For Immediate Release

Office of Press Relations

Statement by Administrator Samantha Power

On International Day of Democracy, we recognize a fundamental truth: development and democracy are integrally linked. Compared to authoritarian societies, democratic societies experience lower rates of conflict, higher economic growth, stronger environmental protections, and longer life expectancies – underscoring why making democratic progress is essential to all of our work at USAID. 

That’s why, USAID has been a leader for decades in supporting the citizens, civil society groups, and independent media working to create or sustain democratic openings in their countries. For instance, after widespread protests surrounding the deeply flawed May 2019 general elections in Malawi, USAID helped Malawi prepare for a historic court-mandated presidential rerun in 2020 – training poll workers, helping the Election Commission implement COVID mitigation measures to allow voters safely cast their ballots, and supporting a local observer coalition that fielded 6,000 poll watchers to observe the voting and the tallying process. The rerun was ultimately deemed “peaceful and transparent” by the Malawi Human Rights Commission, and the victory of opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera marked the first time in African history that an incumbent leader was defeated after a court-overturned vote – an occasion Chakwera called “a win for Malawians… a win for democracy… a win for justice.”

At the same time, we know that democratic openings can be fleeting. High debt burdens, corrupt systems, and the actions of those who fear more transparency and citizen agency can keep the benefits of democratic reforms from reaching communities quickly enough for them to recognize that democracy can deliver. So, as we build on our decades of leadership in advancing democratic progress, we are also focusing on an essential insight, that for democratic openings to endure, newly-elected leaders need support in showing tangible results for their people – drawing in investment, boosting economic growth, and improving basic services such as water, sanitation, and health care.  

That’s why USAID is mobilizing resources and engagement in countries that are showing promising signs of democratic reform. In the Dominican Republic, we are starting a program to help women entrepreneurs in the south access microloans that can help launch or strengthen their businesses – a key promise of the country’s government. These women small business owners often cannot build up credit histories or access the collateral needed to qualify for traditional loans – and when they do qualify, they face unreasonably high interest rates. USAID is engaging with the nation’s largest bank, BanReservas, about how we can support lending to this segment of the population. Programs like this help show citizens that governments understand the challenges they face and can find solutions that improve citizens’ lives.

Our newly established Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Governance will help us build on these efforts. But ultimately, our mission to advance democratic progress extends across the Agency – because only by working to advance democratic development, defend civil liberties, and protect human rights can empower citizens to build freer, fairer, more prosperous societies.

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