Across Africa With Dr Chris Fomunyoh:"Leaders Must Know There is Life after the Presidency"

– NDI Senior Associate on Stakes, Hopes & Challenges For A Continent on the Move.  By Ajong Mbapndah L   [caption id="attachment_11665" align="alignleft" width="225"]Dr Chris Fomunyoh Dr Chris Fomunyoh[/caption] As Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa at the Washington, DC, based National Democratic Institute, Dr Christopher Fomunyoh has helped in shaping many of the democratic experiments across Africa. From supervising elections to strengthening the participation of civil society groups, and interacting with leaders, Dr Fomunyoh, a Harvard alumni and the NDI have partnered Africa on its rocky path to democracy. On the heels of the first USA-Africa Summit, and developments in countries like Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, upcoming elections in the continent, and the role of Former Leaders, Dr Fomunyoh took time off in between his incessant commutes to Africa to answer questions form PAV.  Thanks Dr Fomunyoh for accepting to discuss the 1st US-Africa leaders’ summit that took place in early August, and to share your views and perspectives on this unprecedented event. First, I would like to ask you what you consider as the highlights of the summit. The U.S. – Africa Summit was a historic event, because for the first time a U.S. President hosted close to 50 leaders from across Africa for three days on U.S. soil. The highlights for me included the eight-hour working session with African presidents during which President Obama moderated discussions on three thematic topics: investing in Africa’s future, peace and regional stability, and governing for the next generation. There was also the excitement of numerous side events such as business roundtables, a summit for African civil society, the White House dinner with over 400 invitees and the Heads of State, and the spousal event co-hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush to discuss amongst other issues, the education of girls and women. This initiative came about as a way for the Obama administration to push for a renewed, strengthened relationship that would allow for the US to seize the tremendous opportunities and potential that the African continent has to offer. Looking beyond the summit, could you offer us some perspectives on its implications for African countries and their political, security and economic agendas? One of the benefits of the summit was to help synthesize the various initiatives and areas of interest between Africa and the United States and to spur concrete engagements on the economic, security and governance fronts. For example, the “Power Africa” Initiative was expanded to include more African countries that could benefit from electrification opportunities that would generate economic growth and improve the lives of Africans in rural and urban areas. As a result of the summit, the U.S. also launched new initiatives such as the Security Governance Initiative, which is a joint endeavor between the United States and a number of African countries working in partnership towards a comprehensive approach to improving security sector governance and the professionalism and capacity of the security sector to address new and emerging threats. A lot of commitments were made to build private/public partnerships in ways that could encourage the U.S. private sector to invest more in Africa. The test for me will be in measuring the impact of the summit a year or two from now, to ascertain that these commitments were actually implemented. During the summit, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discussed prospects for peace and reconciliation in his country. Having followed Mali all these years, what is your take on the way Mali and the international community are tackling the after effects of the 2012/2013 crisis? Since coming to power a year ago this week, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali has demonstrated good will and determination to resolve the security challenges that Mali faces, including negotiations with former rebel movements in the northern part of the country. For example, he has refocused the multiple mediation efforts that involved many international organizations and neighboring countries into a single track negotiation process now taking place in Algeria. The Algiers peace talks, backed by the African Union and the United Nations, seem to be going well and should, hopefully, come to a successful conclusion by the end of this year. Thereafter, I imagine that the Malian government would reinforce its commitment to a national reconciliation process so as to allow the population to focus on achieving its development and governance objectives. What in your view is the effect of terrorist networks operating across the Sahel and how can countries in that part of the continent deal with this security threat? These terrorist networks are evil and must be crushed militarily. They are destroying lives and communities and are destabilizing the economies of already very fragile African countries. They take advantage of the proliferation of weapons to arm themselves and exploit the weaknesses of governments to police porous borders and ungoverned spaces across the Sahel including the southern border of Libya. I am concerned that further networking among these groups can stretch their influence across the Sahel and into the Horn of Africa in a way that would literally divide up the continent into two and hence undermine political stability, development and economic growth. Terrorism is a global threat and therefore development partners and the international community must join hands with African countries under attack to eliminate this present and growing danger. [caption id="attachment_11668" align="alignright" width="300"]Fomunyoh on a visit to Alpha Conde President of Guinea Fomunyoh on a visit to Alpha Conde President of Guinea[/caption] In Senegal, a coalition propelled Macky Sall to power in 2012 with a platform that promised to return the presidential term to five years from the previous seven-year term. Do you believe Macky Sall will keep his promise of reducing the presidential term?  