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Igbo Women Seek Biafra, Voice Nigeria’s Bleak Future

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Nigeria is one of the largest by territory with population (estimated currently at 206 million) and huge economy in Africa. Situated on the southern coast on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean, this country most often referred to as the “Giant of Africa” has never-ending multiple and complicated internal problems ranging from politics (system of federal governance) to widening economic disparity to cultural differences. The country has 36 states and it is officially called the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Early July, Kester Kenn Klomegah had the chance and interviewed Chief (Mrs) Marie Okwo, President of the Igbo Women Assembly (IWA), about the impact of the civil war, the current politics and the role of the church in Nigeria. She is one of the remaining few Nigerians who have seen Nigeria from the struggle for independence through the development of its democracy. Mrs Okwor, who is an associate of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, is now the leader of the Igbo Women Assembly and one-time member of Advisory Council of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Established as an NGO in 2006, the Igbo Women Assembly focuses on women empowerment and the youth, it consistently encourages moral values particularly among young graduates. Headquarters in Enugu, Enugu State of Nigeria.

Here are the interview excerpts:

The Nigerian civil war (1967-70) was a bitter experience, and has also affected expected development in the Biafra State. What are your views about this, especially from women’s perspectives?

The war of 1967-1070 war was a pogrom; a war of attrition meant to wipe out a whole race for no just cause. It reminded me of the Holocaust against the Jews. Those who died of hunger starvation, bombings were numerous in number. Malnutrition killed many children who developed a disease called “kwashiokor” – medical experts explain as lack of protein in the body and the belly fills up with fluid. I feel very emotional as I speak about this.

Suffice it to say, that the war could have been avoided, had Nigeria kept her end of the agreement at Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana, which came to be called “the Aburi Accord” that was reached in 1967. This venue offered the delegates security guarantee and that meeting was billed to be the last chance of preventing all-out war. The accord finally broke down because of differences of interpretation on both sides. This led to the outbreak of the war. Markets and places of worship were not spared from bombings and strafing. As a matter of facts, one of my domestic staffs lost her mother in one of the market bombings had been hurt by a shrapnel; she bled to death since medical facilities were scarce.

The effect of the war on the State of Biafra was deplorable: So much destabilization as the seat of government had to move from place to place and so could not settle down to the business of governing the people effectively. There were so many things to worry about, such how to get arms and ammunition. There was also the issues food insufficiency. Lack of concentration on the part of the Administrators and the Biafran military officers and soldiers had adverse effects on the Biafrans. As each area fell to the Nigerian military and their superior military weapons, civilians also had to relocate to safer areas. It was really rough and tough especially for nursing mothers most of who lost their babies. So so sad an experience.

Assessing the effects of the civil war today, especially from gender perspectives, what else can you say in this regard, will women play a more critical role in the administration of a Biafran state?

Before I comment on the role women can play in the administration of a Biafran state, let me mention the important roles they played during the war. It will be recalled that most men were in war fronts fighting to defend Biafraland. Others had lost their jobs and were forced to stay idle at home. The duties of catering for the needs of the rest of the families, therefore, fell on the women/ wives.  In short, they became the bread winners.

On the roles women can play in a Biafran state, let me say, without fear of equivocation that without the contributions of women in governance, success will be difficult to achieve.  Women have great potentials that should be harnessed in order to move the state forward.

How do you look at the political governance in the country in relation to Biafra State?

The government of Nigeria is vehemently aversed to the name Biafra. Mere mention of that name makes them chilly.This government would rather have Biafrans remain under servitude of the Caliphate North. The slogan after the was “No victor, no vanquished.” That was the greatest deceit of the century. Biafrans have never been re-integrated.

The basis for unity no longer exists. Biafrans struggle for their survival without depending on any one. Since Nigerian government has refused absolutely to accept Biafrans as a component part of Nigeria, it stands to reason that they should be allowed to go and develop on their own at their own pace. It is pertinent to mention that the North contributes little or nothing to the development of the country. Rather resources from Southern Nigeria are controlled and squandered by Northern Elements.

On security in Nigeria, I wish to make it categorically clear that in Nigeria, security is at its lowest ebb. The Fulani Herdsmen are the cause of the unprecedented insecurity in  Biafraland. They move about freely with their cattle carrying sophisticated AK 47. They  destroy farmlands and crops, kill farmers, gang-rape and kill female farmers in their farmlands. The resultant effect of the destruction of farms and crops will be devastating as there will be monumental scarcity of food soon, this will spell doom for the masses.

