Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Partner, Winston and Strawn LLP; Former Ambassador to Uruguay, U.S. Department of State
Chief Executive Officer and President, Alliance for Peacebuilding
Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
AYRES: Good morning. Good morning. It’s great to see so many people here today. I understand we have a full house. That’s terrific. We have what I am certain is going to be an excellent discussion for you this morning on the topic of the Future of Democracy Around the World. So welcome to this morning’s meeting, part of the 2019 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. My name is Alyssa Ayres. I’m senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And my focus is India, Pakistan, and South Asia. I will be presiding over this discussion.
Now, you all know the drill. You’ve got the bios of our panelists in your speaker packets. I’d like to ask you to take a look at their bios, because we have three extremely impressive diplomats here. And normally I’m not supposed to go into detail about people’s bios, but I really want to emphasize we’ve got an extraordinary depth of expertise. So I want to make sure that you’re all aware of who is speaking with us this morning.
At the very far right we have Ambassador Jendayi Frazer. She has held very senior positions in Africa foreign policy, senior director for African affairs on the NSC, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, ambassador to South Africa, extremely experienced. We have Julissa Reynoso, who is extremely experienced, former ambassador to Uruguay, former deputy assistant deputy secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, deeply involved in politics as well, as your bio notes. We’re happy you’re able to join us. We also have Uzra Zeya. Uzra and I worked together at the State Department, so I’m very happy that she’s able to join us today . Uzra was a career foreign service officer. She has served all over the world. She also served for more than a year as the acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. She’ll be able to tell you about that experience. And she’s now chief executive officer and president of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.
So I have gone on a little bit longer than I normally would on the bios front, but please make sure that you read about the backgrounds of these very talented women, so you’ll understand exactly what depth of expertise they’re bringing to our conversation today.
So let me start things off by asking Jendayi, we had a conversation yesterday to talk about sort of commonalities and where we think this conversation on the future of democracy in the world should go. I’m going to ask each of our panelists just a little bit about the state of the field as they see it in the regions they cover or thematically around the world. So, Jendayi, tell us from your perspective what you think the state of democracy is, from the part of the world that you focus on.
FRAZER: Sure. Thank you. Thank you very much. And good morning to all of you. It’s a great pleasure to be here and also to participate in this forum of really quite exceptional women. Normally when I’m in Africa, I’m on a panel like this and it’s one woman and, you know, five or six men. So it’s great to be here with unanimous, you know, representation of women in foreign policy. So specifically on the question of the state of the field in Africa, of course it’s difficult to generalize because the continent is so diverse, with 54 different countries, you know, and so many different societies, ethnic groups, you know, languages, et cetera. But I think that we can find some broad trends.
And so what I would say is normatively democracy is still—has hegemonic aspirations and hegemonic acceptance across the continent. This is seen from the point of view of the African Union which has its charter on democracy, human rights, that has been basically brought into force in 2012, as adopted in 2007. And it’s also seen not only in terms of that continental institution, but I think you can also see it on the street. African—the population median age is about nineteen years old. Very young people. It’s a continent with majority young people. The average of African presidents is about sixty-two. So there’s a big diversity there. And you can see that there’s an active participation of young people pushing for accountability of their governments.
This is demonstrated, of course, in North African by what I call the North African spring. I don’t know why people call it the Arab Spring, since it started in Tunisia, you know, Egypt, Libya. Now you see Algeria and Sudan also falling—regimes—long-standing regimes falling to the demands of civil society and young people in the street. You also see it from the perspective of southern Africa, where you had not really the street but the party almost having a coup d’état against long-running regimes like that of Robert Mugabe. And even some accountability, from the party, again, in South Africa against Jacob Zuma.
And so when we look at the trends in Africa, it’s really—I would say that there’s still a prevailing aspiration for democracy. The practice, however, is very different. You’ve had pushback against constitutional democracy in the form of term limits. You know, the changes to term limits—about ten or so countries in recent times, in 2000, have changed their term limits to either get rid of them or to extend them. At the same time, there’s about eight or nine countries that have rejected efforts to change term limits and have actually kept their constitutional order as it is, mainly two-term limits.
I’ll conclude by just saying if you look at the broad trends of the democracy in Africa, in the 1960s, after independence, you really had basically two systems which were adopted. One was multiparty democracy, following sort of the Western liberal model. And then one-party socialist states, with the view there being that African countries were so diverse and they needed unity coming out of independence. And so they would have more of a socialist one party—not authoritarian necessary but finding democracy within the one party. That was the nature of the debate coming out of the independence period. Of course, it also reflected the East-West dynamic from the end of the Cold War.
