A-A Barsa’s Remarks for Democracy Day Event

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Hello everyone. It’s an honor to be here with you all today.

Today, on International Day of Democracy, we celebrate all that USAID has accomplished in the realm of democracy and governance. And we look ahead to the opportunities and challenges that the future holds.

Your accomplishments are too many to name, but through the successful “Democracy Is” campaign, we highlighted some of the inspiring work that our agency does to promote democratic ideals around the world. You’ll be hearing from our democracy champions later in this event, and I’m proud of the Democracy Is campaign for telling the story of our work in such a compelling way.

While we celebrate the success of Democracy Is, I also want to highlight some of the good things that are coming in our work. In particular, I’m happy to announce three new programs in the area of democracy and rights.

The first of these is the $36 million Sudan elections program. The program, which will run through the end of 2023, ensures that the people of Sudan can participate in free and fair elections. We will be laying the groundwork for transparent and inclusive electoral processes that reflect the will of an informed and active citizenry. Sudan is in a period of transition, and our engagement there will help make sure that the country’s future is a democratic one.

Second is the Greater Internet Freedom program – or GIF. GIF will support the digital security of civil-society and media organizations, encourage citizen engagement in internet governance, and promote the recognition of human rights online. GIF is a three-year, $15.5 million activity that will operate in 40 to 60 countries around the world.

Finally, in support of the $20 million religious freedom directive and the Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, the DRG Center is shifting to prioritize efforts that are promoting and protecting religious freedom. I commend the DRG team for pivoting to a focus on such important work.

We know this work is essential, but I want to take a moment to step back and talk about why that is.

Democracy is the basis of our other freedoms. It creates accountability in elected leaders, and that accountability helps to ensure those leaders guarantee and protect basic rights. On the other hand, when dictators are in charge, we know that freedoms of speech, religion, and the press are often the first casualties.

I understand this dynamic well. My mother fled the authoritarianism of the Castro regime in Cuba, and she never let me forget the importance of democracy and its relationship to the core rights we cherish as Americans.

What we at USAID do to protect democracy improves lives, but it also serves as a foundation for all our other work and our mission to ensure U.S. national security. Societies that defend human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law are more stable and more equipped to respond to the needs of their people.

They make for better partners in development because they know they must deliver on promises made. When a crisis like the global COVID-19 pandemic hits, democratic leaders are best equipped to respond transparently and effectively. Taking all of this together, democracies are better allies and better trading partners. When democracy is strong, the world is a healthier, safer place.

All of this good that you do to promote security for our country and democracy in the developing world is now facing a daunting range of threats. In the context of the destabilizing global pandemic, extremist violence, corruption, and authoritarianism continue to threaten democracy. We have already seen emergency powers invoked to curtail essential rights, and we know that anti-democratic forces will continue to use instability as an excuse to abuse their power.

I hope that all of you at USAID who work to promote and defend democracy around the world treat these threats as a motivation. We do not back down from a challenge. This agency needs your knowledge and dedication and so do our partners around the world.

I have heard it said that rational people do not expect to change the world. Of course, the flipside of this mindset is that the world is not changed by rational people. You can alter the course of history with your work. This isn’t just a job. It’s a calling.

We are here to celebrate those of you who have answered that call and to look with optimism and renewed vigor toward the work you will do in the future. I thank you all for your commitment to the cause of democracy and for the work you do each and every day.

Last updated: September 25, 2020

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