Jendayi E. Frazer, president and CEO of 50 Ventures and adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at CFR, discusses the future of democracy in Africa.
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FASKIANOS: Good afternoon and welcome to the next session in the—or today’s session in CFR’s winter/spring 2020 Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us.
Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic, if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Jendayi Frazer with us to talk about “The Future of Democracy in Africa.” Dr. Frazier is an adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at CFR. She is also president and CEO of 50 Ventures, a private consulting and investment company that seeks to elevate Africa’s global standing by investing in its governance, education, enterprise, and stability sectors.
Previously, Dr. Frazer was a distinguished public service professor and director of the Center for International Policy and Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University. And from 2005 to 2009 she served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs and as special assistant to the president, and senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2004, when she was sworn in as the first woman U.S. ambassador to South Africa. Her additional government experience includes serving as a CFR international affairs fellow at the Pentagon and then as director for African affairs at the National Security Council.
Dr. Frazer, thanks very much for being with us today. I thought we could begin by having you outline what you believe the future of democracy in Africa will be and barriers to democratic progress that are affecting peace and development on the continent.
FRAZER: OK. Thank you, Irina. I appreciate it. And good afternoon to all of you.
I am very happy to discuss “The Future of Democracy in Africa,” but to do so I think we have to look backwards and then move forward to create the proper context for understanding what the possibilities are as we go forward. But I always start when I talk about a large topic like this with a disclaimer, and that is that, of course, Africa is fifty-four countries and each one has its own unique political history. And so while we will talk about trends, it’s important to also recognize that there’s tremendous complexity across the continent.
And let me say that one of the things that I like to emphasize is the dynamics of evolution in democratic struggle, particularly within each country, but I say “democratic struggle” because every single African country inherited a political tradition of authoritarianism and a lack of popular participation in governance from their history of colonial rule. Of course, Ethiopia never was colonized, but it did have its forms of feudal monarchy. And Liberia was effectively colonized by free American slaves. And so every single country has this history of struggle to have greater participation and greater freedom and greater representative government. And I will say that this struggle is not, of course, unique to Africa; it’s universal and it’s a challenge globally today.
But what are we talking about when we talk about democracy, so I can just be very clear? What I’m really talking about is representative democracy, meaning that leaders are elected by their citizens. And I’m talking about forms of pluralism, meaning that there’s broad civic engagement and participation in governance and in society, and I’m most talking about rights and responsibilities, meaning protection of minority rights—whether ethnic and religious—but also the right of people to participate and the responsibilities of people to participate in their governance. And so really free and fair elections, the rights of assembly, and the rights of freedom of expression are key, I think, issues to judge democracy in Africa.
Now, we often talk about democracy from the point of view of Freedom House, which has an index—a global index of democracy, and they basically reflect the same types of representation, pluralism, rights as—(inaudible)—to democracy.
So when we look at Africa’s broad trends over the last sixty years—and I’ll go through this quickly and then go to today—the ’50s and ’60s are really the organization of mass movements demanding independence and self-governance. We often talk about this as the first wave of democracy. In Africa, fairly successful, really ending in the mid-’60s or so. And then we move into what became a retreat of democracy. And that is many of these leaders in the ’60s were overthrown by military rulers and also many of them had an ideological predisposition to one-party states, which led to authoritarianism. And this also was linked with a socialist ideology about what the nature of society should be in Africa.
The most positive expression of this, of course, was the president of Tanzania, Nyerere, who saw one-party socialism as reflective of pre-colonial society. And then really the worst instinct of it was military rule and sort of dictatorship that came up through the ’70s.
And then you have in the 1980s what would be called—the late ’80s and ’90s the second wave of democracy, which was partly precipitated by the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, and many authoritarian presidents lost their external support from the United States and Soviet Union. And the pressure of civic society to push for multiparty elections and democratic governments largely succeeded. And so by the 2000s we’re really talking about more or less competitive elections and we’re talking about democracy as the prevailing norm of the way in which society should be politically organized and governing.
Now, when we get—from the 2000s when we get to 2010, you have a bit of a retreat from democracy and/or pushing back from democracy. And this is largely expressed these days in terms of leadership rotation, where most democracies in Africa coming from the 2000s had term limits, and there’s been a push by many leaders to get rid of those constitutional term limits so that they can extend their time in office. You also have a pushback against freedom of assembly and association, with a number of African countries banning NGOs, seeing them as external influences trying to organize a civil society in ways that the leaders don’t like. And you have to some degree a pushing back on freedom of the press and freedom of speech with defamation laws coming out where if someone says a critical or nasty thing about a president or his family members they can be jailed. And so between 2010 and 2020 now—so this next decade that we just—you know, we just finished, this last decade—I would say it’s one of intensified struggle for democracy. There’s been a very intensified struggle.
