Testifying at a recent hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa on “The US Response to Entrenched African Leadership,” African mobile technology philanthropist and proponent of African good governance, Dr. Mo Ibrahim (a member of ONE’s board of directors), started off with a gentle reminder. “Democracy and human rights are not American values,” he said. “They’re universal.” The US doesn’t have a monopoly on these ideals — and the first step to reinforcing them is recognizing that reality.
If the United States wants to promote democracy and human rights, Dr. Ibrahim continued, the practice of naming and shaming leaders that violate them isn’t the best way to go. Instead, the US should “support and endorse African Regional Economic Communities ” and other continental alliances that take on these issues themselves. It should be commended, for example, that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expelled Niger Republic from the trading bloc when President Tandja — himself a former chairman of ECOWAS — attempted to seek a third term despite constitutional requirements to step down. Institutions like ECOWAS, which also stepped up the plate in more recent conflicts in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, are the defenders of universal good governance — and deserve to be supported in their important work.
A strong proponent of highlighting what’s working in Africa, Dr. Ibrahim emphasized in his testimony that initiatives that provide incentives and “seek to praise rather than blame” are “invariably more constructive.” He highlighted the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Natural Resource Charter as examples of programs that disadvantage the bad by bolstering the good.
Dr. Ibrahim is certainly putting his money where his mouth is. In 2006, the businessman moved on from his successful mobile telecommunications company and founded the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organization that aims to promote strong, fair leadership in Africa. Every year, the institution releases a comprehensive index of good governance on the continent, which provides citizens with useful tools to hold their governments accountable. And they don’t stop there. The Foundation also awards several prizes, including the coveted Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which serves as an incentive for successful heads of state to relinquish power and continue their efforts away from high office.
Watch the hearing here. Ibrahim starts his testimony at 148:25. It’s worth a listen!