This blog is part of a new interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.
Recently, we chatted with Jeff Borns, Mission Director of USAID South Africa to learn more about our democracy-building initiatives in the region and how they impact governance at local levels.
Can you tell us more about what is needed to build up a democracy? Is it just about voting?
What happens on election day is just one piece of democracy. The voting process must take place in an environment that respects the rule of law and has strong institutions like parliaments and independent judiciaries. This is not only necessary to a democratic government, but also necessary to development. And when you have the assurance that comes with these elements of good governance, it is easier for companies to invest and for economies to take off.
What is USAID doing to support democracy-building in Southern Africa? Can you give us an example?
USAID supports regional democracy-building and governance efforts by encouraging improvements to regional election management. This includes providing technical assistance and training to electoral management bodies in the region, as well as providing training and support to election professionals. These election professionals often toil in the shadows, and are rarely given development opportunities or the time and place to build professional networks. Through a five-year grant to the University of South Africa (UNISA), in partnership with the the South Africa Independent Electoral Commission, USAID is training and connecting election professionals with one another and helping them improve their technical skills to support free, fair and open elections around Africa. UNISA is the largest distance-learning university in Africa–a third of all higher education students in South Africa are enrolled there. With this grant, USAID and UNISA hope to support the training and connecting of over 375 elections professionals from across Africa.
What does this mean, in practical terms?
By teaching new skills, and by creating a web of dedicated, trained professionals, USAID is supporting a connected cadre of election experts.
Midway through the grant, results are already streaming in. It’s very exciting! Elections management officials are now clamoring to send their technical staff to the training, and UNISA has observed significant changes in the professionalization of elections bodies in participating countries. This year USAID will support two trainings of 75 officials at UNISA’s campus in Pretoria, South Africa. The selected elections professionals spent three weeks in classroom learning followed by a week of fieldwork at the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa.
The intangible benefits of the program are huge, and we anticipate that this trend of fantastic results will continue. USAID is providing the building blocks to a grassroots network of highly qualified, highly motivated election professionals – which will be tremendously beneficial to the region and population as a whole.
Learn more about our work in Southern Africa.