Then if you go into the ’70s, when the economy started to fall you had a rejection, almost, of democracy in the form of attempted coup d’états or successful coup d’état leading to military rule. That trend of the ‘70s, and authoritarian regimes—one-party authoritarian regimes. That trend shifted in the ’80s, particularly at the end of the ’80s with the end of the Cold War, and you had a return, again, to participatory multiparty democracy. Not a perfect democracy, because many of these elections are contested, some of them are very flawed, but nevertheless there’s a degree of competitive electoral politics there, and participation from civil society.
So the ’80s, you get back to a dominant model of multiparty democracy, into the ’90s—really the end of the ’80s-’90s. And then in 2000 you continue to have, as I said, this normative hegemony that democracy—a multiparty democracy is preferred by society and accepted by political leadership. But the threats to that have been the term limit question. And now, into the end of the 2000s—so, you know, going into the next decade, 2020s, you have the China debate around whether—in fact, if you want to have fast economic growth, you need longer terms. These four- and five-year terms of competitive democracy disrupt economic growth and development. And so maybe China’s model of a one-party state with twenty-five-year terms, et cetera, looks more attractive.
And so that, I think, the nature of the debate right now. And of course, with China’s push into Africa, economic push into Africa, strong economic push, that model becomes more of a debate. But if you actually look at political polling done by Afrobarometer, you’ll see that the majority of African citizens still prefer a U.S. model of development to the Chinese model of development. That’s—that poll was done in about 2017. But the trend is definitely another approach to governance being—and development—being that of China.
AYRES: Thank you.
Julissa, how does the state of the field look from a Latin American perspective?
REYNOSO: So in the case of Latin America, you have several factors at play in terms of democracy, and human rights, and stability generally. For the most part, most countries—again, they’re diverse—it’s a diverse region. But the Caribbean is in that mix as well. Most countries have had stable institutional democratic processes over the last several decades. You have exceptions to that, right? So you have the case of Venezuela, that’s a recent—a relatively recent phenomena of deterioration and kind of parallel governments. And what that may look like is still a work in progress and very much active.
You have the case of Nicaragua, where there has been essentially manipulation of the constitution for purposes of having one president reelected again and again, with a very weak opposition. And the most prominent one, the case of Cuba, which has been in place for many decades. And there has been, however, not every strong, authoritarian government is consistently that way. There are nuances. And in the case of Cuba you did have a change in leadership over the last couple of years. And obviously the death of Fidel Castro generated certain movement within the party. So you do still have the Communist Party very much running the place. And rules that are extremely regimented and with very little freedom for public debate.
And then you have other places where you do have manipulation of the constitution and questionable election processes. Places like Haiti, which is—which is constantly—a place like Haiti is constantly—you know, you never know what’s going to happen one minute to the next. You might see some stability over a year or two, but then something breaks and there is chaos, and then you have instability from within the government or an attempt of manipulating the voting, et cetera. The Dominican Republic, the neighbor, where I’m originally from, not necessarily in the news because of that but definitely a place where the constitution has been changed over the last decade several times for the convenience of the ruling party, and reelection, reelection, reelection.
So there is—there are nuances. You have the extreme cases, more historic and more sort of publicly known. And in the press—in the press here in the United States, again, I argue, significantly because of the domestic—the U.S. domestic component that is very much relevant when you talk about Latin America, probably more than any other part of the world. When you talk about Latin America you talk about people who also live here, right? And people who have family here, or residence, or have deep connections and send money there, and have businesses there, et cetera. You don’t have that fluidity of borders and transnational relationship like you might have with other parts of the world.
So in the case of Cuba, you know, Venezuela, even Nicaragua, you have a prominent, you know, significant population of folks who are related to those countries who obviously have say and interest in seeing democracy, stability, and human rights, and the like, in those countries, and are very active domestically here—make it a point of doing so. You have places like Mexico, and the Dominical Republic, and other Central American countries with not only issues of democratic order and what we consider, you know, bread and butter elections, and things like that, but also deep institutional weaknesses related to rule of law and insecurity that are, you know, affecting our domestic policy because people are fleeing their countries and coming here. So and then it becomes an internal immigration issue, an identity issue of, well, who is the United States, and who are all these people coming here, and who are these people? And they don’t look like, you know, what the U.S. should be.