And today, as we look forward, we really do see a lot of volatility amongst African countries. I think of the fact that in 2018 just in one day of February there were at least three long-term leaders who were put out of office, effectively.
And that was—they weren’t long term in terms of South Africa; it’s Jacob Zuma. He’s in his second term and he was pushed out by his political party, the ANC, which is a very long political party starting in 1914. But they effectively ousted him over corruption charges.
Then you also had Robert Mugabe, who, in what would be considered a light coup, was put out of office as well. And he had been governing for over thirty years.
And then you had Haile Mariam (sic; Mulatu Teshome) in Ethiopia, who resigned. He stepped down of his own political will in order to make way for younger leadership to come in and try to address a lot of the communal violence that was taking place in Ethiopia.
And so just in one day we—or one month, in February 2018, we saw this huge shift in the political dynamics on the continent. And really from—and if you read the article by Judd Devermont and Jon Temin you’ll see that from 2010 to 2014 the Africa region experienced nine transfers of power from one leader to another, but since 2015 the region has experienced twenty-six transfers of power with half of them being a defeat by an incumbent of an opposition party. And so that’s really very positive in terms of the future of democracy in Africa that you do get this leadership change. And even while there’s this pressure to extend terms, you’re seeing this shift towards, one, younger leaders, and also a shift between ruling parties and opposition candidates. Obviously candidates now being able to get into power instead of the ruling party just handpicking a successor.
You know, one of the other facts that they stated, and I think it’s important to highlight here, is that of forty-nine leaders in power in sub-Saharan Africa at the beginning of 2015, so just five years, only twenty-two remain in power as of May of 2019. So within that four-year period there’s tremendous turnover of power. And again, as I say, I think that’s probably very positive towards a move towards greater accountability, and representation, and especially citizens’ participation in their governance.
Now, one of the—one could say a positive trend, and others might say a worrying trend, is that a lot of this agitation for new leadership is coming from the street and not through organized elections or an organized political system that allows civil society to express itself in non-demonstrations, but in a regular process. So what we have found is that there has been tremendous demonstrations taking place across the continent. You will remember that—I would say it would be a misnomer—the Arab Spring. And I say that because in fact the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, with the antigovernment protests and uprisings in 2010, and that spread to Libya, and to Egypt, and Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. But it started in North Africa.
Of that wave of that, quote/unquote, “Arab Spring,” only Tunisia resulted in a transition to a constitutional democratic government. Most of those other countries have resulted in civil wars and armed struggles. The uprising—the antigovernment protests and uprisings actually faded by mid-2012, but religious turbulence and violence has been the result in most of those countries, except for Tunisia. Since 2019, there’s been 10,793 demonstrations in Africa, first of only 890 since 2009. So this route to political expression through the street and putting pressure towards democratic transition, or at least at minimum leadership transition, is really very much wrapping up across the continent.
I think the two most recent protests that have been relatively successful but still not consolidated in terms of the outcome have been in Algeria and in Sudan. In Sudan, really the protests started in December of 2018. Over the eight months you’ve gone from President Bashir, who had ruled for thirty years, was an authoritarian, really one would say a dictator, responsible for the carnage in his country that was considered a genocide in Darfur. He was basically thrown out of power by his military on April 2019, and a new transitional military council was established. But this was all coming out of people on the street protesting against his rule. Also protesting against their economic conditions.
The economy had gone down significantly. And many of these protesters were the children of the elite who were going to the street. And it became a very popular protest. Women played a very—a leadership role. And it has resulted in a transition to a military—a mixed military-civilian council that is led by the prime minister of—a guy named Abdallah Hamdok, who used to be the deputy U.N. economic commissioner for—in Africa, the UNECA. And that is probably a very positive trajectory. He certainly is considered a very strong leader. But it’s not consolidated. So we’ll have to see.
And then in Algeria, you had a similar protest which went on from 2019 and still going on to 2020, in which the country up rose because the president of—you know, since 1999, Bouteflika, who was very ill, hadn’t been seen in public for an extremely long time, effectively said he was going to run for a fifth term. And there was mass protests on the streets, steady protests on the streets. Very peaceful protests, not like the Arab Spring. Very peaceful protests. And eventually his military said that he had to resign, which he did in 2019. And they now elected a new leader, although this election was widely boycotted by those people who were on the streets.
