. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s mineral resources alone are estimated to be $24 trillion.
The exploration and extraction of these deposits are already important catalysts for foreign direct investment and infrastructure improvements. However, Africa must also prepare for the day when these resources are depleted. The development of other sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and investments in the people of African countries must occur simultaneously with drilling and mining. Africa provides a chance to avoid the mistake other nations have made in basing economic development on a single resource. For African countries to enjoy peace and prosperity a half century from now, they must equip their populations with a wide array of skills and encourage them to pursue diverse opportunities from technology to professional services to engineering.
The chances for enlightened development have probably never been better. The African Development Bank (ADB) reports that African economies are on a path to grow by as much as five percent in 2016, surpassing rates in most other parts of the world and on a part with rapidly growing economies in Asia. Millions of young people are leveraging the digital revolution to become more connected to the world. With its climate and soil, Donald Kaberuka, former president of the ADB has said it should be possible for Africa to quadruple agriculture output in the next 30 years. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is expected to top $70 billion in the coming year. Today, 52 of 54 independent countries have reached what the World Bank defines as middle or high levels of development.
And yet, without adequate sources of electricity, transportation infrastructure and political stability, a lot of Africa’s mineral, energy and agricultural resources remain untapped. In addition, the growth experienced in many countries is compounding structural inequalities, leaving millions in poverty. This must change. And this is why it is particularly important to develop comprehensive, long-term growth and investment strategies.
The population of Africa is predicted to double by 2050. By 2030, 370 million youth are expected to enter sub-Saharan Africa’s labor markets. These young people must have access to education and jobs so they can begin to build personal wealth for their families and communities and not continue the cycle of poverty and exploitation. In remarks about strides in providing clean drinking water in recent years, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf invoked a spirit that applies more broadly, saying, “The future belongs to us, because we have taken charge of it. We have the commitment, we have the resourcefulness, and we have the strength of our people to share the dream across Africa of clean water for all.”
Another important consideration is the political and social forces that will underlay economic engagement with Africa. Trade between the United States and Africa has fallen to about half of what it was at its high point of $142 billion in 2008. Conversely, China is escalating its commercial ties with Africa at an astounding pace. Two-way trade between China and African countries topped $220 million last year, nearly three times the U.S. level. This inevitably raises the question of which countries are better positioned to shape the nature of Africa’s development and not merely profit from its abundance of finite resources.
Under several U.S. presidents and G-8 leaders, there has been an interest in turning from solely extracting resources to building human capacity in Africa. Western countries now recognize that the old model of exploiting resources with the consent of reliable strongmen is as impractical as it is immoral. The capital, technical, and engineering know-how that foreign companies bring to Africa must be deployed in the service of building human capacity, physical infrastructure and the institutions of civil society and not merely shareholder profits. Africa’s natural resources are abundant enough to serve both. The governments and commercial interests that recognize this will build enduring partnerships with African countries. Players of good will have the obligation to not yield Africa’s potentially massive market to players who are ambivalent about the social and political considerations of economic engagement.
However, as with human rights, Africa’s improving economic prospects depend on democracy. Leaders who have support of their people and who listen to their people will be better positioned to implement economic reforms and invest in the roads and ports as well as the telecommunications, water and energy infrastructures of their countries. This will not only make Africans stakeholders in their respective nations but also leverage outside investment. Then-President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigerian summed it up at the World Economic Forum in 2015, saying, “Before you talk about economic growth, political stability is key.”
After centuries of economic exploitation this is the time to work with emerging leaders on the continent to chart a more just and sustainable course for Africa’s people.
“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.