It was an honor to today participate in the Africa Drive For Democracy Conference. This convening of members of the African democratic community is aimed at renewing commitments to the promotion of democratic ideas nationally, regionally and continentally.
Hosted in Arusha, Tanzania by the MS Training Center for Development Cooperation, the Center for Strategic Litigation and the Institute for Security Studies, and with participants from 26 countries across Africa, the conference is a response to the current democratic decline and growing threats against democracy on the continent.
My submission focused on the often undervalued but potentially very important expression of democracy at the local government level. I spoke about how the experience of residents at the local level can strengthen the appreciation of citizens’ rights to democratic dividends at all levels of government. I gave examples of participatory practices (such as the engagement of 15,000 residents through focus groups from June to July 2018 as part of the development of the Transform Freetown targets) and the regular communication of delivery outcomes and challenges to residents through the annual publication of Transform Freetown Reports.
I also emphasized that local governments do not operate in vacuums and that national government decisions can strengthen or weaken democratic expression, democratic institutions and the social dividends of democracy.
I was really pleased that Former President HE Ernest Bai Koroma delivered the conference opening keynote address which was incredibly inspiring and expertly set the tone for the rest of the event.
With rising poverty and inequality, insecurity, poor development outcomes and the impact of climate change, it is imperative that democracy in Africa is not a hollow word, but one which genuinely facilitates citizen participation, freedom of expression and association, access to justice and ultimately yields the dividend of improved living standards, access to services and economic growth for citizens.