And so again we see a situation where mass demonstrations, while changing leaders, has not necessarily—certainly promoting mass political participation, has not yet—or, not necessarily led to democratic institutions and a regularized process for citizens to hold their leaders accountable and engaged, without having to have these mass protests in the streets. And so that’s on the positive side, leaders are being pushed out, societies are demanding greater responsibility and accountability of their leaders. On the negative side, you know, the military stepping in to then execute on that desire coming from the street, instead of people having a regular institutional means of holding their leaders accountable.
So when we look at Africa and we look at the future of Africa, I think that the things to think about—some of the key critical factors are both internal and external. One is, clearly economic crisis is driving a lot of people to streets, particularly when you see in Africa the demographic shift towards very young populations with, you know, economies that aren’t necessarily generating sufficient jobs for them. And so you effectively have dissatisfied youth who are urbanized as well, which is another key factor, who then can put pressure at the political centers in the cities to express their dissatisfaction with their leadership. And so definitely an internal factor describing this is demographic change. It’s also economic change, or economic crises.
It’s also being driven by technological change. The advent of social media is helping people to be able to organize, whereas in the past people organized through political parties, and they organized through, you know, mass movements that, you know, took quite a long time to actually develop, either in the ’50s or ’60s, or in political parties in the ’70s and ’80s. Now you have people using social media to just bring people to the streets. Again, whose voice do they represent? You know, how many interests are expressed there? They may have one single motive, which is to get rid of the leader, don’t let Bouteflika run for another election, don’t like Bashir stay in power. But after that when you’re looking at how do you organize society, what are the policies, how do you move forward, there’s no organized entity to take that agenda forward.
So that’s one of the troubling factors. If you also look at some of the external forces in terms of the future of Africa, the future of democracy in Africa, there are times, as I said, at the second wave at the end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States were no longer using client states to carry out their agenda, there was a push externally for more opening, for more liberal democracy, for more democratic expression. The Western countries, donor countries in particular, were able to use structural adjustment programs through the World Bank and IMF to put pressure on these leaders to reform their political systems. Today, if you look at the external environment or the global forces, you don’t see that same push for democratic progress or democratic models globally. The United States has somewhat retreated in terms of its posture towards the promotion of democracy globally.
You also have in Africa Russia and China, who—China’s become the major trading partner of Africa. They have basically an authoritarian political system that they tout to African leaders as a model for rapid economic progress, because China’s considered one of the countries that has moved more people out of poverty than any other country in the least amount of time. And so that then becomes an attractive model for African countries. But, that said, and especially for some African leaders, with that said still the majority of African people, as demonstrated in a poll in thirty-two countries, at least 68 percent of them say that democracy—they still want democracy. And they see that as the best form of political organization.
And then of course, the youth want freedom, and they want accountability of leaders. So while they’re hungry, they see—they believe that these leaders are often corrupt. Not all African leaders are corrupt, of course, but they often feel that these leaders are corrupt and living, you know, cushy lives while they are—you know, their bellies are empty. And so that drive, again, becomes an issue. But my point, I diverted, is that the external forces in terms of the global system is that there’s a retreat of democracy, or there’s a sense of a retreat of democracy globally, in Europe especially and in America s well, that then doesn’t have that external pressure on African leaders. And they also formed part of that global—that global dynamic.
So in conclusion—let me conclude quickly—one of the things we often have to recognize is that there are unpredictable events that can drive the future of democratic transitions or democracy in general. And I think in Africa right now, this coronavirus, COVID-19, is one of the things that we have to really pay attention to. Right now there has been—there’s been a low incidence of—about thirty of the fifty-four countries have reported that they have COVID-19, but the numbers reported are extremely low. The highest is South Africa, which as of March 16 had about fifty-one cases.
The question is—and there’s about sixty—maybe sixty cases in South Africa today. The question is, is this low prevalence because the virus isn’t there, or is—you know, or it hasn’t spread? Is it because there isn’t testing? I would say that it’s probably because of lack of testing, and that once testing wraps up in these countries we’re going to find that there are many, many more cases. And this can be something that completely undermines these societies, and their stability, and any move towards democracy. And I see that on a number of levels.
First of all, the global retraction of our economy, that African countries are going to really suffer. You know, they’re mainly commodity-drive, and there’s not demand coming from the West or the East. These countries then are going to be—their economies are going to go down significantly. Their GDP is going to go down significantly, which means it’s going to be that much more difficult to actually provide jobs for these young unemployed people, who then, of course, are taking to the streets as a mode of political transition—or, leadership transition.
So right now the WHO says that about thirty-nine African countries have the ability to conduct tests. Most of the countries have responded very responsibly. Many of them have done exactly what we’re doing here in the United States, by closing off their borders, especially to affected countries, sending their schools on leave for three weeks or more, so getting kids out of schools and telling their people to stay at home and do the social distancing that is—you know, that we’re all experiencing globally.