So there is that dynamic that is really I think not necessarily an election issue—which is, I guess, what maybe people want a basic notion of what democracy should look like, but really a matter of the role of the state in protecting—in citizen security and protecting your physical well-being, right? And I think for the most part, in many instances, in many of these countries—especially in Central America and parts of Mexico and even, gosh, in Venezuela and Colombia where, you know, you still have rampant violence, are questioning whether the state can really do that, and what should these states do to improve their mechanisms of protecting people. But also, how do people feel safe in their country and really represented by the folks who they elect and ensuring that they have their best interests in mind.
That creates a whole set of dynamics and, you know, parallel, you know, folks fighting back, more violence, and turbulence within these countries, but also questions of the authority and the legitimacy of the state. Related to that, you have people just leaving, which is what we’re seeing here effecting the United States and our domestic policy on the border, and obviously coming by flight as well. More south of the region, of Latin America, you have countries that are—you know, don’t have those direct links as much with the United States, but have historically gone through significant shifts, very much towards democratic stability.
But, again, you have an element which is very prevalent in Latin America right now, and such as most, but not all, countries, which is these anti-corruption movements that are really pushing back on historic power-grabbing and irregularities, and all types of illicit acts by government people and elites. And you saw that—we’ve seen that. We’re still living it from places like Argentina all the way to Mexico, with the most kind of prominent case being in Brazil with the really kind of role of the judiciary and role of the prosecutors in pursuing organized crime linking government officials directly with extraordinary organized bribery schemes and the like.
And that toppled a government. You have presidents in prison. You have—specifically President Lula, who years ago was the model of the progressive movement and wave in Latin America, but also did such—made such a tremendous effort to reduce poverty in these countries, which still have significant inequality issues. From there to Argentina, where you have open indictments against the president who, by the way, has immunity because she’s a senator and is trying to become president again. So but that touches many of these countries with very, very, very few exceptions.
So in any event, just in summary, there is no consistent kind of message or you can’t put all these countries in easy cubicles or easy boxes. There is—but, however, we can say that there is a civil society component that is important. The role of judiciary has become very prominent, in the prosecutors and fighting crime and pushing back on the role of elites and just doing whatever they want—in coordination, I must say, with the U.S. government, the role of the U.S. Justice Department here in coordinating these efforts. Again, this relationship between Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States, can’t—it’s extraordinary how much they coexist, and cooperate, and work together. From the judiciary and the federal government to the very basic coordination and coexistence of regular citizens and people who live here.
So from the anti-corruption, rule of law issues to the—to the despair of people fleeing violence, these are things that are really questioning and touching state institutions and democracy as we know it in a lot of these countries.
AYRES: Thank you.
Uzra, an I turn to you and ask you to speak a little bit about the state of the field as you see it, whether from some of the regions that you have worked in or from the perspective of democracy more broadly?
ZEYA: Sure. Sure, no and I’m delighted to be here in front of such a dynamic and diverse audience. I have to say that.
I’ll speak from my own experience over two decades, working primarily in the Middle East, in South Asia, in Europe, but also from the perspective of leading an NGO network which is focused on ending violent conflict and sustaining peace throughout the world.
So for me, when I consider the state of democracy, and building on what Julissa and Jendayi shared so eloquently, I think it’s easy to be pessimistic when you see closing space for civil society, when you see elected authoritarians on the rise. But I’m an optimist by nature. So I want to share a few takeaways from my own experiences that I think can be helpful if we are making an affirmative decision that we believe that the advancement of democratic principles by locally led actors around the world can create a more just and peaceful world.
So my first takeaway would be, I think there is a tendency to over-focus on electoral processes as the be-all, end-all definition of democracy. Obviously that’s an essential element but, you know, a democratic society is not one man, one vote, one time. And I have seen this situation play out—I mean, I think Jendayi and Julissa, you know, very aptly described multiple circumstances where electoral processes are used—or an electoral victory can be used, constitutions manipulated, term limits removed, institutions of government co-opted in such a way that while you may have a regular electoral cycle, you no longer have a truly democratic society.
So I think for all of us, you know, there’s an imperative to really focus on those building blocks, much of what has been discussed already. Checks and balances in terms of institutions of democratic government. We mentioned rule of law. Absolutely critical. A meaningful legislative-executive branch balance and divide. But perhaps most importantly, freedom of association that allows a vibrant, robust civil society that includes young people like you holding government accountable, because you can have elections every four, five, ten years. But if you do not allow civil society to thrive and drive change, you are really not going to achieve what I think, you know, the vision is of a truly just, inclusive, and peaceful world. So from my own experience I think, in government but also outside government, we need to look beyond electoral processes to a broader definition of a democratic society.
