Dr. Chris Fomunyoh Visits DU to Discuss Democracy and Development in Africa
December 10, 2009

On December 5th Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs, addressed an assembly at the University of Denver, where he spoke on freedom, democracy and development in African countries. Dr. Fomunyoh outlined the state of the continent, noting some successes while acknowledging the significant struggles that remain. Dr. Fomunyoh took the assembly back to the post-colonial period, a time when he admitted thinking that the issues of democracy would be sorted out in a few years, and "we could move on to something else." He said "I'm sad to report, that has not been the case."

He identified the major challenges to democracy in Africa as threefold: poverty, the 'oil curse', and poor management of resources both natural and human. A native of Cameroon, Dr. Fomunyoh noted the rich oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea countries too often have enriched the political elite rather than benefitting those countries as a whole.

Poverty and unemployment were discussed as agents of disenfranchisement that distance people from the democratic process. Without a stake in the process one will not feel a responsibility to protect democracy. According to Dr. Fomunyoh, of Cameroon's 18 million citizens, registered voters have never numbered more than 4 million. And the number who actually vote is lower. "This", he said, "is cause for concern."

Despite these challenges, Dr. Fomunyoh sees the demand for democracy growing in Africa. He referred to a study that found 72% of Africans favor democracy, up from 62% in 1999. In many countries multipartyism and pluralism have replaced single party rule, and in Cameroon the youth have no recollection of one party rule. "Demographics favor the youth," he said.

Fomunyoh also cited a Freedom House report that categorized 11 African countries as fully free and an additional 19 as partly free, totaling 30 countries with some level of freedom. Still, Fomunyoh said "African leaders must do better".

"Sometimes we engage in negative comparisons. 'I'm not as bad as my neighbor.'" Fomunyoh says African countries should aspire to emulate countries that have found better ways to mobilize resources for the good of their people and have developed institutions that constitute the national consensus. "There is no reason Equatorial Guinea cannot become Kuwait", he said. "Why can't Cameroon be Switzerland?"

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