We also see that African countries have experienced—many African countries, both in West Africa and East Africa—have experience with Ebola. And so they do have systems to trace contacts. But how developed they are, and if they have a major challenge will they be able to handle it? Unclear. Surely the health systems aren’t as strong as necessary, so if they have a lot of cases coming in and needing hospitalization, that will overwhelm them.
If we’re talking about being overwhelmed here, that’s certainly the case in Africa. They were faster than the United States in terms of screening at airports. In South Africa, for instance, they have a full-body scanner that takes your temperature as soon as you get to immigration. In East Africa and West Africa they have a hand-held temperature takers. And they were doing that even before the United States started to do it.
So there’s been a responsible response, but I fear that if in fact the virus spreads quickly, as it is in the West, that it can overwhelm the system, and then that would—and also, because of the impact on the global economy, that certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy in Africa. But on a final positive note, Africans have always struggled for greater freedom, greater democracy, greater representation, more accountable representation. So I have—whatever challenges that are coming, I expect the continent to be able to respond with the same type of real and same type of human determination that we see around the world.
And so with that, I’d love to take any questions that you might have.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you so much, Jendayi. Let’s take—open it up now to questions. And if you could say who you are and your school, that would be much appreciated.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time we will open the floor for questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
The first question will come from the University of California, Berkeley. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. My name is Gunter (sp) from UC Berkeley.
And my question is, why is it that African leaders, when they come to power, they just want to stay there forever? Even, you know, not complimenting or following the promises that they made before coming to power? For example, I am—I am from Gambia. And our current president, Adama Barrow, who came to power through a coalition, supposed to stay for a three-year period, and then do transitional reforms that were not there during the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. But now, he said he’s going to follow what the constitution says. He’s going to stay for five years, possible for another two terms. Thank you.
FRAZER: Yes, thank you. That’s a very good question, and one that we all struggle with. And I think that what I will say is that I think we can’t leave these issues up to individuals because, as you know, the trappings of powers, particularly in Africa, are very, very sweet, right? You know, you’re called “your excellency” all the time. You know, you have your motorcades, and you have your, you know, security. And you live a very cushy life. Now, of course, African leaders also take huge decisions and huge challenges. And so it’s not all cushy. You know, leadership is very, very difficult.
But I think what’s key here is that we can’t depend on sort of the contingent decisions of individual leaders about whether they’re going to come—they’re going to stay or go. We have to look at what are the institutions sufficient to enforce the limits of their terms. Why are they able to so easily change constitutions with parliaments there that should not allow it, and courts there—constitutional courts there? And so that’s what I’m talking about, where we need to see the institutionalization of democracy in Africa, or the structural—making it more structural.
Not, you know, what do leaders want and what do mass demonstrators want, but rather what are the institutions that every citizen in that society is able to express themselves? And so, you know, that move towards institutionalization is, I think, what is key here. We’ve seen some good moves with the constitutional court in Kenya overruling one of its—you know, the election, which was unheard of before that. Completely unprecedented in Africa. And then we had the same thing happen again last year in Malawi. And so I think that’s what we need to look at.
We can expect—and even Bill Clinton, when he was leaving office and he was a young man said: I wish I could stay longer, right? And we have institutions that prevent that from happening in the United States. And that’s what we need to do, make sure that these constitutions aren’t so easily overturned, and they won’t be if the parliaments actually step up, and the courts actually step up and act as independent branches of government.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Next question will come from American University. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. My name is Alexandra Ventura.
I know with the COVID-19 going on right now, and you were saying about how it’s affecting Africa, I know in my class—we are an international crisis management class. And we have been focusing on Boko Haram. How does the COVID-19, like, affect, like, foreign military aid or just, like, foreign aid in general, combatting against Boko Haram? And, like, how will COVID-19—like, will it, like, make, like a strain in Nigeria, like, things like that? Like, if you could elaborate on that. Thank you.
FRAZER: Sure. Let me just start with the Nigeria question, and get more broad to how it impacts foreign aid, and support of the military and Boko Haram. Now, in Nigeria, because of their response to polio and their tracing system, they were able very quickly when they had the Ebola crisis that came out of West Africa, they were able to really track the people and really contain it. And everyone was extremely scared because, of course, Nigeria being the most populous country, and Lagos being one of the most populous cities on the continent, if it had spread it would have been devastating. But they did an extremely good job there. And they’re one of the first countries in Africa who reported the first case of COVID-19. So Nigeria, I think, is really well placed from a tracing point of view to try to address this virus, and has lessons to teach us, as does a country like Liberia, that went through it.
