IFES Testifies on Capitol Hill on “Democracy Support Strategies in Africa”

Publication Date: 
17 May 2016

On May 18, 2016, IFES Regional Director for Africa 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.”

The introduction from Nackerdien’s written testimony is below:

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Bass, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee: on behalf of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), I deeply appreciate this opportunity to discuss U.S. electoral support in Sub‐Saharan Africa.

Since 1987, IFES has worked in more than 145 countries to support inclusive citizen participation in legitimate, transparent and accountable political processes. IFES empowers the individuals and institutions that consolidate democratic norms and channel citizen desires into effective, representative, and resilient governance. With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and numerous international partners – including the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, Global Affairs Canada, the United Nations Development Programme, and the European Union – IFES currently supports credible, free, and fair electoral processes in 11 Sub‐Saharan African countries, and has experience in 21 countries across the sub-region. In many parts of the world, IFES also works with its Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) partners – the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute – under USAID’s Elections and Political Transitions mechanism (EPT) on comprehensive democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG) programming. IFES programs deliver expert technical assistance to help all electoral stakeholders participate in, plan for and administer inclusive political processes across the electoral cycle, from legal framework reforms, to voter registration, to civic education, and ultimately the elections themselves.

Our active Sub-Saharan African programs in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all utilize the generous support of our donors to strengthen both sides of the democracy scale: 1) Supply – in the form of credible political processes, administered by professional and independent institutions; and 2) Demand – in the form of an activated citizenry with protected rights and full access to the systems that impact their lives.

IFES positions itself at the center of this equation, partnering with all electoral stakeholders to strengthen participation, transparency, responsiveness, and ultimately democratic performance. As a rule, the dynamism of all societies produces social and political changes that often outpace the ability of governments to respond in a timely and comprehensive manner. This is perhaps more true in Sub‐Saharan Africa than anywhere else on earth. As countries across the sub‐continent confront seismic changes in demography (a youth bulge), economics (rapid growth paired with widening inequality), and access to information (mobile phones and other technologies), emerging challenges in other areas like climate change and violent extremism are compounding the stress on many political systems, putting even democratic governments at risk of a crisis of legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens. For example, recent surveys provide evidence that belief in democratic norms is slipping in some pockets of the sub- continent, particularly among youth.

It is for this reason, among many others, that DRG assistance in Sub-Saharan Africa is more important today than ever. With upcoming elections in more than 30 regional countries in the next three years – including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – it is critical that international donors invest resources now to ensure that citizens have an opportunity to participate freely in a credible electoral process. IFES firmly believes that strengthening the institutions that serve as the stewards of democratic governance – election management bodies, judiciaries, regulatory agencies, and parliaments, among others – is a valuable and cost effective method to support inclusive, resilient and democratic societies. IFES also believes that societies with a marriage of widespread citizen engagement and effective, efficient institutions can produce stronger development outcomes across sectors. IFES therefore respectfully recommends that the U.S. Congress maintain and even increase American engagement with democracy and governance programming, with a particular focus on election assistance across the entire electoral cycle.

To read the rest of Nackerdien’s written testimony, download the PDF.