US policy in Africa should reflect a renewed commitment to democracy

At the just-concluded Democracy Summit, US President Joe Biden and his team pledged to revitalize democratic governance at home and called for democratic solidarity to resist creeping authoritarianism abroad . Even amid all the understandable eyebrows over the summit’s guest list, the administration addressed America’s own shortcomings with honesty and humility, made welcome announcements of significant new anti-corruption measures, and launched a presidential initiative for democratic renewal to ensure that American support for civil and political rights abroad is more concrete than words of encouragement.

But where citizens struggle to move their governments in more democratic directions in Africa, activists on the ground do not always see the United States as a strong partner. In October, in Sudan, the army hijacked the country’s transition to democracy despite widespread popular opposition. In the weeks that have followed, the United States has at times seemed too willing to endorse superficial nods to civilian empowerment, and the leadership touted at the democracy summit has yet to materialize in the form of a clear strategy for moving forward (although Congress moved quickly to signal strong bipartisan support for democratic forces in Sudan).

Safer:

United States

future of democracy

The democracy

Sudan

Somalia

In Somalia, the United States has been strangely indifferent to the widening gap between the governed and the rulers. While even the best of circumstances would not soon provide the kind of governance that most observers would consider fully democratic, a slow political process aimed at establishing standards of governance and accountability has been undermined by the country’s current leaders, seeding justified, even ruinous doubts. about the integrity of this process. If the United States is working behind the scenes to push back manipulation and restore a common understanding of the rules of the game, it would be wise to make that more apparent to the people of Somalia, as well as others in the region who are trying to assess if Washington really means what it says.

Questions about the seriousness of the United States in supporting democratic governance do not just revolve around the Horn. In Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States enacted transfers of power with questionable constitutional legality and democratic legitimacy. Of course, policymakers must face tough choices, weigh competing interests, recognize the limits of American influence, and take into account realities on the ground. But if the United States is to assert its global leadership by reinvigorating democratic governance and encouraging the risk-taking that is often necessary to move a society towards greater accountability and respect for the rule of law, policymakers will have to respond to the skepticism of reformers who question Washington’s sincerity and commitment.

This publication is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel project on the future of democracy.

Safer:

United States

future of democracy

The democracy

Sudan

Somalia

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