Now, in terms of how would it impact their ability to respond to Boko Haram, their ability to receive foreign assistance, and the response of militaries, I think that there’s a couple of things. One, you can expect—if you just look at how the United States is reacting—now, first of all, foreign assistance to Africa, especially from the West, had been in decline for some time now. So there—you know, there wasn’t much to go around before COVID-19. And now with COVID-19, and our economies grinding to a halt, the focus is obviously going to turn internal. And so whereas—you know, we’re a machine. I mean, government in many ways is a machine. And so programs that are in place will continue to be in place.
They’re not just going to stop overnight. But you can—you can—you can bet that the sense of—the capacity of our resources, or the level of our resources going to other countries for, you know, whatever development assistance or military security assistance, is probably going to dry up in outer years. I wouldn’t say it would be an immediate response, but certainly in outer years.
The second thing is that travel, of course, has been completely disrupted. And you know, whereas we would normally send some forces out there, or some development aid workers out there, I know that right now there’s—the State Department, for example, is putting its personnel on ordered departure, meaning that they should leave the country. You know, they should stay at home. And so the West’s engagement in African countries, I think, will also be, you know, undermined or diminished because of COVID-19.
So I think that there’s going to be a number of knock-on effects that, you know, even with Ebola in West Africa, we were able to mobilize significantly. Our military set up hospitals, lots of aid went in there. You know, but today we’re going to be looking at our military and our aid going to our own citizens to be able to address this crisis at home. And I think there will be a lot less that will be available going into Africa.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: The next question will come from Fowler School of Law, Chapman University. Please go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Ambassador, for your presentation and for your service to our country and to Africa. This is Tom Campbell, and I’m a teacher at Chapman University in Orange, California.
My question focuses on Ethiopia, and particularly Abiy, and how the—this attempts to consolidate is coming along, with particular reference on the Millennium Renaissance Dam. I’m a bit troubled by what I’ve heard, that possibly the United States is now tilting toward Egypt in the negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia, and if so whether that might undermine Abiy’s efforts at consolidating his new position. Thank you very much.
FRAZER: Yeah. Thank you very much. I think that Abiy, if you read the Judd Devermont and Jon Temin article on Africa’s democratic moment, they highlighted him as one of the five leaders who could transform the region. And I think that that is warranted. He has, of course, had very bold action since he became the prime minister. And he is someone who the United States does intend to be supportive of. We’ve had quite a number of our senior leaders travel recently to Ethiopia, including the secretary of state most recently. So I do think that the United States understands his importance, and more importantly than him particularly, although he is the sort of energizer of these major reforms, but of Ethiopia itself and how important it is.
And so I heard the same, Tom. I don’t have more information the dynamics between why the United States would be more supportive of Egypt versus Ethiopia on the dam question. I think that—you know, I can’t—I can’t answer you further. But what I can say is that I have heard the same thing. And I think that this is one of the problems in the way in which we organize our foreign policy at State Department, in which Egypt is handled by the Middle East Bureau and Ethiopia is handled by the Africa Bureau. And getting a coordinated and consistent policy on the dam issue or any issue that, if there’s contention that crosses those lines, can be very difficult.
Our military, on the other hand, has organized itself so that all of—well, except for Egypt. Egypt is in Africa and out of Africa. But at least the Department of Defense, the Office of Secretary of Defense, they see all of Africa as one. And that, I think allows for a much more holistic policy. I would believe that the policy process is still unfolding on this question. We recently at the Council had a roundtable with the assistant secretary of state for Africa. And he highlighted some of the—of course, it was for Africa. And he highlighted some of the issues—or, for sub-Saharan Africa, I should say. He highlighted some of the issues that were uppermost on his mind priorities for him. And he did not mention this question. So it’s a good question. I’m sorry I can’t give you a more in-depth answer.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: The next question will come from Savannah State University. Please go ahead with your question.
Q: Yes. My name is Dr. Edoh Agbehonou. I teach political science here at Savannah State.
Thank you so much for your presentation. I think you nailed it. And my main concern is that you put more emphasis on anglophone countries than francophone countries. But when we talk about, you know, the crisis when it comes to democracy, many—almost all countries former francophone Africa have been experiencing the lack of it, due to colonial legacy, as you pointed that out. And since everything is tied to colonialism, as you pointed out in the beginning, that’s one of the root causes why there’s not democracy in those part of the continent, the Africa is a continent that is rich in resources, and former colonial powers they don’t want to go. And now we have new neocolonialists like Russia and China also pouring into Africa. And all those four countries—Russia, China, Great Britain, and France—they were part of the United Security Council—United Nations Security Council. Anything related to war and peace and how to promote to democracy there, they are the ones to make a major decision. And once those countries are linked by alliances in that—in the United Nations, Africa is in trouble. And do you think the French have something to do when it comes to the lack of democracy in francophone Africa?
