By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive
This year saw WFD turn 25 (we were established in 1992). As 2017 draws to a close, I would like to recall some of our best results and lessons learnt over the last 12 months.
January: making politics affordable in developing countries
We presented findings and recommendations from WFD research into the cost of politics in Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Senegal and Ukraine.
Recommendations on how to reduce the cost of becoming a legislator and being a political representative were given to members of parliament, electoral commission and parliamentary officials gathered in Abuja.
We are now working on a follow-up paper on the cost of politics in Ghana, in partnership with the Center for Democratic Development (CDD) with support from DFID. This will look at solutions that could be tested in the Ghanaian context and will be published in January.
February: peace in Colombia
We shared lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with Colombian legislators and civil society to help inform reconciliation efforts following the peace deal between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
The parties of Northern Ireland, along with representatives of the Church, women’s organisations, and the British government presented their experiences to Colombian counterparts in a series of meetings and workshops organised by WFD’s Multi-Party office.
The experience of Northern Ireland and the role parties and parliaments can play in addressing conflict remain highly relevant for WFD going forward, especially with reference to countries such as Myanmar and Venezuela.
March: the role of civil society in East Africa
We convened a conference in Kenya with civil society, parliamentary and governmental organisations to respond to growing threats against the role of civil society in several East African countries, where governments have taken actions to restrict and limit the autonomy and influence of non-governmental organisations.
As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), participating organisations agreed to coordinate national responses and take action at regional level, in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), to support civil society.
April: tackling corruption in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
We unveiled the first anti-corruption strategy in the Kurdistan region of Iraq after facilitating engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.
Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions.
Our future work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will depend on political progress following the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. We continue to monitor developments very closely but we believe that the training we delivered to beneficiaries and the relationships we built can have a lasting and positive impact.
May: building citizens’ trust through open government
In May, WFD co-sponsored the Global Legislative Openness Conference, which is part of the Open Government Partnership. The conference took place in the Ukrainian Rada and was opened by the Lord Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee.
Open and transparent parliaments can contribute immensely to effective democratic governance. WFD supports partner parliaments to become more transparent and build the confidence of their constituents. At the conference, WFD presented the achievements of the Western Balkans Network of Parliamentary Committees, as well as recent work on civil society participation in the budget process in Georgia.
June: protecting women and girls in Arab Countries
Between April and August, Jordan and Lebanon repealed legislation that protected rapists by allowing them to marry their victims and escape prison. Tunisia also passed landmark legislation to promote gender equality. These landmark advances were the subject of long campaigns by WFD’s partner, the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women, which is supporting parliamentary initiatives in 13 Arab countries.
In June, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition, reported on the process to draft a Convention to Combat Violence Against Women, which earlier this year was formally submitted to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.
Alongside the Coalition, WFD supports a number of regional networks where effective South-South cooperation takes place. These include networks of activists and political parties such as Tha’era, Women’s Academy for Africa and CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans (all supported by the Labour Party International Democracy Programme funded by WFD) and Rae’dat, which is being supported by the SNP’s WFD-funded programme.
July: giving young people a say in how Nigeria is run
In July, the Senate of Nigeria adopted legislation to lower the minimum age for candidates to certain political offices – an important step on the long road toward constitutional reform. This milestone took place as WFD launched its programme to increase political participation and representation of young people in the country.
WFD Nigeria’s Youth Empowerment Programme focuses on cementing consensus around constitutional reform (the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign is run by our local partner YIAGA), supporting Nigerian political parties in creating effective youth wings, and enabling civil society to engage more young people in the democratic process.
The ultimate goal of this programme is best summarised by the words of Kate Osamor MP, chair of the UK House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria. At the launch in Abuja she said: “Nigeria’s success as a prosperous and progressive country depends on enabling young people to get involved in the political system, shaping the agenda and taking decisions about the future of their country. That is what the WFD programme will focus on.”
August: giving a voice to persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone
On 7 March 2018, Sierra Leone will go to the polls to elect the President, Parliament and local councils. This August, working in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), we launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process.
The agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed.
As this historic election approaches, our work continues to ensure minorities and vulnerable groups are involved in the campaign by competing parties. Following the election, our work will continue in parliament.
September: a new strategy for WFD, a new partnership for elections
In September, WFD launched a new strategic framework for the next five years during a two-day conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Houses of Parliament which reviewed the UK’s role in promoting democratic values globally and marked 25 years since WFD’s establishment.
WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – remains central to our mission (we are now delivering parliamentary programmes in over 30 countries worldwide).
In addition, WFD will partner with other institutions with different skills, methodologies, and approaches, working together to find ways our programmes can complement one another and address the challenges of strengthening democracy from different angles.
As a leading member of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), we remain committed to working closely with this network of democracy-support organisations and other European institutions. We will also expand our partnership with institutions from the Commonwealth and around the world, in particular from the global South.
We were therefore delighted to use our 25th anniversary conference to sign a new partnership for electoral assistance in Africa with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
October to December
In the last three months of 2017, we have:
- Launched a policy paper on how parliaments can help protect democracy by rejecting laws that limit the autonomy and influence of civil society as part of our research partnership with International Development Department at the University of Birmingham.
- Shared lessons learned on the application of adaptive monitoring and evaluation in our democracy assistance programmes with the American Political Science Association, the American Evaluation Association and the Thinking and Working Politically community of practice.
- Hosted an expert seminar on policy development and gender equality in the Scottish Parliament opened by Deputy Presiding Officer Christine Grahame. This will inform the development of a toolkit to assess legislative impact on gender equality.
- Launched a Regional Road Map on Good Governance for the Western Balkans to support democratic institutions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia become more transparent and accountable.
- Secured the endorsement of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference for updated Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures, as a tool to ensure their contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 16 (on inclusive and accountable governance).
What’s next for WFD?
In 2018, WFD will begin to implement our new strategy. This will coincide with the negotiations on a new partnership with the EU which, as the PM’s Art.50 letter said, will include our shared democratic values. I have attended half a dozen discussions in the past few months about the future of Britain’s role in the world. My clear conclusion is that Britain’s democratic culture will be a critical asset not just in setting a clear direction for the future of our country but also in securing our global relationships. This is borne out in the daily interactions that I and the rest of the WFD team have with our partners in Britain and around the world.
A review of 2017 cannot end without heartfelt thanks to all of you who support our work. I wish you all a very peaceful and restful Christmas break and a Happy New Year.