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Mandela Washington Fellow: Striving for a more perfect democracy
December 19, 2016

Mandela Fellows from Mali (left) and Senegal display their countries flags while waiting for the Town Hall to begin at the Washington Mandela Fellowship Presidential Summit, August 3, 2016.
Mandela Fellows from Mali (left) and Senegal display their countries flags while waiting for the Town Hall to begin at the Washington Mandela Fellowship Presidential Summit, August 3, 2016. (State Dept./Tim Brown)

Democracy is fragile. Individuals can easily take advantage of the power entrusted to them by the citizenry. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2015 report, democracy faces more threats now than in the last 25 years. As a steward of justice, it is your duty to identify these threats to democracy and develop solutions that promote freedom and equity.

One Mandela Washington Fellow spent time in the United States identifying these threats and formulating recommendations to solve the problems that plague democracies across Africa.*

The five issues identified as contributing to the dismantling of democracy were tribalism, the harassment of opposition parties, youth violence, limitations on freedom of speech and flawed constitutions.


Tribal speech is often used to divide a population. Nations are composed of many groups of people who identify according to their tribe, race or religion. The strong feeling of loyalty to one tribe or group instead of the nation as a whole prevents productivity. Closed-mindedness to those not of one’s tribe or group does not promote the ideals of a democracy.

Opposing Parties

Political parties do not uphold the values of democracy when they either encourage or fail to condemn hate and tribal speech. Members of opposing parties should respect each other and their right to hold different visions of good governance. The losing parties must learn to accept defeat for the purpose of maintaining stability and peace. The political elite set an example for the rest of the country.

Youth Violence

The violent tendencies exhibited by disillusioned youth do not bring about positive change. Aggression will not solve the economic and social strife felt by young Africans; instead, the government should work with the population to develop a program of youth empowerment. The government must address the social, economic and political woes facing the population, especially the youth. Improving these conditions will deter youth violence and bring greater stability to a country.

Freedom of Speech

For a democracy to survive, a country’s constitution must protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Without the media checking the government, the political elite can abuse their power at the expense of the population. Free electronic, print, and social media create an environment for constructive political competition.

A Constitution That Protects All

A constitution should withstand the tests of time and hold both the leaders and the populace accountable for their actions. The constitution should outline the powers bestowed upon each branch of government, basic human rights, protected freedoms including the freedom of speech, and free and fair elections.

Checks and balances should be put in place to ensure the executive office does not amass enough power to elevate itself. The media and branches of government should have the capacity to hold the executive branch accountable for its actions.

International law outlines the basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights each person deserves. A country’s constitution should promote these same values to ensure each of its citizens enjoys his or her most basic human rights.

Today, democracy faces its biggest threats. In this dire time, it is the population’s duty to protect democratic values. Now is the moment to invest in peace and stability for a better tomorrow.

*This Fellow’s identity has been concealed for their safety.