FRAZER: Yeah. Thank you very much for your question, and for your analysis. I do think that—I didn’t specifically mention any francophone countries, you’re right. And I could have talked about Cameroon and the struggles for democracy there, with Biya having been president forever. Even in Benin, where there’s some retreat even after a democratic election, and even in Ivory Coast. So there’s much to talk about. And with Senegal being a country that’s done fairly well, like Ghana, and Botswana, and some others. On the question of the French legacy there, and whether they want to let go ,they have been far more hands-on, I think, than other former colonial powers. They have deep economic interests in these countries. And they also have lots of citizens who still reside in these countries. They include—and also have military bases in the past. And so they’ve been very, very hands-on, I think. And some of it good, and maybe some of it maybe—probably not.
But I think in terms of positive, their response to the threat in Mali, you know, these terror threats in Mali, and Niger, and other places where they’ve been fairly—they’ve provided a more robust assistance, I think, than many others. Now, your point about the former colonial powers, basically the Western countries, in the Security Council, you’re quite right. You know, one could call it collusion, others could call it cooperation. When I was assistance secretary it was certainly the case that we tried to coordinate our policy very, very carefully with the EU powers, with the U.K., with France, and others. There were times when we certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on issues, and we went our own way. But we’ve had a regular forum in which we would meet to discuss. And so there definitely is quite a lot of western collaboration about the dynamics taking place in Africa, whether francophone, and lusophone, or anglophone.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: The next question will come from the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. Please go ahead with your question.
Q: Appreciate all the information you’re providing. In reviewing the colonization literature, I would like to ask for your opinion with respect to how post-World War II the literature suggests that Russia and the U.S. were pro-decolonizing the African continent. What is your opinion with respect to the U.S., if I heard you correctly, ma’am, being less and less involved and removing itself, with China, Russia at the same time getting more involved in assisting the African continent? That is, the U.S. removing itself form continued intervention with the decolonization movement that was part of the post-World War II era there.
FRAZER: I’m not sure I understand the question, but what I think I heard is the question of what role has the U.S. and Russia—are the U.S. and Russia playing in Africa. But maybe you could clarify a little bit?
Q: Yes, ma’am. I think you mentioned that the U.S. has begun to distance itself from greater involvement in the African continent. So I wanted to get your opinion as to what the rationale for that is.
FRAZER: Yes. Thank you very much. I don’t think it’s frankly targeted towards Africa, other than every U.S. administration the people who work on Africa—and that’s why this Africa policy seems to be very bipartisan—are pushing to try to make sure that constituents and our leaders know that Africa is an important priority for the United States. Europe is an historical priority. Asia is an emerging economic power—was an emerging, but it’s emergent now—economic power. And so the interests there are obvious. Latin America is right on our border, so we keep an eye there as well. But Africa, we’ve had to—we’ve had to work hard, whether Republican or Democrat, to try to make sure that it stays at the front of the agenda of our leaders. And I think that in the case of this administration they haven’t succeeded at keeping it at the front of the agenda of our president, quite frankly. And as the president goes, so goes his Cabinet.
I saw when President Bush paid a lot of attention to Africa, when Obama and Clinton paid attention to Africa, all of their Cabinet secretaries followed suit. And so I think that’s really the issue. It’s not seen as a strategic priority, and therefore it doesn’t get the attention. At the same time, now it’s getting attention because—it’s getting increasing attention, but the attention is towards what you said, which is a competition with China especially, but Russia also, because those countries had increased their engagement exponentially in Africa of late, while—you know, the U.S. even some Western countries, I would exclude Germany from that, but other Western countries have ignored it, dealing with their own domestic politics and their other issues. But certainly it’s—I don’t think it’s very helpful.
I think it’s good for the United States to be very engaged in Africa. I don’t think that our engagement should be based on countering China. I think we definitely need to pay attention to what’s going on with Russia. There was a recent report about how they’re actually setting up companies in Ghana to hack our elections, right? Or not to hack our elections as much as to influence our social media around our elections. You know, doing the same old tricks as in the past. And they’re doing that now out of Ghana, recruiting young people who need these jobs who don’t even know who they’re actually working for. And if they can do that to America, then they could turn that same technology towards—you know, to interfere in the election processes in African countries too.
