On 12 and 13 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new strategy to strengthen democracy across a growing global network at a conference marking 25 years of WFD activity.
The strategy commits the Foundation, sponsored by the UK Government, to expand the remit of its programmes – working across a wider range of institutions, processes, and themes – to help reform-minded actors and institutions in developing countries to transform their own democratic practices.
Democracy UK: Global Values in an Uncertain World
WFD was founded in 1992 in a period of optimism about the prospects for democracy in the post-Soviet world. Twenty-five years later, the challenges to democratic values have evolved and, on the 25th anniversary of WFD, the conference focused on what lessons the world is learning about sustaining democratic change when democratic freedoms are being squeezed.
Almost 200 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas took part in the event, held in the Foreign Office and in Parliament in London, which was opened by a video message from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and keynote speeches by:
- Mark Field, Minister of State – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Liz McInnes, Shadow Minister – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
- Hanna Hopko, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Parliament of Ukraine
Panel discussions chaired by Baroness D’Souza, Dame Margaret Hodge and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heard interventions from Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chair of Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Dr Bronwen Manby (London School of Economics), Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement), Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Hakim Benchamach, Speaker of the House of Councillors of Morocco, Nikola Dimitrov, Foreign Minister of Macedonia and Alina Rocha Menocal (Overseas Development Institute).
The results of two days of engagement on the themes of democracy and development include:
- The launch of a new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 which will guide the development of WFD and expand our range of work to cover electoral assistance and enhanced partnership work with civil society (building on parliamentary and political party support).
- The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which will help strengthen electoral processes in Africa.
- Renewed partnerships with long-standing and new partners including the UK Government (FCO and DFID), the UK parliaments, the Parliaments of Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, the Government of Macedonia, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), BBC Media Action and others.
WFD’s New Strategic Framework 2017-2022
WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – will remain a central part of the Foundation’s mission. Following nearly three years of expansion, WFD is now delivering parliamentary programmes in over thirty countries across Africa, Europe, MENA, Asia, and Latin America, and political party programmes in dozens more.
Recognising parliaments and political parties are only part of the picture and institutional strengthening is criticalbut rarely sufficient to transform political systems. Lasting change requires a wide range of actors to overcome significant obstacles – political, institutional, technical, logistical, and financial – to achieve their goals.
As part of WFD’s new strategy, the Foundation intends to engage more directly with civil society and electoral and other independent institutions. WFD will help them strengthen their skills and partner with other institutions to achieve greater transparency and accountability, more credible and inclusive elections, improved policy making, citizen participation and empowerment, more inclusive representation.
In a side event during the conference, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme. The new partnership established a formal commitment to collaborate through information-sharing and development of key projects concerning Africa.
Recognising elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and trust, WFD and EISA agree there are still many challenges to overcome. The partnership will look at:
- Providing immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions;
- Developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process,
- Building the ability to conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability.
(Photo: Chair of the WFD Board of Governors, Sir Henry Bellingham, Chief Executive, Anthony Smith and Executive Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Denis Kadima sign the Memorandum of Understanding.)
The Future of Democracy Support
With over 40 democracy assistance and development organisations in attendance, the second day of conference discussed the future of democracy support and provided feedback on the new WFD strategy.
Organised around six different themes (accountability and transparency, youth participation and leadership, security and stability, women’s political empowerment, political parties and elections), a ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ invited experts to highlight key challenges and ideas within these themes and the impact on broader democracy assistance.
Presentations were given on:
- Political Parties – by Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking on behalf of all UK political parties working with WFD.
- Security and Stability – by Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) and Chair of the European Partnership for Democracy Board.
- Women’s Political Empowerment – by Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women
- Youth Participation and Leadership – by Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
- Accountability and Transparency – by James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
- Elections – by Denis Kadima, Executive Director of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)
From promoting a ‘universal’ notion of democracy, to integrating IT professionals into electoral support, the complete list of challenges, actions and ideas will inform the implementation of WFD’s Strategic Framework and provide a starting point for increased strengthening of effective, multi-party democracy around the world.