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Africa's_democratic_transition
In 1991, political scientist Samuel Huntington hypothesized three historical waves of democratization across Europe and the Americas. Now, it is the African continent’s turn to create a fourth wave of democratic elections.

It started on Dec. 17, 2010, when Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian produce seller, set himself on fire in front of a municipal building.

Bouazizi’s act ignited protests against the oppressive authoritarian regime all over Tunisia. In 2011, the dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down from power and fled the country.

In the following three years, Tunisia held its first democratic elections, rewrote its Constitution and saw peaceful transitions of power.

In 2011, similar transitions occurred in the North African countries of Egypt, Libya and Morocco. Along with uprisings in the Middle East, this movement is collectively called the Arab Spring.

The changes in government in these countries have yet to resemble the democracies in North America and Western Europe. But while transitioning from long-standing authoritarian rule to full-fledged democracy does not happen overnight, the Arab Spring undoubtedly sent a message rippling all over the African continent.

The message? The voices of the impoverished and oppressed can be heard.

Last May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria and witnessed an incredible hand-off of power after President Goodluck Jonathan lost the general election.

Surprising critics who believed that Jonathan would not resign, Jonathan willfully stepped down and even congratulated his successor. This marked the first peaceful transition of power in Nigeria’s history.

This year, Kerry traveled back to Nigeria to emphasize Nigeria’s increasingly important position to help with security and development in Africa. He also reminded the new government of the precedent and example they set, as this year is becoming a crucial year for democracy in Africa.

Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mauritius, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia are all set to have elections this year.

These elections could turn out to be a critical turning point for countries like Chad, where the same leader has been in power for 24 years.

Some staples of democratic transition include a move to transparent elections, term limits, freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement.

Transparency and term limits are important in the election process because, without both, an authoritarian regime can stay in power for decades. Fraudulent elections are often the main reason why people refrain from voting in the first place.

When authoritarian regimes remain in power for decades, repeated policy mistakes stifle the economic development and empowerment of a country. Change can only come when those in power are committed to the needs of their constituencies.

Freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement are also very important steps for an African democratic transition.

When media is censored or run by the government, speaking out against the incumbent is often illegal and can even lead to dangerous consequences.
This is also a problem because, in many African countries, less than half of eligible voters are registered to vote, and many minority groups do not have the right to vote at all.

When it comes to poverty, these four aspects of democracy are key. When marginalized groups take part in policy-shaping, a country can grow together and mitigate inequality. Furthermore, when every voice is involved in decision making there is less chance for discontentment and violent revolt.

As Kerry points out, “A free, fair and peaceful presidential election does not guarantee a successful democracy, but it is one of the most important measuring sticks for progress in any developing nation.” The coming months’ elections will be a giant leap toward democracy and development in Africa.

Celestina Radogno

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, The Brookings Institute, The Guardian, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Wikimedia

sierra_leone_soldier
Sierra Leone, home to over 6.1 million people, is a West African nation ravaged by a 11-year civil war. The country was prone to military coup de’tats, resulting is an ever-revolving door of presidents, dictators, military juntas and overall political chaos.

The political crises that have befallen the diamond resource rich nation is in stark contrast to its prominent past as a settlement for freed slaves, particularly its capital, Freetown. Sadly, the civil war, which was condemned for human rights violations such as the use of child soldiers, created a situation where poverty became rampant among the populace.

Sierra Leone now has one the lowest life expectancies in the world, with an average person expected to live to only 48. It ranks fairly low in the Human Development Index at 180th out of 187 countries. Particularly distressing is that over “60 percent of the population” lives on about “$1.25 per day.” Consequently, the nation boasts a high illiteracy rate, and deals with a increasingly volatile health crisis, with a majority of the population unable to attain proper medicine and health services.

Despite the problems, the country has made positive strives since the end of the civil war. Since 2002, positive changes have occurred. The central government has become stronger and democracy has flourished quite prominently in the wake of the civil war. The nation has also seen an uptick in economic development.

Unemployment and underemployment of the youth population are major reasons for the civil unrest within the nation. Around 70 percent are out of work or critically underpaid, resulting in strikes that are routinely suppressed by the government. Disillusionment with political elites and inequality of wealth in the country has led to a huge divide among political groups.

Current President Ernest Bai Koroma and his All People’s Party have been criticized for their actions, but at the same time praised for helping the nation “transition from a failed state” to a “fast-growing economy.” The economic growth of the nation is contrasted by the rampant poverty faced by a majority of the nation.

Sierra Leone has had an arduous history in regards to women’s rights. The country is home to many customary practices, such as “female genital mutilation” and forced marriages. Amnesty international reported that the Sexual Offences Act, though pushed through in 2013, was never truly enacted, and discriminatory policies against women were still heavily occurring in the nation.