So we need to remain fully engaged. Our businesses also need to step up their engagement in Africa in terms of the opportunity that’s there. And you know, not just for trading or market share, but also for investment. That creates the jobs that these new consumers, which are these young Africans who are globally oriented, will be buying those products. But they also need to be able to participate in the economy by getting jobs. And so I think it’s unhelpful for the United States to be in a sort of retreat mode. And I also think it’s unhelpful for the United States to be in a reactive mode, just trying to counter China instead of having a constructive, positive, and clearly articulated agenda for being in Africa.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: The next question will come from Arizona State University. Please go ahead with your question.
Q: Hello. My name is Mackey Kaguano (sp). I’m a graduate student at Arizona State University.
I just have a quick question concerning—I know you kind of reference how a lot of the unrest has been coming from the younger generation because of lack of resources and jobs. How can Africa organize a democracy, without having external influences, with the younger upcoming class being younger and might not be as aware of what some of these, like, influences can be. And you probably kind of answered this in a roundabout, but I really want to know, like, exactly, like, how can Africa create these democracies without having external influences that oftentimes have detrimental effect to the people within the country?
FRAZER: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for your question. I think that democracy—my own take on democracy in Africa, is that it’s primarily generated internally. And, you know, I think that whether it’s because of economic conditions or whatever, I think there’s a human quest for freedom. I think there’s a human quest for participating in society. And there’s a human quest for making sure leaders are accountable. And so I think it’s universal. I think it’s especially expressed on the continent because of that legacy of authoritarianism that goes all the way back. So it’s a deeply imbedded—I’d say, it’s a deeply imbedded desire of African people to be free, you know? And to be—to express themselves, because they’ve known how that’s not been historically.
So that’s—so that said, I would say that I don’t know think that the dichotomy between, you know, external and internal is absolutely helpful, because we’re in a global world now. And so there’s no way that you can keep external forces outside. But what I do think that’s the key to actually organizing Africa’s democracy so it’s fit to purpose—you know, it’s not imposed by anybody—is that these young people move out of the streets. I’m not saying that they should stop demonstrating. But what I’m saying is they should also start to test it—i.e., go and actually run for elections.
In Kenya’s last election, there were—some young, university kid actually became elected to a member of parliament because he convinced his community that he would represent them the best. There are many, many young people going into leadership positions in government. And I would like to see more young people contesting for elections at the local level, getting into their city councils, into their parliaments, you know, at the national level, so that they’re being groomed to be able to actually function well if they ever get into, you know, the executive, you know, which is where everybody’s aiming for. I don’t think it’s necessarily so, but—or they get into their parliaments.
And so young—those young people, with all of that energy, with all of those ideas, with all of that optimism, if we can get them into government—some of them are going to be the same old corrupt leaders eventually. But many more, I think, will be moving their societies forward, because that really is the future of democracy in Africa, is in the people. And it’s in the most people, which are the young people there.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question will come from American University. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. I’m Kirin Kochinikay (ph) from American University.
In the development sphere, we talk a lot about women kind of being these gatekeepers to our communities. And I was wondering if you could kind of elaborate a little more on the role that they’re playing in these movements in terms of promoting democracy, promoting representation. Yeah. So if you could elaborate on that, that’d be great.
FRAZER: Sure. Thank you. Both the Algerians and the Sudanese revolutions, as such, the recent ones, have seen women be organized within those mass movements, and take leadership within them. Sudan just had its first female chief justice because of that organization of women within that mass movement. And it’s unlike the earlier Arab Springs, where women were being, you know, harassed when they were coming out into the streets in Egypt and other places. It was very different. There was space made, and they took the space, both in Sudan and Algeria.
Women have historically been at the forefront of democratic transitions and democratic movements. If you think about Liberia, for example, it was the women who organized to try to end the civil war. And it was the women who largely were responsible for putting Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her office during her first term, you know? And at least one or of them—one got the Nobel Peace Prize because of it. So you can point to particular women leaders, but I think in general women have played a fairly positive and constructive role in these movements. But they have to be organized. The women in Algeria organized themselves. You know, they weren’t—they didn’t say, oh, we’re part of this mass movement. They said, no, we actually need our own separate organization so we can assert ourselves and have our voice heard more. And so I think organization is key. Individuals are impressive and inspirational, but the key is organization.
FASKIANOS: Next question.
OPERATOR: The next question will come from New York University. Please go ahead.
Q: Hello. And thank you, Professor Frazer. My name is Eleanor Fox, and I’m on the faculty at New York University Law School.
Thank you for those very inspirational remarks. I wanted to ask whether you think, and to what extent, there is a relationship between the strength of democracy in the African nations and the—and globalization, and openness of the economy, whether they have a relationship to each other. Would you say a few words about that? Thank you.