The second point I would make is it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. And certainly our American two-party model is truly the exception in the world. In my own experience, I was in India in 2009, where there were 1,049 political parties competing in their parliamentary elections. It’s almost mind-blowing. You know, you can imagine at an embassy, as a political officer, just trying to keep track of that. But I think it—(laughter)—you know, and I didn’t. (Laughter.) It was hard to name all of them until I met a member of the government—it was a coalition government—who confessed to me that he didn’t know the names of all the parties in his coalition. It’s that complex.
So, again, when we talk about what democracy is, again, I would bring up the word locally led solutions. You’ve got to allow countries to define that, reflecting their own traditions, their own histories, their own modes of consensus building, and not imagine that it’s going to be a mirror image of what we have in the United States and that, in fact, what we have here is rather unique and different compared to the more common model of multiparty, multi-stakeholder, even regional, geographic divides that just aren’t quite reflected in our system.
And the third and final point I would make is that, you know, the advance of democracy for Americans, it’s not just a nice to do. I mean, this is really a vital matter of our national security. And I think the point I would make is that, you know, authoritarian systems can look very stable and very strong. But as far as a long-term investment, you know, let’s go down the list of Mubarak, Baby Doc, Mobutu, the Shah Reza Pahlavi, and Ferdinand Marcos as examples of, you know, very close, long-standing U.S. allies that eventually the collective denial of rights, the corruption, the brittle nature of single-party rule was simply untenable.
So while it seems as though one could take an approach, this doesn’t matter to me because I need to think about my own country, the outward effects of the demise of democracy or failed political transitions have catastrophic consequences far beyond borders. And need I mention just three cases in the Middle East right now? Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Where Syria, we have over half a million civilians killed. There is not an accurate toll. Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment. And the Libya crisis continues unresolved since 2012. All three cases, sadly, are failed or struggling political transitions where there was a window of opening. And in the Yemen case in particular it’s a very sad story, where there was a U.N.-led political process, there was an effort at—there was a transition from a long-standing leader. But we are all dealing with the consequences now. So, again, the idea that it doesn’t really matter to me I’m going to focus on what’s happening here, I think that’s—that is a short-sighted assessment.
So for me, all of this means, you know, there is a strong national security case but also a moral case to support the advancement of democracy and just and inclusive societies. I think we have to take a long view and be willing to accompany for the long road. And with that, with humility, let’s look at our own country and look at how long it took for our own country to get beyond the scourge of slavery, and millions of Americans enslaved, half of the population disenfranchised, and realistically it was only in my lifetime that we have seen a full exercise of voting rights in our country. And with that, I think we can’t, you know, wash our hands and say that one country’s transition is failing because ten years in it isn’t achieving a level of inclusion and engagement that we see in our own country, but we really need to be able to accompany.
And my final point on that would be, that takes a serious investment in diplomacy and development. Just one statistic I will share with you all, the field of work that my network supports, peacebuilding, it’s a spectrum of nonviolent action—everything from development, humanitarian relief, human rights capacity building—to sustain peace but also end violent conflict. That is only collectively 1 percent of overseas development assistance worldwide. If we were to double that number for the thirty-one most fragile states—states on the brink of becoming the next Syria or Yemen—the cost savings would be $2.94 trillion in terms of wars averted. So, you know, there is just a hardnosed cost argument one can make towards making that investment.
The final piece, I would say, for that diplomacy to be successful, it’s got to be diverse and it has to include people like you as the next generation driving that forward.
AYRES: Wow, thank you. (Laughs.)
I am supposed to now open it up for Q&A. I wanted to ask each of our panelists to think a little bit about the future of democracy. But let’s hold that, because I want to make sure to get all of your questions in and we’re already at 10:30. So why don’t we go ahead and invite participants to join the conversation here. I’m supposed to remind everybody that the meeting is on the record. Please wait for the microphone. We have people with microphones who will bring it to you if you raise your hand. Stand, please. State your name and your affiliation. And, by the way, please limit yourself to one question, and keep it concise. No speeches, just a question. (Laughs.)
So do you have any questions? Yes, over here.
Q: Hi. Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity. My name is Quscondy Abdulshafi. I am peacebuilding and governance researcher.
