The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 June 2013
The election of Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, brought great expectations for many in Africa who look up to America as the bastion of liberal democracy and freedom, and the prospect of a black president helping Africa out of poverty.
And after two terms in office, those expectations are nowhere near to be fulfilled by the president. Instead Barack has been heavily criticised for not doing enough to help his African brothers and sisters tackle the most basic of social and economic problems: poverty, illiteracy, and joblessness.
The American government says that it is “spending more than $292 million in supporting the great strides many African countries have made to ensure good governance, rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
A statement published by the US government department yesterday to coincide with president Obama’s visit to Africa, speaks of the progress some African countries have achieved.
“We commend the progress they have made to broaden political participation and improve governance, and will remain a steady partner as they continue to work to strengthen electoral processes, ensure transparency and accountability in government, and provide security while respecting and protecting universal rights and fundamental freedoms.
“In addition to our ongoing diplomacy and our efforts in multilateral institutions, in 2012 the United States – through the U.S. Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – provided more than $292 million in support for these efforts.”
Supporting Civil Society and Independent Media
Civil society and independent media play a critical role in any vibrant democracy. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the United States supports efforts to ensure civil society organizations and independent media can organize, advocate, and raise awareness with governments and the private sector to improve political processes, transparency, and government performance.
But which African countries are benefiting from this spending?
This is what the statement says:
In Kenya, the $53 million Yes Youth Can program empowers nearly one million Kenyan youth to use their voices for advocacy in national and local policy-making, while also creating economic opportunities.
In advance of Kenya’s March 2013 general elections, Yes Youth Can’s “My ID My Life” campaign helped 500,000 youth obtain National identification cards, a prerequisite to voter registration, and carried out a successful nationwide campaign with Kenyan civic organizations to elicit peace pledges from all presidential aspirants.
In Tanzania, the United States has dedicated $14 million to strengthening government accountability institutions and linking them with Tanzanian civil society watchdog groups and civic activists in a constructive partnership to further government transparency.
The program focuses on improving access to information for Tanzanian citizens in four key development sectors: health, education, natural resource management, and food security.
The United States will soon launch a program in West Africa to build the capacity of civil society organizations to responsibly advocate on land tenure issues, including land rights, working closely with governments and the private sector to improve responsible natural resource utilization and the protection and advancement of human rights and economic development.
Assisting Credible Elections and Democratic Processes
Elections provide citizens with the opportunity to build strong, peaceful democratic systems and give citizens a stake in the future of their countries.
The United States supports efforts across the continent to promote credible, transparent and effective democratic processes through civic and voter education, building the capacity of African election commissions, strengthening political parties, training and supporting election observers, and facilitating the inclusion of women, youth, and people with disabilities.
We also partner with regional centres of excellence to share best practices in electoral management and build capacity for improved elections implementation.
The United States and the University of South Africa are partners in developing a network of alumni from the university’s Democratic Elections in Africa Certificate Program for African election officials and other administrators, leading to more professional, independent, and effective electoral commissions across the continent.
This summer, the United States will launch an initiative to strengthen African efforts to ensure electoral integrity by supporting a network of activists across the continent to share best practices for elections preparation, engage in cross-border elections monitoring, and track adherence to campaign commitments using the latest technological and mobile platforms.
This investment lays the groundwork for a larger multi-donor, multi-implementer fund focused on improving the standards and best practices for electoral monitoring and civic engagement.
Consolidating the Rule of Law and Protecting Human Rights
Many countries in Africa have made good progress on strengthening the rule of law, but much work remains. In some parts of the continent weak, ineffective, and partisan judiciaries contribute to – or fail to provide justice in the face of – a range of societal scourges, including gender-based violence, organized crime, impunity and corruption, labour abuses, and human and narcotics trafficking.
The United States supports efforts to improve the ability of governments to strengthen the rule of law, particularly in transitional and fragile states.
Our programs also assist governments to investigate and prosecute corruption, organized crime, and narcotics and human traffickers. Examples include:
In West Africa, the United States has established the Africa Regional Anti-Corruption Training Program, a two-year initiative to support the establishment of stable judicial and law enforcement institutions that combat organized crime and drug cartels and support rule of law.
With U.S. support, the West Africa Regional Training Centre (RTC) brings together justice sector and security officials from across the region, creating relationships and boosting knowledge and skills on topics ranging from investigative analysis to combating corruption.
By September, the RTC will have conducted 12 courses and trained approximately 400 officials from ten West African countries to combat government corruption, organized crime and drug cartels, and support rule of law.
In Southern Africa, the 5-year Justice as a Right in Southern Africa (JARSA) program partners more than a dozen Southern African legal aid and human rights NGOs to increase judicial independence, improve the capacity of human rights lawyers and the legal community to enforce the rule of law, and encourage active civic participation in domestic and regional judicial processes.
Partnering to Promote Open Government and Transparency
The United States is committed to promoting open and accountable governance in Africa and around the world.
As a founding member of the Open Government Partnership, we are working to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies.
South Africa was a founding member of the Open Government Partnership when it was launched in 2011. Since then, four more African nations –Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia, and Kenya – have joined, and four more — Cape Verde, Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone – have committed to join by the end of 2014.
Leveraging Technology to Revolutionize Governance and Civic Participation
The United States continues to expand support for cutting-edge technological innovations that improve government performance and accountability, open new frontiers for advocacy and civic engagement, and link Africa’s tech-savvy citizens and leaders across the continent. Examples include:
The United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Omidyar Network Making created All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development, a $45 million fund to support innovation and research to harness and disseminate new technologies to enable greater citizen engagement and government responsiveness.
The Freedom of Information Act App, a mobile phone application supported by the United States, provides Nigerians with a detailed explanation on the newly-implemented Nigerian freedom of information law and allows users to get information on how to request public information.
Kenya, Malawi, and Senegal have partnered with the United States to join the Better Than Cash Alliance, through which they can accelerate the transition from cash to electronic payments made by governments, the development community, and the private sector.
The electronic distribution of payments increases transparency and efficiency, reduces corruption, and ensures accountability – while facilitating access to formal financial services.
The Better than Cash Alliance was launched in 2012 by the U.S. Agency for International Development in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa, and the United Nations Capital Development Fund.