Strengthening Citizen Security through better communication (w/ Chris Fomunyoh)

Ambassador Johnnie Carson

NDI’s Chris Fomunyoh is once again joined by Ambassador Johnnie Carson as they discuss the steps that can be taken to strengthen democracy. They continue their conversation with their thoughts on the key challenges and opportunities facing Africa this year.

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Johnnie Carson: When female voices are not heard, the conversation is crippled, the policy is crippled, the institutions are crippled and the results are crippled.

Chris Fomunyoh: I'm Chris Fomunyoh, senior associate and regional director for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, NDI. Welcome to this edition of DemWorks.
Again we're joined by Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a proud member of the board of directors of The National Democratic Institute, NDI with a 37 year career in the U.S. Foreign Service focus on Africa. In our previous episode, you spoke about the risk of back sliding. So for this episode, we will focus on the steps that can be taken to strengthen democracy in Africa.
I'd like us to pivot a little bit to the Sahel because in Tanzania we see the back sliding that's coming from political actors themselves, but there's something happening in the Sahel, which is a region in which we see a lot of political commitment to democratic governance, whether it's from the leaders and activists in Niger Republic, in Burkina Faso and in Mali, but at the same time these countries are coming under tremendous pressure from violent extremists who are coming across the desert and destabilizing what would be an emerging democracy and what concerns do you have and how do you think organizations like NDI, like USIP and others that have the self-power expertise, so to speak can contribute to the efforts to counter violent extremism like Sahel and also the whole of Africa?
JC: Chris you're absolutely right and we should all be concerned about outside forces that can come in and destabilize a country, its politics, its economy and its society and across the Sahel we in fact see this happening. The challenges to stability, to democracy to holding free and transparent and creditable elections and having democratic systems that work, are not only challenged by sometimes authoritarian leaders seeking to maintain power and control, we also can see this emerging as a result of exogenous forces coming in from outside, and here we see non-state actors undermining stability across the Sahel, which is creating tension for democracies and tensions for states.
I think one of the things that is absolutely critical in addressing the problems with the Sahel is for government to reconnect with their citizens, to put in place the kinds of services that citizens are looking for and are demanding and expecting. They need to be responsive to the needs that they, citizens believe are not there and they have to have these connections in order to build up resilience, to build up strength against the ideologies and to the negative forces that are brought in by extremist groups.
It is extremists groups across the Sahel are taking advantage of the absence of good services and good connectivity between government and citizens and one of the things that must accompany the security response is in fact a development and government response. Security alone cannot end the problems in the Sahel. It's an important ingredient but the most important ingredient is government going in and establishing responsible connections, providing services, education, healthcare, sanitation, water cattle feeding stations and services that citizens require and are being deprived of.
So one of the things that must be hand in hand and be out front is not the military response and the security response but the governance response, the social service response and if that is absent, the security response will be deficient and will not work.
CF: In fact, I'm so thankful you say that, because I know that you and other members of our board, Secretary Albright, in particular the chair of our board, you've been emphasizing reinforcing this message about democracy and development component as part of the toolkit in conquering violent extremism and in fact, that's the approach that NDI is taking to its work in the Sahel because we currently have ongoing programs in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, and our focus, the main focus of that piece of work is on people, processes and the politics and trying to create platforms where governments can reconnect with citizens at a grassroots level.
So in a number of cases we've set up platforms where civil society with legislatures and members of the executive branch, including representatives of the security services get together regularly to figure out what the challenges are in various communities and how to foster inter-communal dialogue and better relationships between the security services and the populations that they seek to serve, because you may remember there was a UN study that said that in many of the cases where violent extremism persist, that 70% of the people who join extremist organizations, are reacting to poor performance by security services and you have paid a lot of attention to Nigerian and the whole Boko Haram phenomenon.
I don't know how this would fit into our conversation with regards to the Sahel as well.
JC: I think it also very pertinent for Nigeria, and I too have seen studies of some very distinguished organizations, Mercy Corps and others that talk about why people are recruited and indeed, the authoritarian sometimes brutal nature of security forces towards communities that they should be protecting drives individuals away from the government and into the hands of Boko Haram.
Even the origin of the current violence in Northern Nigeria has its origins in the brutal extrajudicial killing of Boko Haram's first leader in 2009. His apprehension, his questioning, his interrogation, torture and mistreatment were all recorded on someone's cellphone and became widely seen throughout the country and throughout the north. Two years later, after that event in 2009 we saw and upsurge in 2011 and the activities of Boko Haram and indeed people continued to say that the brutal nature in which the security forces sought to root out Boko Haram, in fact generated more recruits for Boko Haram than it did for support for the government's efforts.