FRAZER: Wow. That’s a deep question. And, professor, I feel like I need to go back to do the research so I can have the empirical data. I think that there is a relationship, of course. I don’t think that democracy in Africa is driven by globalization. But I do think you can clearly see demonstration effects both within the region—you know, so as there’s, you know, mass participation and—what do you call them—the mass movement that took place in Benin early on, it spread through the rest of the region, right? You know, whether—you know, the demonstrations which are taking place on the street.
People are learning from the experience of others. They’re transferring that information. And so clearly there is that regional impact, that regional transmission. And I think, you know, give that we’re all global now anyway, you know, you can see the impact there. But I also think, as I said, that the technology also facilities that. You know the social media platforms—I’m sure that people from outside and inside are helping each other organize better these mass protests. So, yes, the globalization side definitely works in terms of a demonstration effect. I also works in terms of broader communication using technology to achieve it.
The other side of your question, I think, was on the economy. Could you just repeat that part?
OPERATOR: I’m sorry. Would you repeat the caller’s name real quick? I had to remove them from the queue. Caller, if you could simply dial star-one again, I’m sorry.
FRAZER: Well, anyway, let me just say, so I do think that there is—there is a relationship there, although I don’t think it’s the determinant of the democratization movement. But clearly there is a regional and global demonstration effect, and there’s access to technology.
Q: Thank you very much. That was wonderful, thank you.
FRAZER: OK, thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s try to—I know we have several questions left—let’s try to get in one last question.
OPERATOR: Question will come from University of North Florida. Please go ahead.
Q: Good afternoon. My name’s Chris Rocelles (ph) from the University of North Florida.
I just had a question kind of playing off what you’d said earlier about the economy and about foreign direct investment in—on the African continent. To what extent is the United States pushing for a policy that makes foreign direct investment, which is shown to be from developed nation to developed nation, to what extent has the U.S. promoted policy to facility foreign direct investment and to create kind of an incentive for businesses to move operations into Africa, or to have some sort of economic standpoint in the—in the continent? Thank you.
FRAZER: Yeah. Thank you very much for the question. Recently the Trump administration has done a new initiative called Prosper Africa, which is partly focused on that very thing. They’ve given more authority to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which both gives money to American businesses and also provides guarantees to them to be able to, you know, do greenfield or brownfield investments in the continent. You know, new businesses or, you know, purchasing older businesses or just, you know, investing dollars into companies that are already there.
And so that’s very, very constructive. We’ve also given more resources and authority to Ex-Im Bank to support American exports into Africa. And so I think the Prosper Africa initiative is one that’s very good. And it follows on the footsteps of work that the Clinton administration did, the Bush administration did, and the Obama administration did in this very area, working through OPIC and Ex-Im Bank. Our Department of Commerce has—they have companies—or, I’m sorry—they have their teams into the—(inaudible)—teams that are supposed to help American companies navigate in African countries.
And they’ve, through an initiative of the Africa Bureau at State Department, they’ve created interagency teams that are going to work on helping American companies also get in. And I think that’s also very, very constructive. And it’s a new initiative from the Trump administration that particularly I’m proud of from the Africa Bureau, because it’s now gone global. So there is—we do have programs, and we are making efforts, and American companies just need to see that they can realize their profit—you know, their profit targets by going into Africa, which has—is going to have such a huge demographic boom for products, you know, consumer goods, et cetera, but if the economy can turn around. So I think it’s very constructive.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you very much. I’m sorry to say that we could not get to all the questions. But, Jendayi Frazer, thank you very much for your insights today. We appreciate your being with us. And great questions from all of you. You can follow Jendayi at @JendayiFrazer on Twitter.
Our next call will take place on Wednesday April 1 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time. Sarah Bidgood, director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and Jooeun Kim, who is the Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at CFR, will lead a conversation on gender disparities in nuclear nonproliferation. I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter and visit CFR.org and ForeignAffairs.com for new research and analysis.
Obviously, we are in a very uncertain time now with COVID-19. I’m assuming many of you are doing classes online and off your campuses, but still doing online classes. You can go to CFR’s website for information there. We also have a global health website at ThinkGlobalHealth.org that has a lot of analysis and insight into COVID-19, as well as the new coronavirus, new border series, that is exploring how the novel coronavirus is unfolding in countries such as South Korea, Iran, United States, as well as Africa.
So thank you all again for today’s—for being with us today. Stay well. Wash your hands. Take the measures that are—follow the measures that are being advocated by CDC and other health officials. And we look forward to reconvening on April 1.