Africa Program Highlights (2007)

In 2007, Africa continued to reflect the uneven, but certain progress of democracy. Thus, the flawed national elections in Nigeria were in contrast to the highly successful national elections in Sierra Leone, Mali, and Mauritania, and breakthrough legislative elections in Togo.

The peace process in Sudan stumbled, the conflict in Darfur flared up, the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia, and disputed elections in Kenya ignited a devastating conflict. Fighting flared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Zimbabwe continued its economic and political spiral downward. Yet democracy has become the norm across Africa, and African citizens are increasingly demanding more accountable government and greater respect for political freedoms.

Courageous and determined civil society activists, elected officials, journalists, trade unionists, entrepreneurs, and others generated popular support for democratic elections and greater transparency, reduced the incidence of human rights abuses and conflict, increased the reach and integrity of the media, and promoted a free economy and the rights of workers.

NED approved 36 grants to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2007, making it the Endowment’s top priority in Africa once again. Despite democratic national elections held in 2006, as well as the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, pockets of fighting have continued to destabilize the east of the country; and corruption, human rights abuse, and poor governance are the rule throughout most of Congo. The stakes are high. The IRC estimates that more than five million Congolese may have died as the result of the wars of the last ten years.

Yet the political decentralization of Congo could create expanding islands of more accountable government, which many NED partners are energetically promoting, especially in provinces such as Maniema, where eight organizations are working on this issue. The Solidarity Center is also doing so with trade unions throughout Congo. Groups based in eastern Congo campaigned against human rights abuses, especially violence against women; and groups based in Kinshasa, Oriental Province, Equateur, Kasaai, and Katanga monitored, advocated, educated, and trained citizens on human rights and democracy issues.

The aftermath of Nigeria’s disappointing elections brought some silver linings, as the judiciary ruled against some of the most egregious cases of fraud, and civil society, the press, and the legislature asserted their growing strength. More than a dozen of NED’s partners were engaged in civic education and monitoring around the elections, and followed them up with efforts to reform the electoral laws and petition process, and reinforce the accountability of elected officials to their constituents.

Other partners campaigned against the mounting corruption and violence in the Niger Delta, and sought to promote democratic ideals in the shari’a states of northern Nigeria and among youth throughout the country. The Lawyers for Human Rights began an innovative project to improve the criminal justice system in Plateau State.

Elsewhere in West Africa, the progress of democracy was more straightforward. The national elections in Sierra Leone were peaceful, free and fair, and brought to power an opposition which has pledged to carry out significant reforms, such as a freedom of information act and an end to the criminal libel laws, as advocated by the Society for Democratic Initiatives.

NED’s 25 partners in Liberia maintained pressure on the new government to meet popular aspirations for human rights, reconciliation, and good government. The Solidarity Center helped Liberia’s rubber workers win recognition and important reforms.

In Cote d’Ivoire, civil war and a lengthy political impasse finally ended with the Ougadougou Accords, which were reinforced by the human rights education and conflict resolution efforts of six NED partners. NDI helped to reconcile Cote d’Ivoire’s feuding political parties by organizing multi-party forums around the country.

Togo’s legislative elections marked the first step in that country’s long-stalled transition to democracy, and groups such as La Conscience and the Concertation Nationale de la Societe Civile helped rally the population to participate in a responsible and peaceful way.

In East Africa, despite the continuing violence in Darfur and slow implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, civil society organizations are laying the foundations for democratic elections, free media, and national reconciliation. The Imatong Human Rights Organization, began civic education with the Ngock Dinka and Arab Misseriya communities in the disputed Abyei region. In Khartoum, the National Center for Peace and Development provided training and held events on a range of human rights and democracy issues, and hosted a grants and finance workshop with all of NED’s northern Sudanese partners. In Juba, the Nile Institute held workshops on policy options for Southern Sudan, and the Multi-Media Training Center held its first journalist training workshops. And for Darfur, the Friends of Africa arranged for human rights activists to get training and attend a meeting of the Africa Commission for Human Rights in Banjul, Gambia.

Although the chaos in Somalia only escalated following the invasion by Ethiopia, the Center for Peace and Democracy, the Ismail Juma’le Human Rights Organization, the Somali Human Rights Action, and the Somali Peace Line still managed to hold workshops and advocacy campaigns promoting peace, human rights, and good governance. Despite deadly attacks, Somali independent media, including HornAfrik Media, Radio Banadir, Radio Daljir, Shabelle Media, the National Union of Somali Journalists, the Somali Women Journalist Association, and the International New Safety Institute, provided information and hope to thousands of Somalis. (NED mourns the death of long-time partner Ali Shamarke, director of HornAfrik, who was assassinated by a car bomb in Mogadishu on July 10.)

Meanwhile, in the relative calm of Somaliland, the Somaliland Youth Development Association’s advocacy succeeded in getting Hargeisa’s old central prison closed down and a new, more humane, one built in its stead.

In Kenya, CIPE strengthened the promising informal sector and small enterprises, as well as a lively online magazine, The African Executive. IRI provided training and technical assistance to Kenya’s political parties, and Citizens Against Violence encouraged youth candidates to conduct violence-free campaigns.

In Uganda, IRI and NDI provided training to Uganda’s newly-legalized political parties, emphasizing the inclusion of persons with disabilities and women.

Zimbabwe’s civil society movement remained indomitable. Filling the void left by growing restrictions on the independent press, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and Savanna Trust pursued alternative media options. NED focused greater support on youth initiatives, such as the Student Christian Movement, Youth Agenda, Youth Forum, and ZimRights. The Solidarity Center continued support to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, including an initiative in the informal sector and for publication of a monthly newspaper.

NED supported:

  • civil society participation in the international Community of Democracies conference held in Bamako, Mali;
  • enabled the Africa Institute, launched by Freedom House, to hold a series of trainings for young leaders around the continent;
  • contributed to a general meeting of the Africa Democracy Forum in Kinshasa, DRC;
  • supported the second annual training conference of the West and Central African Human Rights Defenders Network, based in Accra, Ghana;
  • enabled CIPE to organize a major conference on African public-private sector dialogue, held in Gabarone, Botswana; and
  • assisted Global Rights and NDI in efforts to address the impact of natural resource exploitation on human rights and democracy in Africa.