Elections held in Kenya, Mali, and Zimbabwe in 2013 demonstrated the tenuous progress of democracy in Africa. In each case the elections were more peaceful than had been feared. The processes were imperfect at best, plagued by technical glitches, rushed time frames, allegations of fraud and manipulation, and ethnic tension. Nonetheless, Kenya and Zimbabwe graduated from unstable governments of national unity, and Mali emerged from a coup and the secession of the north.
Yet in the aftermath of these elections, the commitment of the new governments to democracy and human rights, as well as their ability to manage challenges such as national unity and terrorism, was still to be tested.
In Kenya, the International Republican Institute (IRI) improved local governance by increasing cooperation between newly elected officials and civil society through a series of meetings and processes. In Mali, NED expanded its support to civil society organizations throughout the country, buttressing the election process, human rights, and the independent press. In Zimbabwe, the Solidarity Center continued support to the trade union movement, including an independent international election observation mission by the Southern African Trade Union Council.
Africa’s two giants, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faced daunting political challenges in 2013, including violent insurgencies, corruption, and poor governance. Yet in both cases, glimmers of progress in civil society, local government, the private sector, and elsewhere provided hope for democracy and the rule of law. DRC remained NED’s largest program in Africa, and grants to civil society organizations focused on human rights and local accountability, while the National Democratic Institute (NDI) expanded its support for electoral reform and cross-party dialogue, and IRI reinforced its support to women parliamentarians. NED supported democracy activists throughout Nigeria, but particularly augmented its program in the beleaguered north, including grants to organizations focusing on human rights and conflict resolution. In addition, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) increased support to private sector organizations in northern Nigeria, as well as taking on a new initiative combatting corruption in public sector regulatory agencies.
As 2013 ended, two weak states, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Republic of South Sudan, exploded into anarchy and civil war, highlighting the fragility and volatility of governance systems in Africa. Although NED had to suspend its program in CAR, it held a strategic conference with religious and civil society representatives that highlighted the crisis and laid the foundation for re-engagement. NED’s partners in South Sudan warned of governance problems and the impending crisis, but to no avail. Other conflicts made progress toward resolution, such as in DRC where the M23 rebel group was defeated. Similarly, the conflict in Somalia shifted as the Al-Qaeda-aligned Shabab rebels came under pressure to cede territory to AU forces; there, NED increased its support to media and civil society groups. NED intensified its focus on national reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire, where civil society groups documented the human rights record and NDI promoted dialogue among women and youth party leaders. In two other post-conflict environments, Liberia and Sierra Leone, NED partners advanced Freedom of Information reforms.
Assaults on civil society and independent media were ominous. Following the example of Ethiopia, attempts to use restrictive NGO and media legislation to suppress criticism and dissent spread to Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan. Legislation targeting LGBT activists passed in Uganda and Nigeria, with implications for all civil society. The killing of journalists in conflicts in Somalia and DRC exacted a heavy toll, and the ongoing imprisonment of journalists in Ethiopia and Eritrea further restricted the possibility of democratic debate. NED supported partners in all of these contexts to push back against restrictive legislation, stand up for the human rights of LGBT persons, and defend the rights of journalists to report freely. NED’s long-time partner, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, has emerged as one of the strongest advocates in Africa on these issues.
Some countries, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and Rwanda, sought to tighten their repressive control. In each of these cases, NED supported courageous activists determined to challenge the status quo and test the limits of democratic possibility. Thus, in Eritrea, Human Rights Concern advocated internationally against the use of forced labor and other appalling abuses; the Debebe and Temesgen Law Office promoted a culture of public debate about civil society and the media in Ethiopia; and an array of activists in Sudan promoted peace, democratic ideas, human rights, and freedom of information. NED continued pioneering support to civil society in Equatorial Guinea, supported the maverick website MakaAngola in Angola, and supported the Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grands Lacs (LDGL) to conduct the only independent domestic election monitoring of Rwanda’s national elections.