Affirming Democracy amid Insecurity and Uncertainty

ethiopias-feyisa-lilesa-protest

Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa Completes 2016 Olympic Marathon with Protest Against His Government [i]

A Forum series on Democracy and Insecurity in Africa will begin with a dinner-discussion on Monday, March 6, 2017. That day marks the 60th anniversary of the independence of Ghana. In December 2016, Ghana completed its sixth multiparty election since the return to constitutional government in 1992. It also marked the third time power shifted from the incumbent government to the opposition party. As the first tropical African country to achieve independence from colonial rule, and a nation that has avoided the social fissures that have undermined peace and security elsewhere on the continent, Ghana’s experience suggests the pertinence of democratic governance in a continent riven by multiple forms of insecurity.

The term “affirming democracy” was used in my presentation at the conference, “Ethiopia in Crisis,” at Stanford University on January 21-22, 2017. Gathered at that conference, and also participating via multiple social media, the attendees belonged to Ethiopia’s many ethnic, regional, religious, and political groups. A young sociologist, Derese Getachew of Iona College, made a bold case for renovating the struggle for democracy as a way out of  repetitive autocratic repression and popular protest. His treatise foreshadowed the arguments that Stanford professor Larry Diamond and I made in the subsequent keynote session.

In a sense, our program on Democracy and Insecurity in Evanston and Chicago, March 6-8, began at the Ethiopia Conference in Palo Alto. Since then, insecurities and uncertainties in Africa and globally have multiplied. The new American government is issuing decrees that reverse decades of domestic and international policy. Warfare in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen has reached levels of intensity not seen since the Indochina wars. Thousands of migrants are setting sail on flimsy crafts from the coast of Libya, hoping to land in Europe. Many perish in the attempt (and they had been survivors of the perilous land crossing to reach Libya in the first place).

Much attention during our forums will be devoted to Nigeria. However, Nigeria is again undergoing a “season of uncertainty” as President Muhammadu Buhari, just short of the half-way point in his first elected term of office, has extended his stay in London for medical reasons (not yet publicly disclosed).[ii] Meanwhile, the country’s population is battered by an economic recession, high inflation, and profound infrastructural failings. Even in Ghana, President Nana Akufo Addo, elected with a large margin of victory in the 2016 vote, confronts the mirroring of Nigeria’s travails with a spasmodic electricity supply and other systemic challenges.

At the dinner discussion on March 6, I will make a few introductory remarks, and then call on our invited guests (Amb. John Campbell, Prof. Wale Adebanwi, and Prof. Attahiru Jega – if he procures his visa) to share their thoughts on affirming democracy in a period of mounting insecurity and uncertainty. The ensuing discussion will set the stage for debates during the subsequent forums and group dinners. This first meeting will help refine the agenda for the events that follow. It can also set the stage for a longer-term project on democracy and insecurity among several institutional partners

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/sports/olympics/feyisa-lilesa-marathon-olympic-protest.html

[ii] On the 2009-2010 “season of uncertainty” when mortally-ill President Umaru Yar’Adua spent months hospitalized in Saudi Arabia without transferring power to the vice-president, see https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/05_nigeria_joseph.pdf. On this occasion, President Buhari has respected constitutional and other guidelines during his prolonged absence from Abuja.

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