President Obama Must Press Democratic Reform During Africa Visit | Freedom House

President Obama Must Press Democratic Reform During Africa Visit

Washington

Freedom House urges President Obama to address the democracy and human rights challenges confronting Africa in his upcoming visit to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania from June 26 to July 3. President Obama must stress to African leaders that building durable democracies as well as vibrant economies is essential to sustained growth in the region.

“Equitable and inclusive growth can only occur under accountable, democratic governments that give all of their citizens, not just a small few, a voice in charting the direction of their countries,” said Robert Herman, vice president for regional programs at Freedom House. “The United States, as a friend and ally, must remain vigilant and supportive of ongoing efforts to improve accountability, consolidate the rule of law, and promote human rights.”

The state of democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa remains troubled. Freedom House rates the same number of countries as Not Free in its Freedom in the World 2013 report as it did in 1998. Overall, democratic setbacks have outpaced promising gains since 2005; during this period only 13 countries registered improvements in the Freedom in the World ratings and 33 countries experienced often rapid declines. Still more concerning, these gains largely occurred as a result of the stabilization of post-conflict situations and not the consolidation of democratic institutions.

Despite the promise of higher socio-economic development financed by vast natural resource wealth and burgeoning industries, only seven counties in Sub-Saharan Africa have obtained mid-income status as determined by the World Bank, while nearly 50 percent of the region’s population remains impoverished, experiencing only very modest gains measured by the human development index.

While the countries on the President’s itinerary have seen some of the most positive democratic development in the region, they face significant challenges. He should address the following issues in his meetings with leaders:

  • Encourage the president of South Africa and the African National Congress (ANC) leadership to stop authoritarian practices of tighter controls over the judiciary, media and civil society, to end the use of excessive force by state security officials and to bring to justice all individuals and officials involved in the Marikana mine incident.
  • Request South Africa to actively advocate for the restoration of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Tribunal’s mandate to provide remedy for cases brought by individuals including cases regarding state-sponsored human rights abuses.
  • Encourage the president of Tanzania and the political leadership to stop the authoritarian practices of limiting the freedom of assembly for opposition parties and civil society and to cease the harassment of media workers and journalists by government officials. In line with this, seek guarantees for the continuation of a fully transparent and inclusive constitution review process and full implementation of the new constitution and corresponding reforms.
  • Urge Senegal to take steps to ensure that all members of society, including traditionally marginalized groups such as youth and LGBT persons, play an important role in consolidating liberal norms and practices and contributing to an inclusive vision of democracy in the country.
  • Encourage each of the three countries to use their respective regional influence to promote stability, rule of law, and respect for human rights among their neighbors, particularly with regard to the continuing threat of violent extremism in Mali and Nigeria. 
  • Publicly commit to continued diplomatic and financial support for democracy and human rights programming.
  • Publicly highlight the governments of countries with the poorest human rights record such as South Sudan, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Cameroon, Gambia, Chad, Swaziland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and Eritrea.

Senegal and South Africa are rated Free and Tanzania is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House’s annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties. Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania are each rated Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2013.

To learn more, visit:

Freedom in the World 2013: Senegal

Freedom in the World 2013: South Africa

Freedom in the World 2013: Tanzania

Blog: Freedom at Issue

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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.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhouse). Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our newsletter.