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Can Washington Summit ‘Make Governance Work in Africa?’

FILE - Election workers count votes at a station that reported a high voter turnout in Kidal, Mali Sunday, July 28, 2013.
FILE - Election workers count votes at a station that reported a high voter turnout in Kidal, Mali Sunday, July 28, 2013.

Analysts say the United States must leverage its diplomatic clout to play a "moral guarantor" role at the upcoming U.S. Africa Leaders Summit while engaging Africa's youth to better defend democratic principles.

The summit this week marks the second such meeting where African leaders will be hosted in Washington by a U.S. president to boost cooperation and promote good governance among other priorities.

"The U.S. must invest into the civilian population so that in the instance where it is unable to intervene, at least the citizens are informed enough to make those in power accountable," Cynthia Chigwenya, the African Union's southern Africa youth ambassador for peace, told VOA on the sidelines of the summit.

Discussions ahead of the three-day summit set to begin Tuesday centered on peace, trade and youth as well as investments.

Chigwenya said that the continuous exclusion of young people in political discourse is forcing them to "find identity in extremists' groups" while noting its threats to democracy.

"We’re seeing an increasing number of young people participating in invented spaces – either through hashtags on social media or protests in various countries across the world," she said.

However, she added, there is "an increasing number of young people" taking part in youth-led initiatives at the grassroots level to counter threats posed by anti-democratic campaigners.

"Political parties or states need to reinvent themselves to be more appealing for young people to regain their trust and believe in democratic spaces like electoral processes and work on increasing the number of youth who participate in processes such as voting," Chigwenya said.

A 2021 Afrobarometer report indicated that 70% of Africans say they believe democracy is the ideal form of government, a sharp contrast to the recent rise in coups on the continent.

In 2022 alone, Burkina Faso has seen two military takeovers with Guinea Bissau surviving a failed coup attempt.

Last year, Africa witnessed a new record: six coups were recorded in Mali, Sudan, Guinea and Chad. In that same year, there were failed coup attempts in Sudan and Niger.

Odeh Friday, Accountability Lab country director for Nigeria, told VOA that the participation of young people in decision-making processes on the continent has been "appalling," noting the inability of politicians to deliver on their promises once they ascend to power.

"Politicians only use young people as political thugs and to engage in election campaigns... young people feel disappointed and want more," he said.

"The U.S. must begin to support movements that ensure that voices of young people are being heard in Africa. It must create that platform to ensure democracy thrives on the continent."

Friday cited the rise in coups in West Africa, a clampdown on dissents and the decline in democracy as fueling anger, thus providing fertile ground for insecurity.

"As African leaders meet in Washington, my hope is that they make governance work in Africa," he said. "This will also solve migration issues. They should not provide lip service on this fertile ground but take out key commitments to impact Africans."

For Dave Peterson, Africa director at the National Endowment for Democracy, although the summit is long overdue, this moment is ripe for Africa to demand the U.S. "steps up" to deepen cooperation.

"Africans do have power to say we cannot be taken for granted," he said. "Their position should be...if you want our support in the U.N., access to our resources or you want us to be part of the global conversation, then give us some reason to work with you.''