Human rights violations are particularly evident in post-civil war Sierra Leone. Peaceful demonstrations are still violently suppressed, and opposition media are continually jailed for dispelling information against the ruling regime. An April demonstration against working conditions at a local mine resulted in police officers killing 12 workers. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone found the police culpable for their actions, and pushed for an investigation into the matter. Sierra Leone has not indicted or prosecuted any of those involved in the killings.

Can Sierra Leone make a change? Unless the government makes a more proper investment in its population and respects human rights, civil unrest is a common possibility. The lack of oversight for respecting human rights and drastic poverty is an increasingly damaging problem for the nation that was once a safe-haven for those escaping slavery.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times Blogs, BBC, BBC, UNDP
Photo: UWO

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HeroesOfAdvocacy

Every wrong in the world has been addressed and corrected through some kind of advocacy, the most prominent kind of which is social advocacy. Well-known leaders throughout time from all over the world have led social movements, revolutions, and non-violent protests all in the face of injustice. Here are some of the most influential social leaders; the heroes of advocacy:

1. Mahatma Gandhi

Named “Mahatma” by one of India’s best-known writers, Tagore; the title ‘Mahatma’ stood for ‘Great Soul.’ It was in South Africa, while serving as an Indian businessman’s legal adviser, that he became aware of European racism and injustice. While in South Africa, Gandhi found himself “politically awakened” and began to use non-violent strategies to fight injustice. He wrote a book about the Indians’ struggles to claim their rights in South Africa. He returned to India in 1915 and found himself involved in several local struggles involving workers and working conditions. He then went on to initiate the non-cooperation movement, advising Indians to be self-reliant and withdraw from British institutions. In February 1922, when Indian policemen were killed by a crowd, Gandhi was arrested, and the movement was suspended. At his ‘Great Trial,’ where he was tried for sedition, he delivered a powerful indictment of British rule. After his release from prison, he worked hard towards maintaining relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. Gandhi was the most prominent figure in his engagement in the constructive reform of Indian society. Gandhi used “satyagraha,” systems of non-violence, to try and make the oppressor and the oppressed identify with one another as humans.

Gandhi recognized that “freedom is only freedom when it is indivisible.”

2. Nelson Mandela

Born in Transkei, South Africa, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 and engaged in resistance against the racist apartheid government of the ruling National Party. The African National Congress sought to create democratic political change in South Africa. In 1956, he was tried for treason. It was during his time in prison on Robben Island, from 1964 to 1982, that Mandela’s reputation became more famous.

“He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.”

Upon his release from prison in 1990, he dedicated himself to achieve the goals that were sought after four decades earlier. In 1991, he was elected President of the African National Congress (ANC). He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa” – Official Nobel Prize Website

3. Martin Luther King Jr.

Known for boycotts, demonstrations, and civil movements to express civil disobedience, King was the symbol of a nonviolent civil rights revolution. He changed politics. According to The King Center, African Americans achieved “more genuine racial equality” under the leadership of Dr. King with the American Civil Rights Movement than they did before him.  King was heavily influenced by his Christian faith and the teachings of Gandhi, both which guided him to lead nonviolent movements in the 1950s and ’60s to achieve African American equality in the United States. Martin Luther King was quoted during his delivery of the “I Have a Dream” speech, saying that African Americans were still not free, that they still lived in poverty and segregation, that they are exiles, and so now they had to “dramatize a shameful condition.” This is precisely what the Borgen Project is doing by fighting global poverty.

4. César Chávez

The Mexican-American who brought on agricultural reform and whose works led to the creation of the National Farm Workers Association, later named the United Farm Workers. He witnessed the harsh labor conditions that farmers had to endure and the employers’ exploitation of workers: they were unpaid, had poor living conditions in return for their services, and had no medical or basic privileges. He organized marches, boycotts, and strikes, forcing employers to provide adequate payment/wages to workers and provide them with benefits. Chávez was recognized for his commitment to social justice and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

There are many more social activists who dedicated their lives to social reform and political change by fighting for people’s rights and freedoms. The activists listed above were a few of the most prominent and most influential throughout history.

Today, we’re fighting for a different kind of freedom, although it is not any less important: we’re fighting to end global poverty, and free people from the shackles of poverty. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” during his fight for equal rights for colored people in the United States.

With advocacy, we deliver information and vital knowledge to the masses, thereby engaging them and mobilizing them to stand up for an issue and demand justice.

– Leen Abdallah

Sources: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela: Biography, Mandela: Nobel Peace Prize, The King Center, I Have a Dream, Nobel Peace Laureates
Photo: Daily Good