Government and the security operatives are fully aware of the perilous situations but prefer to look the other way. Sometimes the police offer to pay competitions. A few days ago, a middle-aged woman was gang-raped by Fulani Herdsmen in a farm till she went into a coma she was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead. The insult by these Fulani Herdsmen is a great insult to Biafrans. Why will these Fulanis not allow us peace in our space? Enough is enough! When people are pushed to the wall, they have no alternative than to fight back.

Igbo Women Assembly call for a Referendum to settle the issue, once and for all. Our children have no future in Nigeria. We feel like the Israelites while in bondage under the Pharaohs of Egypt. We desire freedom to follow our own designs and practice our Christian Religion without let or hindrance.

Are people really satisfied with the current government? What, in your objective view, are some of their political mistakes?

Nigeria has never been so polarized or rancorous as it is now. There’s so much unrest which stems from oppression, corruption wrong choices of appointees to important governing bodies. Square pegs are placed in round holes indeed. The bitterness existing in Nigeria, at the present time, is unequalled. Security is non- existent. The reality is that there is unchecked anarchy. As things stand now, Nigeria may just disintegrate without gunshots.

Almost all of Nigeria’s intractable problems emanate from imposition of candidates during elections; no free, fair or credible elections are conducted. The situation gets worse with every election.

In the first place, the Constitution under which elections are held is a fraud. Far from being the “People’s Constitution.” We have faced these mistakes since the inception of presidential system of governance in Nigeria. The system under reference is wasteful, encourages corruption and dictatorial tendencies.

In spite of the flaws in the Constitution, the ruling party has ignored most of the clauses which might enhance the peaceful co- existence of the citizens. Impunity is rife with this current Administration. There is therefore an urgent need for intervention by concerned people of the entire world. Any adversity that befalls a Nation will have adverse effects on other Nations if not nipped in the bud.

This is a clarion call by the Igbo Women Assembly for assistance by all who abhor oppression and bad governance. No justice, no peace! No peace, no progress!

As a highly devout Catholic, how would you argue that the church could be a tool to fight against all injustices and state maladministration, most probably corruption in the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

The church in Nigeria, irrespective of denominations, has a vital role to play in addressing the ills of Nigeria. It is the duty of the church to do all in her power to restore the dignity and moral values of our societies.

All of a sudden, acquisition of wealth has taken precedence over ìntegrity, justice and fair play. The church has a duty to inculcate the congregations with a sense of responsibility moral values and discipline. Most criminals and corrupt members of the society are not pagans but Christians driven into such negative behavioral tendencies by the system. It is interesting to say that wrong leaderships beget wrong followers.

Unfortunately, some pastors preach the gospel of prosperity instead of salvation, thereby driving people into acquiring filthy lucre through any means whatsoever. People quickly forget that greed and avarice lead to destruction. They do not remember that whatever one has on earth cannot accompany him/her to the great beyond. Others will enjoy the ill- gotten goods. Corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation and the church must make concerted efforts to bring the menace to the barest minimum.

And the Biafra diaspora outside Nigeria, especially in the United States and Europe…are they optimistic about break away of the Biafran State?

Biafrans in the Diaspora are even more enthusiastic about an independent nation than some Biafrans at home. Any sign that a Referendum is on hand will see a deluge of Diaspora Biafrans flying back home. They will contribute in no small measure to bring rapid development to the new nation-state. Surely, this new nation will overtake Nigeria, which regards herself as the so- called largest country, in Africa. Yes! Largest in all types of vices like kidnappings, rape, sleeze oppression, abuse of human rights and so forth.

What are your recommendations here, what should or must be done under the current circumstances in Nigeria?

My perspective on the future or the way forward for Nigeria, the country has expired and cannot be revived, neither can it be reactivated.It is my well-considered opinion that any group or ethnic nationality, which wants to leave this contraption, should be granted their peace and freedom. Nigeria is too large to be one country since there are too many differences in religion, cultures and traditions, food and languages and other factors. Nigeria has never and can never be one. Unity has eluded the country.

