Washington, DC – “Why can’t Bill Clinton just stay in office since the election results are so close?” asks Comfort, one of USAID’s local staff in Kampala, Uganda. It was December 12, 2000, and the world was transmitted by Bush v Gore. I explained that the United States would have a new president on January 20, 2001 at 12:00, as stipulated in the Constitution, adding that Americans have confidence in the election process and the discipline to wait until the Florida count is complete. .
Later that day, as I recounted the conversation to my colleague, I learned that the Supreme Court had just ruled that George W. Bush would become our 43rd.rd president. I did not see Comfort again explaining that the intervention of the Supreme Court was unique in American history, as nine unelected, designated judges determined a presidential election result for the 105.594.024 million Americans who voted in November.
I was in Kampala that December as the senior VSID official responsible for Africa for an international donors conference to determine a peaceful future for Burundi. The seven-year civil war finally ended with the Arusha Accords and a peace that was under the supervision of former Presidents Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela.
President Mandela was in Kampala for the same conference. I was happy to know Madiba, after meeting him and working together since he was only ten days out of jail. But knowing him well was irrelevant in a formal meeting when our governments had very different opinions on the way forward for Burundi. During a coffee break, we each recognized the legitimacy of our governments’ views; When we got together to return to the meeting, he gave me his wonderful bear hug and called me his girlfriend again.
Back in the Chamber, nothing made me proud to say, “On behalf of the United States of America,” before I began to express the American position. I have enjoyed representing a country that is widely admired for its institutions, commitment to the rule of law, strong support for transparent, democratic government and humanitarian generosity in global crises.
Two decades later, the United States has a very different reputation. In four years, President Trump has degraded our fundamental institutions, flaunted the rule of law, sharpened our civil dialogue, and shattered our international reputation as a respected democracy. As I watched the long-running count in the Biden-Trump election campaign, I thought back to Comfort and wondered what our conversation would be twenty years later.
I would start the conversation by noting that American democracy has been severely but not irreparably damaged by a president who denigrates the constitution and the basic norms of democracy and has made unfounded allegations of fraud aimed at the 2020 election to sabotage.
Strategically, the Democrats had to keep a perfect book for the textbook, so there was no credible way to the Supreme Court for a possible repeat of 2000.
Democrats used the institutions of our democracy. The country received a civic course on voter lists, the sanctity of the vote, the role of party observers, ways to protest and the safety valve of the story. There was also a lesson in federalism when Americans focused on state election administrators who run fifty different rules to count the votes.
Democrats mobilized a massive turnout and caused an unprecedented increase in young voters, suburban women and the critical minority political turnout, especially among black voters, especially black women.
Democrats have addressed the racial injustice and institutional racism exposed by George Floyd’s assassination. Massive protests and Black Lives Matter protests sparked enthusiasm. Biden spoke to the case and made history by choosing a black Indian American woman as his running mate.
Democrats have been vigilant in protecting a free and credible press, especially in countering Fox News, which has become an unofficial news outlet for President Trump.
Various aspects of the American experience are relevant to the election in Africa. Accurate voter registration roles, transparent counting procedures, observers’ representatives from all political parties and public announcements of votes are good practices that African citizens are now demanding.
The strong voice of civil society can also be a strong point of Africa, especially in elections that compete fiercely. And it is possible to organize an army of civilian voting workers to ensure a quick count in every election. Similarly, the increased enthusiasm and participation of young people who have fueled a Biden victory can be cultivated as a democratic dividend on the continent.
But at the end of the day, committing to democracy is a personal decision. It is based on values that are not enshrined in the constitution, but are embedded in the civic culture of a country: decency, honor, fairness, integrity, truth, inclusion.
For me, as a black woman, democracy today is rooted in my deep satisfaction to see that a black / Asian woman, a child of immigrants, is ready to make history. Kamala Harris illustrates the basic American values and proudly shows the progress we are making as a nation to finally recognize systemic racism.
The convenience would be related to: Black Lives Matter protests have engulfed Africa this past summer, and African women are still seeking gender equality and economic inclusion.
Finally, I want to share with joy my joy that I, as a black woman – mother, grandmother, democracy specialist, African – can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Vivian Lowery Derryck is founder and president Emerita of The Bridges Institute – Strengthening African Democracy through Global Partnerships. She was previously Assistant Administrator for Africa at the US Agency for International Development, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the US Department of State, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Negro Women, Vice President of the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs, and President of the African-American Institute.