The election of Macky Sall in Senegal in 2012 was a breath of fresh air, for it signaled the emergence of a younger generation of leadership in this African country, confirmed the maturity of the Senegalese people and their ability to safeguard their democracy. It is heartening to note that for the third time in the past two decades, the Senegalese have changed their president through peaceful and credible elections. Macky Sall won the 2012 election because he was able to gain the support of a broad-based coalition that embraced his platform. Macky Sall is a democrat at heart, and there is no reason to second guess his commitment to the people of Senegal. At the same time, one of the widely discussed issues at the summit related to Presidents’ attempts to change the constitutions in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Burundi, and Burkina Faso. How do you explain the disparity between Senegal’s experience and the experience of other African countries where leaders are increasing presidential terms? Some African presidents have not yet understood that it is beneficial to their countries and to themselves that the country’s constitution be respected. The peaceful transition of power and the constant renewal of political leadership foster political stability and development. It serves no purpose to create an environment in which one individual stays in power for decades and gives the impression to citizens that political leadership cannot be renewed through the ballot box. It’s a very clear message, changing the constitution to benefit one individual has a huge negative impact on political space and citizen participation.   [caption id="attachment_11670" align="alignleft" width="284"]In power since 1987, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is the latest African Leader trying to change constitutional term limits so as to remain in Africa In power since 1987, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is the latest African Leader trying to change constitutional term limits so as to remain in Africa[/caption] Hopefully, leaders in the countries you cited will come to understand that there is life after the state house as they may have noticed during their visit to the United States for the summit. There are four former U.S. Presidents who left office after the expiration of their terms and who continue to play a useful role across the United States and internationally, in areas such as conflict mediation, mitigating humanitarian crises and peacebuilding for the betterment of humanity. The same applies to a number of former African heads of state such as Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, John Kufuor of Ghana, Quett Masire of Botswana, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique among others. There is no reason why incumbents in the countries you mentioned should stand in the way of political and economic development in their respective countries, and progress of their fellow citizens. Ivory Coast under Alassane Ouattara is prepping up for new presidential elections in 2015. Do you think the country is ready to avoid repeating the electoral violence of 2010? Yes, I am hopeful for Cote d’Ivoire 2015, although I must acknowledge there is work to be done. The country has come so far from the post-election violence of 2010, during which over 3,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands internally displaced. A number of electoral reforms have been enacted recently and a new independent election commission has been sworn in. Hopefully, in the one year that is left, Ivorian political parties and civil society organizations will conduct extensive civic and voter education and lay the foundation for peaceful and credible elections in 2015. Other African countries have recovered from past difficult elections. For example, the Kenyan elections in 2012 were very peaceful and credible even though the country had experienced election-related violence in 2007 and 2008. Therefore, there is reason for a measure of optimism for Ivory Coast, and we must keep reminding our Ivorian brothers and sisters to take full responsibility and commit themselves totally to peaceful and inclusive polls. A few questions on your native Cameroon, you were part of a conference recently on how to revamp the opposition, what are some immediate practical steps needed to help build a credible opposition that can provide the guarantee of a better alternative to President Paul Biya?   [caption id="attachment_11673" align="alignright" width="220"]Peaceful transition of power and the constant renewal of political leadership foster political stability and development, says Fomunyoh Peaceful transition of power and the constant renewal of political leadership foster political stability and development, says Fomunyoh[/caption] The Yaounde Conference in November 2012 provided an opportunity to share success stories and lessons learned from other African countries that have gone through peaceful and credible transitions and the renewal of political leadership. It is heartening to see that the deliberations from the conference continue to stimulate discussion and debate, and further reflection among civic and political leaders across the country. An immediate concrete step would be to expand networking opportunities among like-minded political parties and civil society organizations that are committed to reforming the political process. Other African countries have succeeded in creating such broad-based coalitions and there is reason to imagine that Cameroonians would do the same when the opportunity arises. Cameroon is also facing a refugee crisis in the Eastern region with the influx of Central Africans fleeing from civil unrest in their country and growing attacks in the North from the extremist group Boko Haram. How does the country cope with these challenges? Cameroonians are known for their hospitality and so far have treated refugees from both Northeastern Nigeria and the Central African Republic very kindly. However, in the past few weeks the situation in the north has been aggravated by Nigerian refugees crossing the borders in higher numbers as well as internally displaced Cameroonians whose communities have been attacked by renegade groups coming from across the border. Therefore, there needs to be a coordinated effort to appeal for assistance across the country and to seek further support from development partners and international NGO’s that have expertise in managing these kinds of humanitarian emergencies. Of course, there also has to be better communication from the government and private media so that Cameroonians can fully grasp the magnitude of the humanitarian predicament that is developing both in the north and in the east. We need a comprehensive strategy to deal with the immediate crisis and its after-effects because experience has shown that these kinds of situations tend to linger. We continue to see restlessness in former leaders like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and Obasanjo of Nigeria who have not held back their criticisms of sitting Presidents. What happened to the initiative started by the NDI to keep former leaders relevant in a positive way? Constructive criticism is a positive thing for every democratic society. If there are issues of national interest such as Boko Haram and insecurity in northern Nigeria or corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in the management of public resources, then every citizen has the right to speak out. Former presidents have even a higher responsibility to do so because in many ways, they can serve as the voice of the voiceless and further stall bad governance and the shrinking of political space. In light of the numerous national elections to be held in 2015 and 2016, is NDI planning on implementing elections assistance programs in Nigeria, Niger, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, CAR, Zambia? There are about 17 African countries preparing for presidential and legislative elections in 2015. Most of these elections will be very competitive, and that for me speaks to the vibrancy of African politics and the fact that we Africans are deeply interested in participating in political processes and determining who gets to govern. Depending on each country’s needs, NDI and other international organizations may have technical assistance programs to be implemented in partnership with local organizations also working for inclusive and credible polls. More than two decades after the beginning of the third wave of democratization, the gratification for me is in seeing how we as Africans have taken ownership of our electoral processes, and the magnificent contribution of citizen observers, political party poll watchers and courageous election commissioners in guaranteeing transparent and credible polls across the continent. Despite the challenges that emerge around elections, I am hopeful that the quality of elections on our continent will continue to improve, and that where shortcomings are identified they would be quickly resolved through peaceful means and dialogue-drivenmechanisms.]]>

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  1. Dr Fomunyoh has done great work in Africa, but charity should begin at home.He needs to be more decisive when it comes to Cameroon. How can he do all this great work for democracy across Africa , while in Cameroon there is a dictator in place for donkey years? Fomunyoh should run for office in 2018. He will make a good President.

  2. Great interview but Fomunyoh should either stay mute on Cameroon or stop giving false hope. He gave us hope he was going to run in 2011 and nothing came out of it. As one of the credible Cameroonians, he has the profile to over see the transition Cameroon needs but he must make his intentions very clear and so we know what he wants

  3. It is sad to see leaders in Africa still trying to change constitutions to stay in power.Africans must not allow this to happen again.Can one compare leaders like Mandela,Chissano,Masire, Nkapa, or Rawlings with dictators like Saasou Nguesso,Museveni or Biya?To African leaders, learn to leave power before it leaves you

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