If, however, Biafra becomes unattainable then we should go back to the parliamentary system of governance. A weak center with regional autonomy. As things are now, the country is rudderless and groping in the dark. If no positive action is taken soonest, Nigeria will take a nosedive into a deep precipice, in this case, the name will become irreversibly extinct.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Q&A: Arguments for Advancing Russia-African Relations

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As preparations are underway for the second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022, African leaders, politicians, academic researchers and experts have been discussing several aspects of the current state of Russia-Africa relations. They, most often, compare it with a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea that have held such gatherings in that format with Africa.

Some have convincingly argued that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, as shown by the first symbolic Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi in October 2019. Russia and Africa adopted a joint declaration, a comprehensive document that outlines the key objectives and necessary tasks that seek to raise assertively the entirety of relations to a new level.

Long before the summit, at least, during the past decade, several bilateral agreements between Russia and individual African countries were signed. Besides, memoranda of understanding, declaration of interests, pledges and promises dominated official speeches. On the other side, Russia is simply invisible in economic sectors in Africa, despite boasting of decades-old solid relations with the continent.

Undoubtedly, Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity. The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides a unique and valuable opportunity for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people with a GDP of over US$2.5 trillion. It aspires to connect all the regions of Africa, to deepen economic integration and to boost intra-African trade and investment.

Despite existing risks, challenges and threats, a number of external countries continue strengthening their economic footholds in Africa and contribute enormously towards the continent’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Russia has to upgrade or scale up its collaborative engagement with Africa. It has to consider seriously launching more public outreach programmes, especially working with civil society to change public perceptions and the private sector to strengthen its partnership with Africa. In order to achieve this, it has to surmount the challenges, take up the courage and work consistently with both private and public sectors and with an effective Action Plan.

In this exclusive interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), discusses a few questions, highlights existing challenges and passionately offers some progressive suggestions regarding Russia-African relations.

Steven Gruzd also heads the Russia-Africa Research Programme initiated this year at SAIIA, South Africa’s premier research institute on international issues. It is an independent, non-government think tank, with a long and proud history of providing thought leadership in Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

What are your appreciations and fears for Russia returning to Africa?

Africa is becoming crowded, with many old and new actors actively involved on the continent. Apart from EU countries, China and the US, we have players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others. So Russia’s renewed interest in Africa does not happen in isolation. It, of course, seeks to build on Soviet-era ties, and several African leaders today studied in the USSR or the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia has tended to focus on niche areas such as weapons sales, nuclear energy and resource extraction, at a much smaller scale than China. Many leaders are welcoming the attention of Russia, but some remain wary of Russia’s hidden motives and intentions. Russia’s dealings are not transparent and open compared to China. The shadowy world of private military companies such as Russia’s Wagner Group is causing concern in unstable countries like the CAR, Libya and Mali. So, in fact, there is a kind of mixed picture, sentiments and interpretations are also varied here.

How would you argue that Russia engages fairly in “competition for cooperation” in Africa?

Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players operating. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts. Russia welcomes diplomatic support from African countries, and unlike the West, it does not demand good governance or advocate for human rights reforms. Russia likes to portray itself as not interfering in local politics or judging African countries, even though there is mounting evidence that it has been involved in meddling in elections in Africa through disinformation, fake news and attempting to exploit fault lines in societies through social media.

Do you think, to some extent, Russia is fighting neo-colonial tendencies, as shown in Guinea, Mali, CAR and Sudan? Does it imply that Russia supports military leaders in Africa?

Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests especially in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel. Russia has invested resources in developing French-language news media, and engages in anti-French media activity, including through social media. I think Russia has its own economic and political interests in countries like Guinea, Mali, CAR and Sudan, even if it uses the language of fighting neo-colonialism. It explicitly appears that Russia supports several undemocratic African leaders and their regimes.

Some experts have argued that Russia’s diplomacy is full of bilateral agreements, largely not implemented, and gamut of pledges and promises. What are your views about these?

I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialised on the ground. There is more talk than action, and in most cases down the years mere intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late 2022.

From the above discussions so far, what do you think are Russia’s challenges and setbacks in Africa?

Africa is a crowded playing field. Russia does not have the same resources and approaches as China, France, UK or US, so it has limited impact. The language barrier could be used as an excuse, but Russia has the great possibility to leverage into the Soviet- and Russian-trained diaspora. On the other hand, Russia feels it is unfairly portrayed in Western media, so that is another perception it seeks to change. It can change the perception by supporting public outreach programmes. Working closely with the academic community, such as the South African Institute of International Affairs and similar ones throughout Africa, is one potential instrument to raise its public image. In places like Mozambique and the CAR, the Wagner Group left after incurring human losses – does Russia have staying power?