My question is particularly with Africa, where you see a new very strong alliance between Chinese corporations and kleptocratic governments where exploitation of natural resources and minerals play a very strong role in foiling the violent conflicts and atrocities. So I just—I’m from Sudan, and I see how much the U.S. sanctions has played a very strong role on—(inaudible)—the state from committing further violence and helping people to peacefully change the government. So thinking in that angle, I see what—where do you see the new role for, in a sense, the U.S. Department of Treasury in doing individual and corporate sanctions for those in institutions that are related to the conflict are, minerals and conflict-related investments? How do you see this in the future? And what kind of perspectives do you see that could play a role in stabilization and promoting the democracy in fragmented states? Thank you.
AYRES: Thank you very much. So a question on sanctions.
FRAZER: Do you want to take it?
ZEYA: Jendayi, do you want to go first? (Laughter.)
FRAZER: I want you to go first.
ZEYA: OK. I’ll take the—I’ll take the first part. On the sanctions question, you know, I would say, having been an American diplomat, you know, over twenty-five years, I’ll admit, you know, I think there is a really different perception within the U.S. government or within, let’s say, transatlantic government and public opinion with respect to sanctions. I view sanctions as a very effective tool, short of war, to try to compel a change in behavior. And I think with respect to conflict minerals, you can make a case that it cut off a method of fueling further conflict. But it can only work if you have a partnership or a collective—either, you know, a U.N. Security Council Chapter 7 enforcement action, or a likeminded effort with respect to denying, you know, access to the market of a certain product that is produced or fueling violent action.
I mean, in my own lifetime, you know, as a college student, it was a strong supporter of the divestment movement with respect to South Africa. And I think that is, you know, certainly not taking any credit for the struggle that was led by the South African people, but I think that is one of the instances you can point to where sanctions did play a positive pressure role in pushing for a necessary change. But that’s just from my on perspective.
FRAZER: Sure. Maybe I can take up the question of Sudan specifically. Yes, you’re quite right that the Chines role in Sudan, and I would say more broadly in Africa, is one in which they claim that they’re not interfering in domestic affairs. And they’ve taken a position, therefore, in which they’re working often with the regime. In Sudan, in particular, not only were they taking oil out, but they were putting a lot of arms in. They were, you know, trading a lot of arms in Sudan. And so clearly they were supporters of the regime, whereas the United States has historically been in opposition to the Khartoum government for a number of human rights issues and terrorism issues as well. But of late, in—I think it was in 2017—we had taken sanctions off, there was a roadmap for Sudan to get out of the grip of the United States.
And there are some who argue that the effectiveness of the demonstrations in Sudan of ousting the president Bashir, had a lot to do with the failure—the restraint of the Khartoum government to crackdown on those demonstrations, given that they were also at the same time trying to further reduce sanctions with the United States. They’re in this roadmap process in which they needed to show greater restraint. Yet, they were dealing with a civil uprising and not able to take the brute force—it’s not to say that they weren’t still, you know, picking off civil society leaders and members, et cetera. So that dynamic was definitely there.
What I would argue is that on the extractive side, China and the United States are not absolutely different, right, especially historically, right? So that most of the two-way trade between the United States and Africa is actually still in the extractives, just as it is with China. We are more—we have been more nuanced about our promotion of democracy, and human rights, and civil society because we don’t take this position of non-interference. We do interfere. In the past, we’ve interfered both diplomatically as well as through our statements. And then we can perhaps go too far when we start taking more extreme measures like we look, from my perspective, in Libya.
So I do agree with you that sanctions is a tool that gives us perhaps not as—not as robust, but probably a more effective approach to putting pressure on regimes and on individuals. Certainly from our civil society, there continues to be a push—and in our government—to use economic sanctions and smart sanctions particularly to bring pressure. We used those—that pressure against the government in Zimbabwe. We obviously—we had so many sanctions on Sudan that over years—you know, the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, the Obama administration—you know, we had so many sanctions that we didn’t even know how to get out of them. I mean, our Congress has put so many sanctions on that there was a whole interagency process to figure out what would the government actually have to do to get out of these sanctions. Some of them didn’t have an out. They just had—you know, they didn’t specify what the government needed to do to change.
But with these smart sanctions, I think they’re effective, but I also worry about them a little bit, because when you can’t unroll them, then they also become a barrier to actually getting change in the government. Or if you put them on specific individuals who have significant power, it also can entrench them. So none of these tools of diplomacy can be utilized individually as the right tool. It’s a matter of how it’s nuanced and how it’s worked diplomatically. So I think that’s the most important point. And I’ll put—I’ll say that without senior diplomats and without experienced diplomats, the use of these tools becomes less effective—much, much less effective. And I’m saying that because I do feel that the State Department in particular has been hollowed out in terms of its serious senior diplomats who can use these tools in a very nuanced fashion.
