This year, the second Summit for Democracy is being co-hosted by the United States, the Netherlands, South Korea, Costa Rica, and Zambia from March 29-30. The Biden Administration has made strengthening global democracy a top priority, placing particular emphasis on the importance of democratic governments being accountable and delivering tangible results for their citizens. Countries around the world are working towards this target by strengthening institutions, committing to fight corruption, and advocating for democratic principles.
Since the first Summit for Democracy in 2021, the world has been significantly impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After the invasion, stories of resistance to tyranny and of ordinary people standing up for freedom made headlines, including the courage of the Ukrainian people, the white paper protests in China, and the protests in Iran against the mandatory hijab. Countries around the world are making tangible progress in strengthening their democracies, including the Dominican Republic and Malawi.
Development in Democracy in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has seen steady progress toward becoming a stable, multi-party constitutional democracy in the Caribbean region. In 2020, the Dominican Republic elected its current president, Luis Abinader and successfully conducted a peaceful transfer of power. Since taking office, President Abinader has focused on fighting corruption, which has been an institutional challenge in the country. Last year, the Dominican Republic’s legislature enacted the Civil Assets Forfeiture Bill, which allows the government to seize illicit funds—legislation that has the potential to strengthen the rule of law and allow the state to collect more revenue. The Dominican Republic has also taken on a leadership role regionally, including in 2021 with the establishment of the Alliance for the Development in Democracy with Costa Rica and Panama, which seeks to promote democratic values, regional cooperation, and inclusive growth. This partnership has already proven to be productive, as it has formed positive relationships with the United States and Canada and has added an additional member, Ecuador.
The United States has partnered with the Dominican Republic to pursue development opportunities. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the United States is working to bolster the Dominican Republic’s justice system by providing training and technical assistance to the Attorney General’s Office and the court system. Improving the effectiveness of institutions is an important component to delivering more effective democratic governance. USAID is investing in the Dominican Republic’s capacity to facilitate trade to address multiple challenges that touch democracy around corruption, economic growth, and market expansion through the innovative new fund, Enterprises for Development, Growth, and Empowerment (EDGE), launched by USAID Administrator Power at the 2023 World Economic Forum.
Making Progress in Malawi
In 2020, Lazarus Chakwera was elected the President of Malawi after the initial election was annulled by the country’s Supreme Court, marking the first occasion in which an opposition candidate won a re-run election on the African continent. Malawi attended the first Summit for Democracy, where it made a wide range of commitments, including strengthening the Office of the Ombudsman and the judiciary, improving enforcement of the Access to Information Act, and advocating for democratic principles through the Southern African Development Community.
The United States government is committed to Malawi, which has been a longstanding partner country of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), including as a MCC Threshold Program and a Compact Program designed to reduce poverty through economic growth. MCC has strict standards on economic freedom and governance that countries must meet to qualify for participation. While progress toward fulfilling these commitments is ongoing, data compiled by MCC’s scorecard for FY23 rated Malawi favorably on criteria like political rights, control of corruption, and rule of law. In 2022, the U.S. and Malawi signed a Transport and Land Compact, which will provide $350 million to support improved infrastructure and land usage. This agreement will improve democracy by demonstrating tangible improvements that representative government can make in the livelihoods of their citizens.
Democracy: What’s it Worth?
Bolstering global democracy is strategic, as it aligns with U.S. interests, including supporting global economic growth and countering authoritarian and kleptocratic regimes. A study by MIT economists showed, “countries switching to democratic rule experience a 20 percent increase in GDP over a 25-year period, compared to what would have happened had they remained authoritarian states.” Helping democracies succeed is also one of the most effective methods for countering the spread of autocratic and repressive systems promoted by U.S. competitors.
In an increasingly complex geopolitical environment, it is critical for the United States to cultivate relationships with democratic partners, especially ones that have the potential to influence the trajectory of their region in a positive manner and issues that will shape the direction of the twenty-first century: food security, climate change and energy, and technology and digital standards. Increasing diplomatic engagement with emerging democracies benefits citizens in those countries and in the United States, as it provides a platform to exchange strategies and best practices for confronting shared challenges.
Democracy possesses the capacity to be a more accountable and responsive form of government, but it must also demonstrate the ability to be effective. The second Summit for Democracy provides an opportunity for the United States to spotlight the efforts of countries around the world that are bolstering their democratic institutions and processes in difficult circumstances. At the first Summit for Democracy, the USAID established the Advancing Digital Democracy Initiative, which seeks to leverage technology to promote democratic rights by assisting governments in establishing legal and regulatory frameworks, and at the Summit this year, the United States is chairing the Freedom Online Coalition.
Although the world is in its 17th consecutive year of declining freedom, Freedom House reports that the world may be entering a period of “democratic renewal.” While democratic backsliding is a concerning trend, there are also signs it could be turning around. In 2022, only 35 countries experienced a decline compared to 60 in 2021, and 73 in 2020. At this critical juncture, the Summit for Democracy is a catalyst for increased support to spread the progress that has taken place in the Dominican Republic and Malawi.