Strengthening and Safeguarding Democracy
Four ways Summit for Democracy participants are demonstrating progress on their country commitments
USAID knows that free and democratic societies have healthier populations, less violent conflict, and more prosperous communities — and through our democratic assistance, we aim to demonstrate the value of democracy and how it can deliver for all people.
During President Biden’s first-ever Summit for Democracy in December 2021, the United States used the global stage to call on the free world to take meaningful steps to build more resilient democracies. Over 100 world leaders seized this opportunity to address their domestic democratic challenges and made approximately 750 commitments to counter authoritarianism, combat corruption, and promote respect for human rights.
In 2022, known as the “Year of Action,” Summit participants undertook important pro-democracy reforms at home, contributed to impactful multilateral initiatives, and worked together to resist authoritarian aggression.
World leaders are expected to showcase progress made on their commitments to build more resilient democracies; announce new commitments and initiatives to build on that momentum; and underscore the effectiveness of collective action in tackling the most pressing challenges of our time. The Summit will also provide an opportunity for civil society, philanthropies, and the private sector to demonstrate their leadership in building resilient democracies in their own countries and globally.
Below is a preview of four commitments that demonstrate progress made by Summit participants.
Promoting Democratic Resilience
1.Africa has seen significant democratic backsliding in recent years, driven in large part by leaders who undermine constitutional norms, bypass presidential term limits, and shrink political space to gain or maintain power.
In response, and as part of his country’s commitments for the Year of Action, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. government partner, co-hosted the International Summit on Constitutionalism and Democratic Consolidation in Africa in Gaborone last July.
The summit — which included nearly 200 in-person participants from across the continent and over 1,300 individuals in 78 countries online — promoted democratic resilience and provided a positive vision of constitutionalism across the continent to counter the shift in recent years toward autocratic resurgence and democratic decline.
As an outcome of the Summit, the Gaborone Declaration commends the peaceful transfer of executive power through credible and inclusive elections and the strengthening of democratic practices in a number of African countries, including promoting adherence to constitutional term limits.
Africa’s youth population, which was also celebrated in the declaration, is eager to participate in democratic governance. Through continued citizen engagement and efforts to renew democracy, those youth — along with women and other marginalized groups on the continent — will have the opportunity to participate in the peaceful and orderly renewals of political leadership and contribute their voices in local government.
“This summit represents our strong partnerships to renew and strengthen efforts to respect constitutional term limits as a pillar of democratic governance and peaceful political transitions across our continent,” Botswana’s president said.
Collectively, these commitments have positioned Botswana as one of the champions of democracy in Africa.
Protecting Human Rights in the Digital Age
2.USAID believes a free internet is open, interoperable, secure, and reliable. It is an ecosystem in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are exercised freely and ideas can be exchanged.
Unfortunately, this is not the internet that all people around the world experience — journalists, activists, academics, and others face substantial risks online, while at the same time some governments are creating policies that violate the basic fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and association online. Additionally, millions face barriers to access.
Democratic governments and other partners are rising to meet this challenge. The United States, along with more than 60 countries from around the globe launched the Declaration for the Future of the Internet at a high-level meeting sponsored by the European Commission in the Czech Republic on Nov. 2, 2022.
This declaration represents a political commitment among signatories to advance a single global internet — one that is truly open and fosters competition, privacy, and respect for democracy and human rights.
USAID will institutionalize these principles through the Freedom Online Coalition and operationalize them through the new Advancing Digital Democracy initiative, an outcome of the first Summit for Democracy.
Propelling Youth Participation in Democratic Processes
3.As part of Nepal’s commitments made during the first Summit for Democracy, the first of a series of roundtable discussions was held in Kathmandu, Nepal, last September, where the aim was to discuss how to include youth in democratic processes and commit to ending all forms of discrimination against women.
During the roundtables, diverse representatives from the government, donor agencies, civil society organizations, and youth discussed prioritizing inclusive participation of young people in programs at all levels of the government, as well as civic boards, and more peer-to-peer interactions.
“As the most politically active and influential segment in society, youths must be educated and stimulated to participate in democratic processes. Particularly in an infant democracy like Nepal, where young make up 40% of the population, their engagement should guide as decisive force in the consolidation of democracy,” said Bikal Rai, President, Association of Youth Organizations, Nepal.
Nepal has also co-led the Youth Cohort on Civic and Political Participation, of which Bikal is also a member, alongside the European Commission and the Government of Ghana to ensure and amplify the voices of youth. This cohort, launched as part of the Year of Action, has put together a list of preliminary commitments focused on youth political and civic participation and engagement, and sponsored events.
4.Civil asset forfeiture is a powerful tool to fight corruption and organized crime. Fulfilling one of its commitments made at the first Summit for Democracy, President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic signed the Civil Assets Forfeiture Bill into law on July 28, 2022. This law will enable the government to deter criminal activity by confiscating assets used in a range of illegal activities.
At the public signing ceremony, President Abinader announced that after waiting more than 12 years for a civil asset forfeiture law to be passed, “the hopes and demands of the Dominican people have been met, and they are embodied in this law … what until now has illicitly lined the pockets of a few will return to the pockets of its legitimate owners: the Dominican people. In this country, whoever [commits a crime] pays for it, and whoever steals, will return what was stolen. It’s that simple.”
For more information on country commitments as part of the Summit for Democracy, please visit the International IDEA dashboard.
About the Author
Jessica Benton Cooney is the Senior Communication and Outreach Specialist for USAID’s Center for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.