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U.S. Supports African Efforts to Develop, Democratize
April 23, 2012

By MacKenzie C. Babb
IIP Staff Writer

Portrait of a man in front of a flag
Carson said he remains “optimistic that democracy is moving forward in Africa,” thanks largely to the region’s increasingly engaged electorate and active civil society.April 20,  2012
The United States remains committed to supporting countries working toward democracy across Africa, says Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

“The overarching African policy of the Obama administration is to promote the development of stable and democratic partners committed to the rule of law, human rights, transparent governance and the welfare of their citizens,” Carson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on African Affairs April 18.

Supporting democratic institutions in Africa, Carson said, “is already paying off,” and the United States is “continuing to prioritize our democratic funding not only to assist in elections, but also to strengthen governance, the rule of law, the promotion of women and civil society and also strengthening legislatures and judiciaries.”

Carson said democracy is “on the move in Africa,” as a number of African countries have held successful democratic elections during the past two years. The assistant secretary said opinion polls across Africa show widespread support for democracy, as well as for the freedoms and opportunities associated with it.

But he said the democratization process has not been without setbacks.

“As democracy continues to take root, a number of African leaders have managed to remain in power for long periods of time,” Carson said. He said 11 leaders in sub-Saharan Africa have been in power for 15 years or more. Of those, he said, nine have been in power for more than two decades.

Carson said these presidents have manipulated or intentionally altered the political systems in their countries to stay in power, many by removing term limits. The assistant secretary condemned this practice, and said term limits serve a valuable purpose.

“They spur political mobility, help generate new ideas, break down dynasties and enhance accountability and good governance,” Carson said. He said the limits also “prevent political rigidity and the monopolization of power by one person or one family from one region, or from one ethnic group, from dominating the affairs of state not only for a decade but for two or three.”

The assistant secretary said these entrenched leaders “have embraced the language of democracy, but not its full meaning.”

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast said in testimony following Carson’s that Africa has made “striking improvements” during the past decade to ensure that entrenched leaders become the exception, and no longer the rule.

“As recently as the early 1990s, the region was dominated by a group of so-called ‘big men’ who used fear and intimidation to cling to power, and in the process decimated their countries’ prospects for development,” he said. “Today, these ‘big men’ are being replaced by skilled civilian statesmen and women who are transforming their societies and serving as role models for a new generation of reformers.”

He added that increasingly, these 21st-century leaders are cooperating closely with their neighbors to become regional partners in growth and development.

Gast said USAID is helping African citizens’ efforts to remove entrenched leaders and democratize by supporting the growing demand for political change, increased pluralism and checks and balances to enforce the rule of law.

The assistant administrator said that developing the conditions for true democratic transformation is a process that takes many years and often decades.

“USAID helps support environments in which these conditions can emerge, but that transformation can only occur through the commitment of African leaders to serve the needs of their people and of their people to meaningfully participate in their government.”

Gast and Carson said the United States will continue to offer support and assistance for Africans working toward democratic reforms.