There are a lot of pundits out there declaring democracy promotion to be dead on arrival in the Trump era. But there’s still an important community of activists fighting for the cause against the odds and even winning.
“Democracy matters and democratic leadership matters, even in the face of a fast-moving crisis like the coronavirus,” says Jeffrey Smith, the founder and president of Vanguard Africa, a nonprofit which has worked closely with a number of successful, visionary leaders in this region and beyond.
In this latest episode of Departures, I was really pleased to get Jeff’s seasoned insights about how he sees authoritarian regimes exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to tighten their grip on power, and what role NGOs should be playing in democracy promotion efforts, especially when the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue does not place a priority on such policies.
For Smith, promoting democracy is critical because holding dictators to account within the international community has become increasingly difficult. “To be very blunt, modern authoritarians have learned to play this so-called ‘reform game,’ where they absorb massive amounts of external aid while avoiding genuine reform… and this often sets a country back for generations,” he says.
I should mention here that on a couple of cases, Jeff and I are fellow travelers. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of both Bobi Wine of Uganda and Tundu Lissu of Tanzania on the lobbying front, while I provide pro bono legal counsel to them as well.
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