As it prepares to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, what could be the expectations for Africa? What to do ultimately with the first Joint Declaration from Sochi?

As already mentioned, there needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It is worth to reiterate here that African countries will expect more debt relief and solid investment from Russian businesses. In terms of political support at places like the UN Security Council, there is close interaction between Russia and African States, but as recent research by SAIIA shows, not as much as assumed. The relationship has to however deliver, and move from words to deeds. In conclusion, I would suggest that Russia has to take up both the challenges and unique opportunities, and attempt to scale up its influence by working consistently on practical multifaceted sustainable development issues and by maintaining appreciable relations with Africa. And African countries likewise have to devise viable strategies for engaging with Russia.

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Nigeria’s role in ECOWAS peacekeeping

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ECOWAS is the 44-year-old economic community of West African states. “The evolution of ECOWAS from the level of an organization created for the purpose of economic integration to the level of organizations that makes and implements decisions of a political and economic nature at the international level deserves quite close attention of researchers today.” [2]

As with any alliance, ECOWAS has the undisputed leader – Nigeria. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. It should be noted that for many years it was dominated by a military regime, during which the country was in mismanagement and in disorder. Even under military rule, Nigeria has made a significant contribution to the work of ECOWAS to restore democratic governance and ensure stability in many West African countries. This can be attributed to an attempt by “Nigeria to convince the international community of its determination to return to democratic rule and refrain from participating in difficult West African conflicts.” [5]

Due to the strategic position, Nigeria plays an important role in realizing the goals and objectives of ECOWAS. First, “Nigeria has a positive balance of payments, because the country exports large quantities of oil and oil products, as well as cocoa and many valuable metals and alloys.” [1] The second reason is Nigeria’s partners, who make a great contribution to the country’s economy by being its investors. Another important factor is the fact that Nigeria mainly imports high-tech products, without participating in the international exchange of technologies.

At the time of Nigeria’s accession to ECOWAS, the government marked for itself several directions of its activities, being a member of this organization. In the first place, particular attention was paid to adherence to the ECOWAS economic integration framework, as this contributed to the promotion of free trade. In addition, Nigeria has sought to introduce a single currency for the region. The goal of expanding the infrastructural development of the automobile, railway, telecommunications, energy, gas pipeline industries was also important, which, as a result, should have increased agricultural and industrial production.

Thus, it can be concluded that the need for ECOWAS in Nigeria is great because Nigeria, owning financial and human resources, can help the organization achieve its long-term goal of full integration of the region.

According to the Vice President of the World Bank L. Sabib, “Nigeria can become a locomotive capable of promoting the economy of West Africa. This has not yet been done due to poor governance, ineffective government, corruption and political instability”. [5]

Since the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975, Nigeria has focused on the foreign policy of the West African region. In many ways, this decision allowed it to become one of the decisive forces of this regional organization, not to mention its advantages in its size, geographic location and, of course, economic potential.

Professor Akintola is confident that “Africa has been the focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence, with an emphasis on the liberation, development and unity of Africans both inside and outside the continent.” [3] This confirms that Nigeria continues to dominate the rest of West African states, which allows it to play an important role in the activities of ECOWAS.

Many researchers highlight the contribution of Nigeria to the regional integration of the ECOWAS organization. Moreover, this activity is a priority for Nigeria in matters of its foreign policy. This is most clearly manifested in the processes of maintaining peace and economic liberalization.

Between 1975 and 1993, Nigeria revised its foreign policy in many ways. This was largely due to the formation of ECOWAS, since the country was striving to significantly increase its weight in this alliance. It should be noted that the change in Nigeria’s policy is closely related to changes in ECOWAS. At the beginning of its work (1975) ECOWAS set itself the task of becoming a collective security organization, but in 1990 the goal was rethought. It was decided to stimulate the development of collective security, and this decision was reflected in Chapter 8 of the UN Charter. [4]

Nigeria especially showed the importance of its participation in integration during the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone as part of ECOMOG. When Nigeria assumed the role of the dominant country in the organization of ECOWAS, its foreign policy choice was extremely obvious – a peacekeeping strategy.

