Despite the disruption created by Covid-19 and political setbacks across the continent, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) increased its support to democratic activists in Africa during 2020. The pandemic led the government of Ethiopia to postpone national elections—precipitating a rise in ethnic conflict and a full-blown war in Tigray Province, throwing an historic opportunity for democratic transition off track. Yet NED continued to augment its program in Ethiopia, bolstering the tenuous democratic space afforded by Abiy Ahmed’s ascension to power in 2018, including assistance to human rights and media institutions.
NED made Sudan’s democratic breakthrough a priority for 2020. Civil society activists who helped lay the foundations for Sudan’s peaceful revolution received NED’s annual Democracy Award, which was bestowed virtually due to the pandemic, but still galvanized international recognition of the transition. NED’s grantmaking also rose to meet the challenge with increased support to Sudanese groups providing leadership training and promoting legal reform and transitional justice.
Elections across Africa were a mixed bag in 2020. Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Togo held elections that defied term limits or brutalized the political opposition to return incumbents to power, while Ghana and Burkina Faso held more credible processes that also returned the incumbents. Niger held a first round of elections in which the incumbent, President Mahamadou Issoufou, willingly stepped down in accordance with the constitution, the first democratic transfer in Niger’s history. Malawi was the happiest surprise of the year, where the court ordered a re-run of flawed elections, leading to the defeat of the incumbent and hopes for democratic reform. NED’s partners were engaged in every one of these struggles—mobilizing the participation of women and youth, monitoring the elections, preserving democratic space, and advocating for human rights.
Police abuses in Nigeria sparked the massive #EndSARS movement that calls for reforms, and although it has since been suppressed, the momentum for greater accountability and respect for human rights continued. NED’s partners pushed back against government repression, pressed for greater inclusivity, and took to social media to popularize democratic values.
Hopes for democratic reform in Zimbabwe were disappointed in the wake of the 2019 elections, but NED’s partners regrouped, calling out the massive corruption in the country even as its economy disintegrated. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political developments opened the potential of renewed democratic reform as President Felix Tshisekedi attempted to break the hold of his kleptocratic predecessor, Joseph Kabila. The fight against kleptocracy emerged as a major theme of NED’s work in Africa, and the concerted efforts of NED partners scored significant victories, starting to rein in some of the worst offenders.
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