So, yes, clearly sanctions work. Individual sanctions also put pressure. But they could also be counterproductive.
AYRES: Other questions? Over here, yes.
Q: Hello. My name is Nabila (ph). I am from Ecuador.
And coming from Ecuador, I can definitely identify with what some of the panelists have said about democracy. My question is, what strengths can a country develop to improve their democracy from—and then defend it from both inside and outside threats? And when is outside intervention needed? Is outside intervention beneficial? When? Thank you very much.
AYRES: Some of the big animating questions of U.S. foreign policy. Julissa, would you like to try that one?
REYNOSO: Well, I mean, in every democracy has its challenges. We’ve seen it here. How do you make sure—how do you preserve a certain level of stability, or at least a minimum standard of whatever it is that we consider democracy? I think obviously empowering the—I’m a big fan of the separation of powers. And so one of the great things about this country—and I think the countries that I’m—in Latin America and all over the world that you really have stability, is these are countries that have institutions that are strong, but also independent, because you can have one institution that’s very strong and then does whatever it wants.
But in the case of United States, we do have extremely preserved, independent, and respected by the citizens institutions. And as a lawyer, the judiciary, the courts are essential, I think, to preserving democracy. One thing is setting it up. Making sure—you know, having elections and having a democratic process, if you will, of electing leadership. But the other important piece is protection of rights or preserving rights and ensuring that there is a check on the authorities or the powers that are every day exercising that authority. And I think, for me, the courts are essential.
Obviously civil society, broadly defined, but who protects what—what branch of government can essentially protect the civil society and minority views within that civil society? Again, the courts are key. So not to overemphasize it, but definitely having an independent judiciary that has its own kind of means and processes of deliberating and protecting minority voices and different points of view and critiques are, I think, critical to really preserving long-term some form of robust democracy. So I’ll leave it at that.
AYRES: OK. Next question, here.
Q: Thank you. Earl Carr, representing Momentum Advisors. I work in New—I’m based in New York City, working in the private sector.
Oftentimes in the private sector we often talk about short-term—you know, what is the return for investors. How best should organizations like yourselves engage with the private sector? And how to get better buy-in from the private sector to further and strengthen democratic institutions?
AYRES: Well, I think Jendayi and Julissa are both in the private sector.
REYNOSO: I’m in the private sector, yeah. I haven’t been in government in a while. (Laughter.) Do you want to start, Jendayi?
FRAZER: No, you go right ahead. (Laughter.)
REYNOSO: OK. I mean, look, I think we all served abroad in some—these ladies longer than I did. But the private sector—U.S. investments and presence abroad are key to what we do, to what we did as U.S. diplomats. Obviously a big component of the United States’ presence abroad is capital. And that presence and that ability to, you know, discuss—present the United States not only as a—you know, a power of politics, and doctrine, and ideas, is definitely well-complimented by a power that actually can help you, country X, with job creation, and the growth, and economic prosperity. So that’s essential for what we do in promoting U.S. interests abroad, is that is a piece that is key.
It’s also very important because private sector in the United States by law, again, not just because we’re good, enlightened people—by law also has to have a certain standard of conduct. And so having that certain standard of conduct that is applied not only within the United States but abroad for companies all over the place that have—that have benefit in the United States, be that from tax or some other regulatory matter, helps us set standards for—set the standard for other foreign investors—like the Chinese, like whatever, the Russians, et cetera. So the private sector is key, not only in diplomats don’t what we do but also spreading American power and American standards abroad.
FRAZER: Yeah. I guess I’ll add to that. I would say that obviously private sector companies would rather operate in an environment of stability, and the rule of law, and transparency, right? And so we absolutely, as private sector, need that environment, especially for long-term investments. And so we have, I think, a common interest with the U.S. government in trying to promote the rule of law, and transparency, and fairness. Now, I would say that the standards that you’re talking about are important, but they also often hurt American companies—like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, et cetera—because other countries don’t actually implement.
And also, the United States, in some coercive ways, I’ll say, goes after major companies. And they’re easy targets when they’re operating in countries like Africa and other places, where it’s very unclear and it can be quite opaque what the rule of law is. And so I think there needs to be a bit of a balance there with our Department of Justice actually working with the private sector, not actually going after the private sector, which undermines our capacity to be competitive in these, you know, emerging markets, is the way I would put it.
