US democracy funds unlikely to meet Africa's election needs in 2014

    A voter during Mozambique’s 2009 election. The U.S. government has little budget to fund Africas election needs this year. Photo by: Commonwealth Secretariat / CC BY-NC

    Africa wants American election observers in 2014, but the U.S. government — despite prioritizing support for democratic elections — will struggle to foot the bill.

    Up to 14 African countries will hold general elections in 2014. While many of these nations have asked for support from the international community to ensure ballots are cast freely and fairly, U.S. assistance for democracy and governance programs in Africa will likely fall well short of what is needed, according to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

    “Let me be frank. I have very limited money in my democracy and governance budget,” Thomas-Greenfield said at an Africare event attended by a number of African ambassadors on Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.

    She added: “I have a small sliver of a slice of pie that allows me to do the thing that I consider the most important priority for me in the bureau.”

    Among the Bureau of African Affairs’ “five pillars” of policy toward the continent, the first is “support for democracy and the strengthening of democratic institutions on the continent, including free, fair, and transparent elections.”

    However, the ability of the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to execute that mission depends on the funding provided for democracy and governance programs, which struggle to garner the same kind of constituency — and budget appropriation — as individual initiatives like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or Power Africa, President Barack Obama’s initiative to increase access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

    “We have a lot of money in initiatives, and we can’t move that money around,” Thomas-Greenfield explained.

    To better understand countries' needs leading up to their elections, Thomas-Greenfield and Special Envoy Russell Feingold commissioned a “realistic” assessment of the budget that would be required to support elections this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which came up to $100 million.

    “I don't even have $100 million in my budget for elections,” the Department of State official said. “I wanted them to [put together a budget], because I want to know what it costs, and I want to be able to make the case.”

    Thomas-Greenfield urged attendees from the U.S. to write to their congressmen and press them to support funding for democracy and governance programs.

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    About the author

    • Michael Igoe

      Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.