Strengthening Democracy in West Africa: Cabo Verde Hosts a Regional Conference on Executive Transitions

Cabo Verde has long been hailed a role model for African democracy. Achieving independence in 1975, Cabo Verde was a one-party state until 1990. That year the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde was challenged by the Movement for Democracy.  Since then, each of these political parties has enjoyed sustained periods of rule with successful democratic transitions in between. 

Most recently, in March 2016, Movement for Democracy won a majority in parliament for the first time in 15 years. Incoming Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva requested assistance to ensure the new executive team was well-prepared to enter office and to put a new legal framework into place to ensure smooth transfers of power in the future. With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the National Democratic Institute has been working with the incoming Cabo Verdean government to strengthen their capacity. 

A view of Cabo Verde. [State Department photo]

As part of this effort, the government of Cabo Verde and the National Democratic Institute agreed to co-host a regional conference to share their experiences during the transition. This conference, pegged the West Africa Regional Conference on Democratic Transfers of Executive Power, convened last month bringing together a delegation of political leaders, senior staff members, and legal experts from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal. The conference, which was timely given the number of elections occurring across the region, provided a platform for countries to share good practices and lessons learned from political transitions in the region.

The first day of conference panels focused on regional and international policies regarding legal and regulatory frameworks governing democratic transfers of executive power. The second day focused on developing standards for managing the transition process and the first 100 days in office. The final conclusions from these discussions will be compiled into a conference declaration, and representatives will determine how to present their findings to their home governments.

Regional leaders meet at the West Africa Regional Conference on Democratic Transfers of Executive Power. [State Department photo]

During the conference electoral disputes and the lack of reliable information were both cited as cause for tension amongst political parties and civil society supporters, contributing to the inability for transitions to occur smoothly and peacefully.  All participating countries noted the need to either include or strengthen legislation regarding transitional frameworks and processes in their constitutions, as roles and responsibilities for both incoming and outgoing administrations are not defined.  Additionally, the inability of outgoing administrations to leave office with dignity and resume some element of normalcy in their lives was cited as another reason many leaders hold on to power despite engaging democratic electoral processes.  Providing roles and stability for leaders who are stepping down was another element participants raised when discussing constitutional amendments regarding transitions. Keynote speeches by former interim Heads of State Amos Sawyer of Liberia and Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic offered pointed insights about the importance of strengthening democracy across sub-Saharan Africa and how good governance can build credibility and legitimacy in fragile environments.

Regional leaders pose for a photo at the West Africa Regional Conference on Democratic Transfers of Executive Power, hosted by the National Democratic Institute and the Government of Cabo Verde. [National Democratic Institute photo]

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor was pleased to support National Democratic Institute’s efforts to provide a regional platform for national leaders to talk about their experiences with executive transitions and effective governance in Africa. We believe this model of engagement could be continued in sub-Saharan Africa and replicated in other regions around the world.  With stable, democratic countries such as Cabo Verde facilitating the conversation, this model could be a foundation for other countries in the region to strengthen their own democratic institutions.

About the Author: Allison Beaufort is a Program Specialist in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State. 

For more information: 

Electoral officials use mobile phones and a lantern to sort out ballot papers at the end of voting in a polling station in Accra, Ghana. [AP Photo]
December 22, 2016

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