So, yes, you know, an American presence and an American—and I’m talking about a U.S. government presence—an American positive presence within the countries—i.e., having good, open relations with the government—is going to be beneficial to the American private sector. The private sector often also have networks and ears on the ground in a way that’s different than official America. And so I think that the two, the private sector and the public sector overseas, can work quite well together. It shouldn’t be put in a position of opposition, you know? And I think that in some ways our Department of Justice today, in Africa now I’m talking about, especially as it relates to the Chinese and competition with the Chinese, is actually not helping us. I think they’re undermining us in many ways.
ZEYA: If I can just pick up on Jendayi’s point about partnership, I think there are some—a bit of unsung success stories in terms of really a proliferation of multi-stakeholder partnerships that engage the private sector in upholding broader goals on things like fair labor standards. There’s the Fair Labor Association, involves several major American garment manufacturers, coming out of tragedies like the Rana Plaza fire in Bangladesh, which exposed conditions of labor for products that all Americans buy, that there’s a direct linkage between the supply chain but also the consumer base.
But here, these are voluntary frameworks where companies are working with the U.S. government, with civil society organizations in the U.S. towards a broader goal. When I was running our human rights bureau, we were able to secure very meaningful participation by companies like Deloitte or Hilton on something called the Global Equality Fund, which is a multi-stakeholder partnership to advance LGBT equality across the world. Similarly, we partnered with Avon International to launch a new partnership countering gender-based violence. So I think there is absolutely an intersection and an interest. And I think there is a very strong base for partnership to grow on, as Jendayi said, and not see it purely as an enforcement or a punitive relationship.
AYRES: I saw one back here, in the back on this side. Yeah.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Simone Williams, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
As we see information being manipulated as a tool to attack democratic states, what do you think can be done to combat this issue to further promote and protect democratic institutions?
FRAZER: That’s a great question.
AYRES: Yeah. Who’s working on this? Are you—(laughter)—who would like to speak to this one? This is a really specific, emerging issue.
ZEYA: Yeah. I mean, I would be happy to address that. I have worked on that issue from different angles, both in government and in the private sector. I do think this is—this is a challenge for democratic societies, and particularly our own, with respect to the First Amendment and in preserving our core democratic principles, but also ensuring that information is not manipulated or presented in a deceptive way that is basically one form of cyberwarfare against our country. So they’re in—I do think, you know, there’s a very concerted effort and dialogue between government and the leading players in Silicon Valley in terms of—and a strong element of public pressure. I would say where—you know, where we are right now in 2019, I think, is very different from where the United States was in 2015.
I worked—my last overseas assignment was in France, where I would say public opinion and public demand on issues of privacy is just way ahead of where the United States has been for the last decade. But I think we’re catching up. So I think there’s a scope for partnership and pressure, you know, in terms of the major players who are allowing this kind of information to proliferate on their platforms without, you know, let’s say accountability or origin in where it comes from. But within a legal frame we have to be very careful that in a desire to prevent we’re not undermining the very pillars of our own democracy.
FRAZER: I just would add to that, just very briefly, it does cut both ways, where you see, and particularly in Africa, where—well, I shouldn’t say particularly. But definitely in Africa, where you see countries during, you know, post-election contestation, let’s put it that way, and they’re shutting down social media, and shutting down the press, in many ways prevent certain messages from coming out which they say can promote violence or ethnic, you know, tension. But in fact, it also shuts down opposition voices. And so it really does cut both ways.
AYRES: Yeah. Before I take the next question I’m going to chime in for a half a second, just to note I would encourage all of you to take a look at the role that social media platforms are playing in India’s national elections, which are going on right now. India’s the—I think the largest country userbase for WhatsApp, which is end-to-end encrypted. It means that nobody has any idea what’s circulating. The social media platforms got together in advance of the beginning of the elections and created a voluntary code of conduct. That code of conduct is available. You can download it and read it. It’s on the Election Commission of India’s website. But that may provide something of a guidepost for the future of how the platforms will have to try to be accountable for the kind of disinformation that circulates, while also allowing freedom of expression that’s so important.
Next question. We’ll go on this side. Right here in the middle.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much. I’m Elizabeth Boyvit (ph). I work for NBCUniversal. But don’t worry, I’m not on the media side. (Laughter.) I’m in cyberthreat intelligence.
