Takeaways from the 2023 Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Conference
The widening gap between African citizens’ support for democracy and their satisfaction with how democracy works was a central topic of discussion at the 2023 Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding (SVNP) Conference.
Along with debates about the resurgence of military coups and the inconsistent African and international approaches to address them and other forms of unconstitutional changes of government, this year’s SVNP conference theme on examining democracy, governance, and peacebuilding in Africa is particularly important as seven African countries (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gabon, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) have conducted or will conduct elections this year.
For many African citizens, a credible electoral process is a benchmark for a functioning democratic society. Likewise, the quality of elections could also be a trigger point for military coups. At least three (Mali, Guinea, and Gabon) of the coups that have taken place since 2020 are directly related to electoral outcomes.
African, US, and other policymakers and democracy advocates are discussing how to respond to these threats and how best to preserve the democratic advances made in recent decades.
Peacebuilding and democratic governance are interwoven, with stable institutions allowing for sustainable peace, and peace allowing actors to nurture the pillars of good governance and development.
One focus of the Wilson Center Africa Program is to bridge the gap between African knowledge and US policy formulation on governance, development, and peacebuilding in Africa. Created in 2011, The SVNP is a network of 20+ pan-African organizations that seek to foster dialogue and increase the visibility of African perspectives within the US policy arena.
This year’s conference had private and public sessions, which provided space for open discussions about the current state of governance in Africa, the intersection of peacebuilding and democratic governance, and Africa’s developmental potential. There was also a reflection on the last US-Africa Leader’s Summit and the US Summit for Democracy, along with a discussion about the challenges and prospects for the future of US-Africa relations since the launch of the US Strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa in 2022.
Some takeaways from the conference:
- Africa’s youth want better and more accountable governance and insist on democratic governance and development simultaneously. A two-track approach focusing on good governance and trade integration must be prioritized to drive sustainable development in Africa.
- The quality of democratic governance in Africa is declining, impacting the citizen debate about the value of democracy, particularly among younger citizens who might show more tolerance to military intervention than the older generation.
- US and international partnerships to strengthen governance must address the problem of “Democracy Capture” in many African countries, where the political context may seem formally democratic. However, public policies are still largely developed to favor elite interests.
- There is a need to articulate Africa’s strategic governance and development vision for engaging with the changing global landscape. Will the African Union’s (AU) recent invitation to join the G20 encourage a degree of policy coherence from the AU?
- Africa’s Think Tanks and research organizations remain a largely untapped resource by their governments and the international community.
- Evidence-based policies are required to spur development in Africa. Bridging the gap between academia, research, and policy is more important today than ever.
The 2023 SVNP annual conference sessions also focused on citizen engagement and Africa’s current and potential role within the global landscape. The public sessions are now available to watch online. Additionally, a conference report will cover these topics and recommendations in further detail in October 2023.
Many thanks to the conference participants and speakers for their contributions to the discussion. We are grateful to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the continued support and sponsorship of SVNP.
Visit the SVNP webpage for more information on the network, its members, and more.
About the Author
The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations. Read more