Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif)
(L-R) Eric Postel, Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Omoyele Sowore and Dr. Chris Fomunyoh
With 15 African nations scheduled to have national elections this year, 2015 could shape future of African continent for years to come
Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif), Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Africa, joined House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in welcoming hundreds of participants to the third edition of this year’s Africa Policy Forum, entitled “African Elections & Governance in 2015 and Beyond.”
Dr. Chris Fomunyoh
With Nigeria’s historic presidential election earlier this year and national elections scheduled this year in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Libya, Mauritius, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia, the election results this year could have a dramatic impact on shaping the African continent for generations.
Bass opened the forum by discussing how most of the countries in Africa are functioning democracies and recounting that she had recently traveled to Namibia to represent the United States as part of the official delegation for the Inauguration of President Hage Geingob.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us who care about Africa to celebrate the good news of Africa,” said Ms. Bass as her comments elicited applause from the audience.
Mr. Hoyer stressed the importance of a free and open press being “absolutely essential to exercising of a positive democracy… and informing the public of what their leaders are doing on their behalf.”
“We are forged together to protect civil governance and civil protections,” Mr. Hoyer concluded in his remarks.
Panelists participating in the forum were Eric Postel, Assistant to the Administrator for Africa from USAID, Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Regional Director for West & Central Africa from the National Democratic Institute, Omoyele Sowore, a journalist from Sahara Reporters, and Kamissa Camara, Senior Program Officer West & Central Africa from the National Endowment for Democracy. Dr. Monde Muyangwa, Director if the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the panel.
Mr. Postel focused on the paradigm shift in U.S. policy toward governance in Africa. “Today, Africans are the architect of their own development,” he said, while stressing the responsibility that comes with this new approach. “Good development work needs good governance.”
Dr. Fomunyoh discussed how the presidential election last month in Nigeria captured “an enthusiasm” on the African continent and what the transfer of power in Nigeria will mean to the other nations on the African continent.
“Africans recognize that they are part of the global family of democrats,” Dr. Fomunyoh stressed.
Mr. Sowore drew a resounding round of applause with his remarks about how the results of the Nigerian elections were a sea change to how the world sees democracy in Africa as well as the growing importance of African media.
He reminded the audience that “all the bookmakers in Nigeria were proven wrong” regarding their multiple pre-election predictions of violence and civil unrest. However, the successful election was a result of a “powerful and determined effort by Nigerians,” especially young people using social media.
Ms. Camara drew on Mr. Sowore’s discussion of how young people in Africa are insisting that their nations move toward more democratic states.
“One trend that is mind-blowing is youth participation,” said Ms. Camara. She insisted that Africa’s young people are making sure that their voices are being heard.
After the panelists took dozens of questions from members of African civil society, diaspora, journalists and members of the African diplomatic corps, Dr. Muyangwa closed the forum discussing the democratic political process with a message: “Africa has to own this.”
She praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who conceded the March election last month to Muhammadu Buhari, for choosing national interest over personal interest and showing political maturity.