But my question for you is a follow-up on your point on democracy and national security, and democracy being on of the posts on which, to a degree, stability stands on. Recently we began to see the—almost a disintegration of norms in American politics, polarization, rules on the Senate and House floors being shifted for party—along party lines. So I wanted to ask you what your thoughts were on the effect of maybe the loss of some of the democratic norms in the United States are, and should we be concerned?
REYNOSO: I can start. (Laughter.) So I’m more of an optimist than most lawyers are. (Laughter.) I actually—over the last several years, we’ve seen sort of institutions be weakened by elections, by questionable activity, by potentially violating laws, and the like. We’ve seen this movie before in different time periods. What has been interesting—well, this is the time period where we’re living so it’s like, wow, right? But this is not new in this country. But what is interesting is the rise of other institutions, particularly the role of the states and cities, in really countering—really balancing some of the federal activities that are borderline dysfunctional and maybe illegal, right?
So I actually have been very impressed by the many states that have been active in claims and both legally but also passing local legislation and laws to protect vulnerable people who are—who have been kind of targeted by the executive branch. And I think that just says a lot about our democracy, and how robust and diversified the powers are, which I think is really unique and extraordinary. And we should all be grateful, but also impressed, I think, by how intriguing and impactful that has been.
I also—you also see the rise of all these folks, regular citizens, activating to do all types of things. You know, from forming new types of alliances and groups to running for office at every level. People—women—more women than ever, people of color, all types of folks who have historically not felt that they were part of that group. And now they are really involved in doing it, and getting it done. And so I think it’s a motivating factor, but I also think institutionally as a democracy our democracy is so strong and so diversified in its power that you’ve seen the rise of really interesting institutions and organizations from municipalities, to states, to the office of so-and-so attorney general, going after, you know, wrongdoing, and are seizing moments to protect vulnerable people. So I am not—I think we’re—I think we’re still the greatest democracy around.
AYRES: Let me take one last question to take us to 11:00 a.m. Right here.
Q: Thank you. My name is Edgar Cruz. I’m an alum for Public Policy International Affairs Program. I’m also in the digital media space in civic tech.
My question is if you could give one or two suggestions, actions, demonstrations that I as a man of color can be a more empathetic and ally for women, and specifically women of color in the foreign relations space.
AYRES: Would all three like to answer? We can just go down the row. Uzra.
ZEYA: One, I commend you for your question and your aspiration. And I would say, I spent a lot career in the State Department, where there is something called corridor reputation. You know, it’s sort of—it’s basically your rep, what people—who do you know? And I guess I would say to all of you, in terms of that who do you know, you know, really try wherever you sit to give a leg up and a helping hand to people around you. But look at getting beyond your immediate circle too. What I find is that with respect to personnel decisions, it’s personnel, but it’s often personal. And you know, to your question, you are woke, aware—(laughter)—and you want to—I know, I’m a terrible mom. My kids would be so embarrassed that I said that. (Laughter.)
But I would say, I think you can do that wherever you sit, and wherever your span of authority is. And, you know, there is no initiative at the Department of State that has one owner. It’s always a team effort. But maybe even looking beyond your immediate horizon or the people you usually deal with to bring in those women of color and other people you don’t know, and to make them your network, and to help one another. I think that makes a positive difference.
REYNOSO: I think that’s a perfect answer. I think, again, in whatever space you are, ensuring that you have—you’re open-minded, and not assuming anything about anybody. But when you get to a position where you actually can exercise some power, ensuring that you’re mindful enough to be—to give the opportunity—not only the opportunity, the push, for people who you know haven’t had the greatest or the most robust set of circumstances that others might have. So I think we all have to do that daily, just be really thoughtful and mindful about how we interact with each other, and the assumptions we make about people. But in terms of not only our thought process, but in an affirmative action way give opportunities to the folks who—women of color historically have been the most disenfranchised, most definitely, in our—in our environments and our spaces of decision-making.
FRAZER: Yeah, I mean, I think that by asking the question you are already there. You know, your mindset is there. I would also say, be conscious in your choices of mentorships. That meaning, you being mentored by others who are more senior to you, and then you mentoring others who are more junior to you. And I would say, make sure that you have a broad, diverse set of mentors and mentees. And then if you do that, I think it’ll beneficial to your career and to others who you interact with.
AYRES: Thank you. So this takes us to 11:00 a.m. We’re going to have coffee and breakout sessions immediately afterwards. But will you all please join me in thanking our incredibly experienced panel today? Thank you. (Applause.)