Africa Regional: Supporting Democratic Transitions in Africa

Discussion date: June 12, 2021

Partner: African Movement for Democracy

Despite longstanding concerns about political apathy and distrust of democratic institutions on the continent, polling data shows that most Africans still want democracy. However, in Sudan, Mali, and Ethiopia, for example, the process of democracy building has proven laborious and there is a dire need for dialogue, reconciliation, accountability, and respect for human rights. This event, led by the African Movement for Democracy, discussed how civil society can identify reformers, including youth, and develop strategies for implementing reform as countries across the continent grapple with fragile transitions to democracy.

Ateki Caxton of NewSeta (Cameroon) began the discussion by highlighting that civic space is restricted in many African countries, that relationships between civil society and governments are fragile, and that collaborative governance is weak. Sakah Bernard of the Pan African University Institute of Governance (Cameroon) noted that if a civil society group is reliant on foreign funding the government accuses it of being a foreign agent. “We need to include communities in program development and be accountable to them, not donors, and this will enhance our credibility,” Bernard said.

Glanis Changachirere of the Institute for Young Women’s Development (Zimbabwe) warned that autocrats co-opt the language of democracy to appear to be reformists, and then manipulate elections so they can remain in power. She said that “we need to have democratic alternatives in the form of opposition political parties… we need to keep citizens as engaged as possible and to provide openings to them to participate and express their voice.”

During the concluding session, youth leaders from Nigeria and The Gambia discussed the importance of building democratic institutions. Cynthia Mbamalu of YIAGA Africa (Nigeria) built on Changachirere’s point saying “Young people want true democracy, not something that looks like democracy but isn’t. They want elections that choose leaders, not ones that legitimize autocrats.” Marr Nyang of Gambia Participates reminded the participants that removing a dictator does not necessarily bring democracy. “We need to make sure new political leaders remain focused and accountable to the people. We must continue the fight and not sit back and relax.”

Watch the discussion here: