Jeffrey Smith is a Thorn in the Side of Africa’s Dinosaur Presidents (UN Dispatch – June 26)

My guest today Jeffrey Smith helps spotlight Africa’s “presidents for life.”  His organization, Vanguard Africa, is very new but they already have one success under their belt– assisting the peaceful transition of power from The Gambia’s longtime ruler. He now has his sites set on Africa’s second longest ruling leader, Paul Biya of Cameroon.

We kick off with a discussion of the situation in Cameroon and have great digressions about the Zimbabwe, some deficiencies of the NGO community in D.C. and, of course, the Gambia.

Jeff discusses how and why he came to focus on issues of democracy and human rights in Africa and how he found inspiration from the hero of an anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. If you want to learn how foreign NGOs can help local democracy activists topple longstanding “presidents for life” then have a listen to this Global Dispatches podcast episode.

Vanguard Africa Announces Additions to its Distinguished Advisory Council (June 19, 2017)

Vanguard Africa is pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Aref Ali Nayed and David Rice to our distinguished Advisory Council, which includes some of the world’s leading advocates for good governance, democracy and transformational leadership.

Dr. Aref Ali Nayed is a renowned scholar on Islamic theology and interfaith dialogue, as well as the founder and director of Kalam Research and Media (KLM). Dr. Nayed brings decades of unique experience as a diplomat, having represented the government of Libya as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and a wealth of experience in democracy building in highly complex environments. “I am honored to join the exemplary team of experts and committed activists at Vanguard Africa, an organization that has emerged as Africa’s premier pro-democracy organization in a very short period of time,” said Dr. Nayed. “I look forward to joining my colleagues to help create a loud and collective call for free and fair elections and ethical leadership in Africa.”

David Rice is a development economist who has written and taught extensively about economic development, governance, and public policy in Africa. His research has specifically focused on the critical role that the private sector must play in driving broader economic growth and social development across Africa. Most recently, he was the founding director of the Africapitalism Institute – which was supported by the Tony Elumelu Foundation – a pan-African think tank based in Nigeria, which he ran through the end of 2015. He is currently researching a book on the recent democratic renewal in the Gambia, a project in which he is collaborating with Vanguard Africa’s executive director, Jeffrey Smith. “Vanguard Africa is the type of organization that is needed at this crucial juncture in Africa’s democratic development. Having witnessed the profound impact made in the Gambia last year, I am convinced that this project has barely scratched its vast potential,” said Mr. Rice. “2017 will surely be an exciting and challenging year and I look forward to the positive impact that we can surely make together.”

Please join us at Vanguard Africa in welcoming the newest additions to our outstanding team. We could not be more proud or more enthusiastic to collaborate together in the coming year. We also encourage anyone who believes in our core mission to connect with us through our website or social media – both on Facebook and Twitter – and help our team continue to build the necessary support for fair elections and ethical leadership across the African continent.

Advocates for Good Governance in Africa (Huffington Post – June 15)

Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of Vanguard Africa, was one of the international observers closely monitoring the election in Gambia. Smith, who has been an advocate for human rights and democracy in Africa throughout his career, started Vanguard Africa “to shed a necessary spotlight on the need for free and fair processes and why they’re so important to democracy in the short and the long term, particularly in countries like the Gambia that don’t necessarily get the attention we think they deserve.”

Rise of African Dynasties a Sign of Dysfunction (Business Day – June 12)

Jeffrey Smith, executive director of nonprofit organisation Vanguard Africa, says the centralization of power within dynasties has a profoundly negative effect on the state of democracy in Africa. "What we have today in many instances are family fiefdoms in which the control of state power, and the massive unprecedented looting that often accompanies it, is impoverishing the very citizens these leaders have sworn to protect," he says.

Why a Light-Hearted Text Message Led to a Terrorism Conviction in Cameroon (World Politics Review – June 1)

Cameroon’s tendency to cry terrorism when cracking down on dissent is understandable for the simple reason that outside protest in such cases is often muted or nonexistent. Jeffrey Smith, founding director of the Washington-based pro-democracy group Vanguard Africa, notes a similar phenomenon in Ethiopia, which has been under a state of emergency since October. 

In Cameroon, Smith says, invoking terrorism grants “a dubious patina of legitimacy” to the repressive tactics Biya’s government has long embraced. “This notable shift away from overt brutality to legal repression, or what some have termed ‘rule by law,’ doesn't come with the same level of international scrutiny or criticism,” he says, “and autocrats like Paul Biya have certainly learned this lesson.”

Statement on the Upcoming General Elections in Kenya

Clarification on the Involvement of Vanguard Africa

Vanguard Africa is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing ethical leadership and driving support for free, fair, and credible elections throughout Africa, including in Kenya.

Consistent with this mission, Vanguard Africa hosted former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his delegation for a range of high-level meetings in Washington, DC from March 13-16, 2017. These meetings focused on the importance of the upcoming general elections and why the international community must support Kenyan voters who are collectively calling for free, fair, fully transparent and peaceful elections. Our legal filing with the United States Department of Justice, submitted on March 26, 2017, provides detailed and up-to-date information on our involvement with Mr. Odinga and his delegation.

We will not respond to, or otherwise be distracted by, every false allegation that is printed, but we believe it is important to establish several baseline facts about our support to date. Vanguard Africa has never received money from, nor dispersed money to, Mr. Odinga or his political party. Any correspondence circulating on our letterhead, not disclosed in our original filing with the U.S. Department of Justice, are fabrications and the claims made therein patently false. 

Vanguard Africa will continue spotlighting the mounting calls for free, fair, and transparent elections throughout Africa, as well as in Kenya. We encourage anyone who believes in this pivotal cause to connect with us through our website or social media and help our team continue to build support for credible elections across the African continent.

How a Former London Security Guard Became the President of Gambia (Delayed Gratification – May 11)

One morning in December 2016, a tiny West African nation woke up to find its autocratic leader of 22 years had been toppled – and in his place was a former security guard for the Holloway Road branch of Argos. Anna Dubuis tells the story of Adama Barrow, the ultimate political outsider

Zambia: Hichilema’s Treason Trial Sheds Light on Political Tensions (Newsweek – May 2)

“What's happening in Zambia with Hichilema is not an isolated incident, but rather serves to illustrate a larger pattern of repressing critical voices in the country,” said Jeffrey Smith, executive director of pro-democracy advocacy group Vanguard Africa.

“Under successive [Lungu’s party] Patriotic Front regimes, we have seen, unequivocally, a very dangerous slide towards authoritarianism. The warning signs have long been present,” Smith told Newsweek.

Residents of English Speaking Cameroon Have Internet Restored (Newsweek – April 25)

“The #BringBackOurInternet campaign generated international interest and condemnation [and] definitely helped lead to the restoration of internet,” Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director at pro-democracy advocacy group Vanguard Africa, tells Newsweek .

“Oftentimes, these repressive governments, those like Cameroon which have operated outside the international gaze, need to be spotlighted and shamed,” said Smith. “I think that's what happened here. The internet block became too costly for the regime.”