Party focus: Africa Liberal Network

Luke Akal is the programme coordinator for the Africa Liberal Network (ALN), a pan-African organisation that is a long-standing project of the UK’s Liberal Democrat party. We spoke to Luke, who’s based in Cape Town, about the ALN’s history, achievements, mission and future.

How did the ALN develop?

In June 2003 a group of liberal parties met up in Johannesburg under the African Liberal Network umbrella for the first time. In that meeting they adopted what we now call the Johannesburg Declaration, a framework developed around liberal democracy and what we would expect of like-minded liberals in Africa. This accord is now a criterion for any new applicant that wishes to partner with ALN. So when they sign up to the declaration, they are fully aware of what we stand for. It keeps everyone on the same page.

How many parties/partners does ALN have?

We’ve now grown to 44 members from 30 different countries. 32% of our members are in government, 30% in opposition, and the remainder are embryonic. These parties cover the entire continent, with each region (Northern, Southern, Western, Eastern and Central) having its own regional Vice President.

What are some of your biggest landmarks? 

I think probably one of the biggest landmarks we’ve achieved – the Marrakesh declaration – took place just before I took over as programme coordinator. Our annual General Assembly, held in Morocco, established what is essentially a human rights framework. In my opinion what makes this so revolutionary is that it included clauses that recognized sexual orientation. When people think of Africa and some of its conservative or socialist-leaning politics, they might assume that homosexuality and LGBTI rights are a big ‘no-no’ and taboo topic. But in Morocco we got all the African liberals, many of whom are in government or in the opposition, signing up to a declaration that is truly liberal and commits our members to equal rights for all.

What’s your relationship with WFD?

“It’s not just a matter of WFD providing us with money. Rather, our relationship is all about checks and balances. We provide WFD with quarterly reports and structure our budgets based exactly on the projects and sub-projects that need to be rolled out. Plus there’s always a requirement for tangible evidence of how we are developing democracy or at least attempting at developing democracy through capacitating our member parties. It’s not just a matter of dishing out money but rather giving sister parties the tools, resources and imparting the knowledge that they need to actually do the job and apply those principles in their own countries based only to their own needs.

What’s the more day-to-day work like? 

The general day-to-day work involves, right now, mostly the arranging and coordination of the upcoming General Assembly in Johannesburg. This entails liaising with our delegates and their parties, assisting with visas and other administrative task. I also work closely with our Executive Committee to ensure that all processes follow the ALN Constitution. As the coordinator, I function as a link between our partners, such as the Liberal Democrats and the Friederich Naumann Foundation (FNF), whenever we arrange trainings or workshops with them.

Our work with African liberal parties involves election planning, political communication, branding, canvassing and working on the ground-up elements. In Botswana, for example, this was quite revolutionary in the sense that the liberal opposition now pose a serious challenge to the ruling party. This is a first for Botswana and was in large part because of the work the ALN did with our parties and partners. I think that, along with election observation, are probably two of our most significant democracy-developing projects.”

Is your liberal approach in Africa a reflection of British foreign policy?

No, because our partners including the Lib Dems are like-minded in the sense that we all follow liberal principles. So it’s the liberal philosophy that we have that binds us together.

The Lib Dems and FNF are partners of the ALN. However, the ALN has its own constitution which governs everything that we do. There are checks and balances which we follow, so no single partner can drive their own agenda for whatever motivations they may have. And I also feel that there’s a buffer between the parties and their partners with ALN, as there’s the Secretariat and coordinator all under one roof making sure that we are following the rules and regulations through the lens of our liberal underpinnings.

How have you sought to challenge Africans’ traditionally-minded outlook? 

The mentality that Africa and African politics is almost entirely conservative or just socialist leaning is a bit of a misperception. But at the same time I think that it creates a unique space for African liberals because now we have the opportunity to show something new and raise the standard. We’ve also seen that conservative and socialist policies have failed in Africa and I think that a lot of Africans have now realised this. They now understand that liberals have a unique offering that can grow the continent and help it achieve its potential. We see this where our member parties govern successfully, such as Rally of the Republicans in Ivory Coast where Alassane Ouattara is President, as well as in South Africa where the Democratic Alliance governs the Western Cape and other municipalities. The ALN provides a platform for those Africans to rally together and support one another through various workshops and general conferences.

And what’s next for ALN?

Coming off the bat of the election observation, the General Assembly is next back in Johannesburg for the first time since 2003. We’ve got a very ambitious and exciting conference following the theme of Winning Elections: Strategies, Policies, and Solutions for Success. In that we are also going to cover election cycles, best practice in election cycles, and success stories from our member parties from other parts of the continent. Along with that is the establishment of a youth wing which will function as an advisory council. Finally, there’s our campaign and organisational development unit, which is going to look to working with another member party from another part of Africa. Given our success in Botswana it’s time to look elsewhere in another country that’s having elections relatively soon, and capacitate them as much as possible.

Luke Akal was speaking to Oba Waiyaki

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