Democracy Support Strategies in Africa
On May 18, 2016, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Africa Regional Director Rushdi Nackerdien testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on “Democracy Support Strategies in Africa.” IFES was invited to discuss U.S. electoral assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa in the context of the electoral cycle.
A first panel featured testimony by representatives from the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Nackerdien was joined on a second panel by National Democratic Institute (NDI) Senior Associate and Director of Election Programs Patrick Merloe, International Republican Institute (IRI) Acting Regional Director for Africa John Tomaszewski, and African Immigrant Caucus Executive Director Nii Akuetteh.
After thanking Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Representative Daniel Donovan (R-N.Y.) – who served as Acting Chair – Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-Cal.), and the Subcommittee for convening the hearing, Nackerdien highlighted IFES’ partnership with IRI and NDI through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) mechanism, with support from USAID and others. Currently, IFES has 11 active programs in the sub-region in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Nackerdien then summarized IFES’ written statement, highlighting how policy makers have recently come to understand “elections [as] more than just Election Day” and see the electoral process as a cycle. To demonstrate the scope and breadth of many African electoral cycles, he highlighted Nigeria, where the 2015 election was four years in the making and employed “more than 12,000 permanent members of staff and more than 700,000 temporary staff […] to help serve more than 68 million citizens.”
He then outlined four pivotal areas of electoral assistance: (1) targeted resource support that takes place early in the electoral cycle; (2) investments in regional election networks among election professionals; (3) the importance of civil society; and (4) U.S. investment in election assistance as a cost-effective development tool. Nackerdien then identified technical, financial, and political sustainability as three points marking exit or graduation from international assistance.
He recommended “that the U.S. Government prioritize electoral assistance that is locally contextualized; is inclusive of women, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, and other underrepresented groups; develops local expertise; and consistently invests early and throughout the electoral cycle.” He would expect such assistance to also be crucial in improving women’s empowerment, health, economic growth, and food security.
Nackerdien concluded his remarks by thanking the Acting Chairman and noting that IFES is “honored to partner with the U.S. Government and Congress, international aid organizations, our CEPPS partners, and […] the people of Africa in support of a more democratic and prosperous continent.”
Ranking Member Bass asked the panel to explain how assistance funding overlaps with the electoral cycle. In response, Nackerdien emphasized how the increase in democratic governments across Africa in recent years makes elections more predictable and allows funders to plan accordingly. Organizations like IFES have often already been in-country for a number of years, systematically building capacity for when elections do occur.
Along with Acting Chairman Donovan and Ranking Member Bass, the first panel was attended by Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) and Congressman Curt Clawson (R-Fla.). During his opening remarks, Chairman Smith stated the importance of facilitating free, fair, and transparent elections and his concern about constitutional changes and delays in countries like Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.