Speaking about the contribution of Nigeria to the Liberian conflict, it should be said that its participation did not give any guarantees of successful peacekeeping. However, Nigeria’s involvement continued to be critical to the operation. Without Nigerian troops, supplies and air support, ECOMOG forces would have lost many more soldiers and civilians and would most likely be driven out of the country entirely by the factions. Nigeria provided significant military support to ECOMOG, but the motives behind this support hindered ceasefire agreements and further negotiations for a transitional government and elections. Although Nigeria has acquired a certain regional prestige for its actions, it has also generated opposition to its dominant status from neighboring African states.

Nigeria faced major challenges in its efforts to restore peace and security to Sierra Leone with ECOMOG. In addition to financial problems, the lack of support from the citizens of Sierra Leone has also affected the main aspects of peacekeeping in the country. Despite the challenges faced by the Nigerian government and the country’s unstable economic situation, Nigeria was able to continue its mission, which was believed to be in line with the country’s foreign policy goals of ensuring peace and security in the subregion and Africa as a whole. Despite the enormous government spending and corruption associated with Nigeria’s mission to Sierra Leone, the mission remains one of the most successful African initiatives to promote peace and security abroad.

The role of Nigeria in the implementation of the ECOWAS plans cannot be overestimated because it has the status of a regional leader in ECOWAS, which indicates its serious contribution to the processes of regional integration and the maintenance of peace and security in West Africa 

References

1.      Asiagba John Chinedu. Nigeria as a member of the Economic Community of West African States, p. 261.

2.      ECOWAS. Regional integration problems. Managing editor A.Y. Elez. Moscow., IAfr RAN., 2016.p. 5

3.      Geveling, L.V. Foreign experience in fighting corruption: Federal Republic of Nigeria / L.V. Geveling // Institute of Municipal Administration. – 2012.- № 3.- p. 98-102.

4.      Omo. O. O. Dennis. Nigeria in the Process of Regional Integration in West Africa: The Case of ECOWAS. Moscow,2018., p. 67.

5.      Speech delivered by World Bank Vice President Louis Sabib, state visits to Nigeria // The Guardian Newspaper. Lagos, 1998 September 21.

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What a Successful Summit for Democracy Looks Like from Africa

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The Biden administration is wrapping up preparations for its Summit for Democracy, to be held virtually next month. While the list of invitees is now clear, what is not yet clear is what success for the Summit looks like – overall and for each region of the globe. Here, I outline concrete ways the Summit could help advance democracy in Africa.

To be realistic, success should be defined at the individual country level and consider the history and context of each one. However, for the purposes of this paper I will focus on sub-Saharan Africa as a whole and what common hopes we have with regards to democracy success across the continent.

The State of Democracy in Africa

It is now a cliché’ to say that democracy is in retreat in Africa. Evidence for this appears strong and includes back-sliding in Ethiopia and Sudan, two countries that held out hope for a democratic awakening.  In addition, recent coups in Guinea, Chad, and Mali provided further evidence of back-sliding. Closing and closed political spaces in Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon and Zimbabwe (among others) do not provide much in the way of hope.  During the past 18 months COVID-19 has provided fertile ground for autocracy and has led to economic deterioration and further restricted political space.

On the other hand, Africa is the world’s youngest continent. According to the latest “World Values Survey”, those holding “emancipative” (i.e. democratic) values are far and away higher than those holding more autocratic values.  The older generation of autocratic leaders such as President Museveni in Uganda is facing a population representing values at odds with those of the political leadership.   While autocratic values currently hold sway throughout the continent, one can conclude that these represent “eddies” in a river which largely represents more democratic values. Consequently, we should counsel patience and not condone pessimism over the long-term.

Making Progress through Summit Commitments

Success will not be a static end-point or destination or some far-flung and unattainable goal that is unrealistic.  It will represent a series of actions or steps among a variety of actors in each society that are on a journey toward a democratic future. These actors, explained in detail below, include political parties, civil society, and legislative bodies. We must be modest in our assumptions around success given the slow vicissitudes of progress. Modest progress is still progress, particularly given the direction in which many countries are headed (at least over the short-term).

