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Power at the Young African Leaders Initiative

Senegalese line up to vote in central Dakar. (file)
Senegalese line up to vote in central Dakar. (file)

“Democracy means government that respects the will and the rights of its people."

“The first challenge is to grow African democracy,” U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power said recently as she laid out two challenges to the young Africans gathered at the Young African Leaders Initiative in Washington, DC.

“Democracy . . . is about . . . more than just holding an occasional election,” Ambassador Power said. “Democracy means government that respects the will and the rights of its people — like the right to speak one’s mind without fear; or the right to gather with others to share ideas. Democracy means building the capable, independent institutions that can help defend human rights when they are threatened — such as impartial courts, accountable police forces, and strong parliaments.”

In 1990, there were only four electoral democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa; today there are 19.

The second challenge, Ambassador Power noted, was to improve Africa’s stability and security. “Africa”, she said, “is also in the midst of phenomenal economic growth” adding that “more needs to be done to ensure . . . equal access to the expanding opportunities that growth offers.”

One major impediment to inclusive growth is conflict. To address the problems of conflicts, and groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab that are terrorizing civilians across the region, Ambassador Power argued that Africa needs better trained, better equipped, and more professional military and police forces.

“I make this argument as a long-time human rights advocate,” Ambassador Power said. “[Because] it is hard to imagine lasting peace without rights-respecting, professional security and police forces . . . being part of the solution.”

“History hinges on the women and men who faced down their deepest doubts in those lonely places, and walked out of them more determined than ever,” Ambassador Power said as she urged the young African leaders to tackle the two challenges facing Africa. “That is how change is made. You are going to go out there and make it.”