Good morning. My name is Uzra Zeya and I am the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the United States Department of State. It is my pleasure to be with you all virtually today. I’d like to thank our hosts, the Government of Botswana – including President Masisi – and the National Democratic Institute, for inviting me to speak at this important event, and Chargé d’Affaires Jacobsen for the warm introduction.
At the heart of democracy lies the will of a country’s citizens. Strong democracies are responsive to constituents’ needs and priorities. Just like in the United States, public opinion surveys across the continent confirm that large majorities of Africans also want “regular, open, and honest elections” to determine their leaders. Elections are critical to democratic consolidation – and constitutionalism plays an essential role in facilitating them.
A commitment to constitutionalism is also central to the principles of the Summit for Democracy, where, in late 2021, President Biden brought together world leaders, civil society, and the private sector to make concrete commitments to build democratic resilience and counter authoritarianism globally.
The Summit served as a rallying call to bolster efforts to advance democracy as a form of government that reflects the will of citizens and can deliver real results – transparently and accountably – and can restore faith in the democratic process.
So we are excited to be part of today’s discussion during the Summit’s Year of Action, and to support the Government of Botswana and its partners in advancing democratic principles throughout Africa and globally.
At the Summit for Democracy, President Biden said, “renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort.” As part of the global community for democracy, the United States is proud to support today’s convening and will continue to back our partners’ efforts to bring attention to the importance of constitutional term limits, as they are key to democratic governance.
We all know from public opinion research that constitutional terms limits have widespread popular support across Africa. Afrobarometer’s most recent polling reveals that 76 percent of Africans surveyed in 34 countries support constitutional provisions limiting the presidency to two terms.
We are therefore thankful to the National Democratic Institute and Government of Niger for first bringing this group together back in 2019, and for recognizing the broad popular support for term limits continent-wide. That discussion galvanized awareness-raising campaigns, led by civil society, catalyzed broad support for constitutional term limits, and fostered collaboration between citizens, journalists, and academics. Since then, the use of social media as an awareness-raising tool meant that these campaigns could reach a wide range of citizens and stakeholders around the world and encouraged them to engage in this important conversation.
We look forward to seeing what further innovations result from this week’s discussions, as part of our commitment to share ideas and learn from each other to make our democracies better.
Like other countries, we committed to improving our democracy and working with others. I can assure you that the United States is taking a whole-of-government approach to advancing democracy through pledges of our own. This includes President Biden’s announcement of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, a landmark collection of diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts to bolster democracy and defend human rights globally.
From protecting journalists to fighting corruption, supporting labor rights to connecting users with the uncensored internet, we are working toward one central goal: a free and equitable world where the human rights of all people are upheld and respected.
Democracy, however, requires a whole-of-society effort. Civil society, media, activists, and human rights defenders on the front lines play an equally critical role in advancing democracy in their home countries, as does the private sector.
As a democratic community, we are committed to elevating civil society partnerships through the creation of multistakeholder platforms. These support and expand opportunities for meaningful dialogue and collaboration among civil society representatives, private sector leaders, philanthropic partners, and government decision-makers on issues vital to good governance and democratic renewal.
Together with our partners, we are also bolstering engagement and outreach on the ground and spotlighting leaders in the areas of racial equity; labor; anticorruption; conflict resolution; gender equity and equality; and respect for human rights, including those of LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, and indigenous persons, among others.
And African leadership is essential in our global effort to advance democracy and respect for human rights.
President of Ghana and current Chair of ECOWAS Nana Akufo-Addo has spoken out forcefully against the recent spate of military coups and other military takeovers in West Africa and is urging regional leaders to stand firm to protect democracy. Ghana also joined Norway in supporting the Global Disability Forum.
In Nigeria, President Buhari signed the Electoral Amendment Act to create conditions for free and fair elections in 2023, and reaffirming his commitment to hand over power when his maximum two-term tenure is complete.
We look forward to working together to advance the Summit’s priorities and democratic principles globally.
To this end, the United States has dedicated resources to advance the participation of women, LGBTQI+ persons, and persons from marginalized and underserved communities in democratic institutions. This includes a new initiative, the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Fund, to address a critical gap by facilitating the participation and leadership of LGBTQI+ community members in democratic institutions. The November 2021 Botswana Court of Appeals decision restoring to LGBTQI+ persons their dignity, privacy and equity acknowledges the importance of removing all obstacles to full participation in civic life and democratic institutions.
As you will hear later in the conference from our distinguished panel of women Heads of State, full and active political participation of women is essential to consolidating democratic gains. We know women’s leadership in decision-making processes leads to better and more sustainable outcomes—not only for women, but for entire communities and countries.
As Vice President Kamala Harris reminded us, “The status of women is the status of democracy.” As such, the United States launched the Supporting Her Empowerment: Political Engagement, Rights, Safety, and Inclusion Strategies to Succeed initiative. This will support women’s political participation and empowerment to build and sustain good governance and lasting democracy globally. This is a key component of the United States’ Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership Initiative, under which the United States pledged up to $33.5 million.
These are just a few of our initiatives to advance democratic renewal. We look forward to working with many of our government and civil society partners here today on these promises.
Inclusive democracies are strong, resilient, and deliver for citizens. Representation is a critical component. This is made evident by the many prestigious political leaders here today, who were instrumental in entrenching democracy in their home countries and continue to advocate for transparent and inclusive governance.
I know the speakers, panelists, and researchers at this convening will provide helpful insights on constitutionalism and democratic consolidation throughout the program. Know that your work reaches far beyond the limits of Gaborone and will undoubtedly impact countries across the continent and world. Thank you, and best wishes for a successful event.