It is absolutely critical, it's absolutely critical that security forces recognize that they have a responsibility to protect the civil liberties and the human rights of the citizens of the state that they are protecting and that the way they treat the individuals in areas that they go into, may have an impact on their ability to ultimately win the conflict, but one thinks of Nigeria and particularly of the North East and there again weak institutions of corruption of lack of social services are all playing a major part in why the conflict in that region continues.
In the north east of Nigeria particularly and the three most affected states, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Those three states have the lowest social indicators of any of Nigeria's 36 states, less access to education, to healthcare, to water resources and to jobs and access and this all plays out as well. Governments needs to be responsive to their citizens and while a security response is important, governance and providing social services and the needs to citizens to build resilience is critical as well.
CF: This seems like a good place to take a short break. For well over 35 years NDI has been honored to work side by side with courageous and committed pro-democracy activists and leaders around the world to help contribute to develop the institutions practices and skills necessary for democracy's success.
I realize it's many countries to cover but in the few minutes that are left, I just see if you have any parting words for four countries that we haven't really focused that much on and those are Ethiopia, Kenya, The Democratic Republic of Congo and we'll exit with Cameroon. What are your thoughts?
JC: My thoughts on Ethiopia. It is absolutely essential that those of us who support a democracy and democratic progress lend all of our efforts to those of the Ethiopian government to ensure that the democratic experiment that is underway is successful. Prime Minister Abiy won the Nobel Prize for bringing about peace with Eritrea but the more important thing is that we, outside step up our effort to help him ensure that his legislative elections, this year, are successful and that we do what we can to strengthen his country's democratic progress.
He has appointed and outstanding leader, Birtukan, former opposition leader, spent many years in jail as his country's election commissioner. We need on the outside to provide the kind of technical and financial and advocacy support that she might need to put in place the architecture for running the country's elections. It will in fact be the first real serious elections in that country since the collapse of the Derg in the early 1990s. So it's important that we help do this.
Ethiopia is Africa's second most populous country behind Nigeria and it's important that we help democracy there. It's also a key and strategic state in the region bordering a number of other countries that will look to the success of what happens here. So we need to support.
Kenya, will have elections next year. It is important that there be a continuation in the improvement of the country's electoral agencies. The shadow of the flawed and failed and controversial and violent elections of 2007 and 2008 continue to be a shadow. The controversies associated with the last elections and court decisions there continue to hang over. It is important to continue to support civil society, support the electoral commission and work with the Kenyan government to ensure an outcome.
It appears very clearly that President Kenyatta wants to leave a positive legacy of progress, economically, politically and electorally. This will be a challenge but we should support the process moving forward. The features are still there.
CF: In fact, I should say before end up with the last two countries that for listeners, Ethiopia has got a parliamentary system of government. That's why the parliamentary elections are extremely important, the national elections for Ethiopia and also with regards to Kenya, as you say, President Uhuru Kenyatta would like to leave a good legacy. He's coming to the end of his second term and NDI working with partners on the continent has been very strong on the issue constitutionalism, respect for rule of law. In fact, we had a continent wide conference in Niamey, Niger Republic last October on the whole question of presidential term limits and we'll be having a second conference in Botswana in June to discuss term limits with former African heads of states and various other partners on the continent.
Just to say that, as leaders relinquish power when their terms come to an end, they help consolidate and strengthen democratic practices and institutions. So, with the two remaining countries-
JC: I applaud President Kenyatta for saying very early on that he would adhere to the constitution, he would serve two terms and step down. This is an important message for the most important country in East Africa, especially looking at the neighboring states, particularly Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda where leaders there have found ways to extend themselves in office. He recognizes the importance of transition at the top and allowing the citizens of the country to select new leadership on a constitutional basis rather than trying to alter the constitution to eliminate term limits, age limits and perpetuate themselves in power.
So I hope others in the region are in fact looking at Kenya's model. One jumps across to West Africa and looks at President Paul Biya who's been in power for three decades, plus shows no desire whatsoever to leave office. Here is a man who has lost touch with his citizens and the communities of his country and because he has lost touch with his citizens, because there have been structural deficiencies and weaknesses and the institutions that he is responsible for, we now see a country that is suffering from three or four major political crisis, crisis with the English speaking portion of this country in the south west, the emergence of Boko Haram and radicalism across the border from Nigeria in the north west and problems of herders and farmers driven by drought and climate conditions.