Successful political parties aggregate, communicate and advocate for the wishes and hopes of their members.  Ideally, they are not based on the charisma of a leader, nor does a good party represent only the needs of a specific group, such as an ethnic group. Unfortunately, across the continent the evidence points to nearly all political parties serving as a vehicle for a particular leader’s wish to obtain high office.  Political parties exist for their leaders instead of serving as a vehicle to promote a particular set of policies advocated by their constituents.  As a result, traditionally marginalized groups such as women and youth are rarely given real leadership roles within political parties. Witness the situation in Sudan where women and youth were the vanguard of a revolution but were then marginalized within political parties vying for power in the new transitional government.  We must be realistic and patient when addressing the question of what democracy would look like vis-à-vis the upcoming Summit for Democracy. The longer-term goal of ideologically based, inclusive, participatory, and transparent political parties is a worthy one.  To realize these goals, the U.S. and its allies should commit to the following:

  1. Ensure that political party governing documents are revised to promote intra-party democracy and the inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups.
  2. Cultivate youth and female leaders within political parties because they represent upwards of 75% of each country’s population.
  3. Promote and support peaceful elections using widely available research that has been shown to reduce violence before, during, and after elections.  This also includes honestly criticizing elections that do not meet regional or international standards.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are key actors in all societies. We have seen that where CSOs are trained and motivated they can have a significant impact holding governments and legislative bodies accountable.  For example, CSOs provided electoral observation during the Ethiopian elections to ensure that Ethiopia’s first democratic elections were conducted according to international and regional standards. In the Gambia, CSOs advocated to the government to pass legislation to provide citizens access to information and succeeded in court in suing the electoral commission (IEC) over voter registration anomalies.  Despite successes, several factors will need to be addressed for their contribution to democracy to be sustained and amplified. This includes CSOs working together in coalitions that magnify their power and scope.  Working alone on sensitive issues in often restricted contexts rarely produces lasting success. Learning the skills of networking with other CSOs will be critical to fulfill the promises of democracy.

To realize these goals, the U.S. and its allies should commit to the following: 

  1. Train CSOs in strategic communications, project development and management, monitoring and evaluation, and other skills needed to flourish. Organizational development support will provide long-term sustainable assistance across a wide range of CSOs.
  2. Strengthen CSOs outside of capital cities.  In most African capitals there is a cadre of well-resourced, well-trained, and savvy CSOs that speak the language of the donor. In the countryside, however, where enthusiasm generally runs higher, CSOs are organizationally weaker and more isolated. The US and its allies should bring these CSOs into the planning of international organizations who traditionally work with CSOs with higher profiles in capital cities. This will broaden the base of capable CSOs throughout each country and addresses the challenge of relying on just a few located in capital cities.
  3. Stand up for CSOs working in repressive environments. For instance, in Sudan CSOs were largely responsible for the overthrow of the al-Bashir Government but lacked the skills to move from protest to governance. This in part led to the recent military coup.
  4. Train CSOs to hold legislative and executive bodies accountable through things like performance “report cards” and publishing national budgets in easy-to-understand formats.

Legislative bodies throughout Africa are largely rubber-stamp institutions that do the bidding of the countries’ leadership. They rarely perform their traditional role as an independent branch of government that represents the people they were elected to serve.  IRI’s own work found that many members of legislatures do not even understand their role with regards to oversight of the executive branch, outreach to constituents, legislative processes, and budgetary oversight. Consequently, we must be realistic about what can be accomplished and take small steps to train legislators about their roles. 

To realize these goals, the U.S. and its allies should commit to the following:

  1. Train newly elected members of legislative bodies on their role as legislators. 
  2. Link members of legislative bodies with their constituents to better craft laws that meet the needs of their communities. This is relatively inexpensive yet has demonstrable impact.
  3. Work with legislative bodies to improve transparency through more public hearings, making it easier for citizens to interact with them.
  4. Encourage legislative bodies to address corruption through a strong legal framework and use their subpoena power to address instance of corruption.

Looking Forward

An opportunity now exists to change the narrative that democracy is in decline. Africa’s youthful population, its increasing levels of education and better access to information are all factors pointing to more democracy; not less. Recent democratic victories in Malawi and Zambia, coupled with strong opposition and protest movements in Sudan, Guinea, and Chad portend further gains. To sustain these gains, institutions that represent citizens, including political parties, legislative bodies, and civil society must be strengthened. Autocratic governments, some in power for more than 30 years, will not easily give up power. As a result, both public and private institutions must be resilient and have the skills necessary to thrive in restricted environments. The Summit for Democracy can highlight gains made, to provide support to those working in restricted environments, and to provide resources to continue building the capabilities of democracy’s institutions. 

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