Clinton's Africa Trip Coincides with Democratic Downturn

Washington

Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing troubling setbacks in freedom - after a generation of notable gains - presenting Hillary Clinton with a formidable challenge as she prepares for her first trip to the continent as U.S. secretary of state.Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing troubling setbacks in freedom—after a generation of notable gains—presenting Hillary Clinton with a formidable challenge as she prepares for her first trip to the continent as U.S. secretary of state.


Clinton is expected to arrive today in Kenya, one of seven countries she will visit during her 11-day trip. One of her goals is to "support strong and sustainable democratic governments" at a time when a number of African countries are struggling or failing to consolidate hard-won political freedoms.

"Secretary Clinton has an opportunity to stress that genuine democracy and respect for human rights are requisites for progress toward greater economic and social development," said Thomas O. Melia, Freedom House deputy executive director. "We hope that she will lend her full support to Africa's democrats as they work to reverse the continent's enduring patterns of poor governance, authoritarian rule and repression."

Only two of the countries on Clinton's itinerary—South Africa and Cape Verde—are ranked Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. She will also visit Kenya, Nigeria and Liberia, ranked as Partly Free countries, as well as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are Not Free.

Among the 48 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, only 10 are rated Free, while 23 are Partly Free and 15 Not Free.

"Africa's ten democratic countries are scattered across the continent and do not yet constitute a critical mass in the region," said Melia. "The best hope for broader reinforcement of democratic trends would be South Africa, if it should utilize its influence toward that end. Secretary Clinton should press President Jacob Zuma to do so, starting with Zimbabwe and extending throughout the sub-region."

Kenya and its neighbors in East Africa—consisting of ten countries and the territory of Somaliland—have not experienced any democratic advances in the last three years. Democratic space in East Africa is shrinking as governments increasingly use intimidation and restrictive laws to curb the activities of political opposition, human rights activists and independent media. Every country in the region suffers from poor governance, widespread corruption and weak institutions, especially the judiciary.

Vukasin Petrovic, Freedom House senior program manager for Africa, said the East and Horn of Africa region has reached a "tipping point".

"There is a clear stagnation of advances toward democracy and general malfunction of state institutions and democratic processes in the region, leaving limited space for action by the political or ethnic opposition," said Petrovic. "Combined with the growing acceptance of armed conflict as a tool for gaining political power, the volatility arising in poorly-governed states can pave the way to broader armed conflicts in countries across the region."

To learn more about Sub-Saharan Africa, read:

Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa 2009
Freedom in the World 2009

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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