As nations face multiple, intersecting challenges from threats to democracy to public health education to climate change, how government responds to these challenges matters. On March 15, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative hosted H.E. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, for a discussion on the intersection of leadership, youth, and good governance in times of crisis. Helene Cooper, New York Times correspondent and author of “Madame President,” moderated the discussion. After the program, the panelists took audience questions.
Threats to good governance have been on the rise, as third termism has spread and the rule of law has deteriorated in Africa, and as the January 6 insurrection revealed the fragility of American democracy. Despite these signs of democratic backsliding, though, a plurality of Americans and Africans still agree on the importance of good governance and democratic principles. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity of good governance and collective action for protecting and improving the livelihoods of all citizens.
Importantly, Africa’s growing youth population is coming of age in this time of unprecedented opportunities and strained institutions, and they are eager to serve their communities to better the livelihoods of their fellow citizens. Given the daunting tasks facing leaders today—perhaps most acutely, the equitable and efficient distribution of vaccines—good governance, strong institutions, and investment in leadership are more important than ever. Thus, one pathway for passionate young people, in both Africa and the United States, is public service, as an effective and dedicated civil service protects the economic and human rights of all citizens.
The pandemic and recent tumultuous events have elevated conversations around public leadership and responsibility, the role of civil society, institutional decline, and the future of good governance in both Africa and the United States. In times of crisis, how can we preserve gains in good governance and democracy? How do we strengthen institutions? What is the role of youth? How can we ensure inclusive leadership opportunities, especially for women? How can we best equip them to be leaders during the COVID-19 crisis and in the future? How can we encourage international cooperation and support around these shared challenges?