President Biya has lost touch with the needs of his citizens and his government has not been responsive to anyone but himself and a small political elite. I think it is important for the international community to point out the failures and the flaws of his governance, the corruption that underpins it and to support those internally who are pushing for a constitution and political policies that fundamentally change the nature and structure of society, political architecture in society.
CF: You're so right, because that's one country that it's got tremendous potential but that it's not pulling its weight at all and because of its strategic location, invariably weakens other countries in the central Africa sub region, as well as in West Africa too and it's now taking full advantage of what could be real opportunities to improve the wellbeing of its citizens.
We'll be right back after this quick message.
And let's end with the country right in the heart of the continent, The Democratic Republic of Congo. I was in Kinshasa in October and met with political leaders and opinion leaders across the board, civil society, religious leaders who are very powerful in the Congo, very influential and I came away, I should say, a little more optimistic than I was going in. I was quite apprehensive given what has transpired in the 2018 presidential elections but after talking to the Congolese, I got a sense that a genuine attachment to reform.
Everybody wants some reforms of the political process or the electoral process and the key question is whether they are going to be able to set aside their personal agendas and actually get together to help this country, which has got tremendous resources and tremendous potential get back on its feet. I was very impressed by the fact that most of the leaders in Congo are pretty young. I know that you and I have talked about Congo for many, many times and when you were still in the administration you had to deal with some of their crisis.
I don't know what you take is on the present leadership and the present challenges but also the opportunities that present themselves in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
JC: Let me say that The Democratic Republic of the Congo has more unrealized potential than any other large state in Africa and that potential has continued to be in held in check and not realized because of the poor nature of the politics that have occurred there since the 1960s.
The 2018 elections were deeply flawed and irregular and not representative, I think, of the vote of the people. The one thing that one can say about the process that it did lead to President Kabila stepping down and a new younger president, Tshisekedi coming into power. There was immediately after the election a strong feeling that Tshisekedi was going to be instrument of Kabila going forward in that his leadership and his authority and his ability to do things would be substantially constrained. Tshisekedi has shown some degree of independence.
It is again important to recognize that there is little we can do to rerun that election or to reverse it but there is something that all of us can do going forward, and that to put pressure on President Tshisekedi to ensure that the electoral commission is strengthened, it has more independence, more technical capacity and more of an ability to deliver a more responsible, fair and transparent election going forward.
It is also important that he continue the fight against corruption, that he begin to put in place the kind of economic reforms that are going to unleash the potential of the Congo and to provide the people, The Democratic Republic of the Congo an opportunity to realize so many of the opportunities that they have been denied in the past. He has shown more independence than I thought but it is important that he not stop, that he continue to move forward, that he open up political space and continue to open it up for civil society, for the opposition, for the media, that he not constrain but unleash the country's potential and that he continue to show both in reality and fact his independence away from Kabila and those who were around him in the past.
He will be judged on the next four years very keenly, but it's important that the institutions of democracy to the extent that we can help civil society strengthen them, that they be nurtured and pushed forward. Elections and democracy...Democracy doesn't depend essentially, solely on elections. It is institutions that must be strengthened and we can help the DRC and civil society move those forward.
Again, working effectively with religions groups, Catholic Church, a very powerful instrument, working with women's groups, with working youth groups across the DRC and working with an emerging entrepreneurial class of young Congolese as well. We have to nurture and strengthen and push them forward. These next elections will be able to tell us whether there's been progress. President Tshisekedi needs to continue to move forward.
CF: Thank you very much Ambassador Johnnie Carson. It's really been an honor to have you do this tutor for us on the entire continent. Of course there still would always be ground to cover. As you were speaking, I thought about what late President John F Kennedy said about democracy as a never ending endeavor, and so NDI and similar organizations will continue to work side by side with our African partners to make sure that we can support them, give them the support and share experiences that they need so that we can all collectively, continue to work to strengthen and support democracy in countries like the DRC, Ethiopia, Sudan and across the entire continent.
Thank you also for being a member of our board of directors. We are extremely proud of that and extremely proud of the partnership that NDI has with USIP and hope that our two organizations would continue to work together to support the growth of democracy across Africa and to our listeners, can I just say thank you for sharing in this edition of DemWorks, to follow our next podcast. Please check us out on our website
Thank you for listening.