Africa Day is a commemoration of the progress made and a reflection on the accomplishments to come for the African continent. While I believe that IRI plays in important role in promoting democracy worldwide, IRI’s work could never happen without our African partners and staff.

These are just a few scattered stories of the people that have impacted my experience on the continent. These stories are important because they commemorate the role every citizen plays to further the development of his or her country. These thoughts only partially highlight the hard work, hope and dreams that I have had the opportunity to see in Africa. Let us nonetheless celebrate these individuals as a small by indicative sample of the great work happening every day on the continent. 

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – I first traveled to DRC in college to work with HOPE International, a non-profit microfinance organization. I was based in Lubumbashi, DRC and had the opportunity to work with lending groups and conduct market research. While microfinance has its pros and cons, I walked away with the impression of the great potential of DRC. During my stay, I learned the most from Arcene Katumba, who was my manager at the time. Arcene embodies much of the hard work and commitment that I see on the African continent today. He worked day and night to make sure that every administrative task was taken care of to ensure clients received and reimbursed their micro-loans. Arcene did these things because he was passionate about his work and believed in the potential of the Congolese people.

I recently traveled back to Lubumbashi to organize an IRI-supported town hall on electoral reform and decentralization. Looking back, I am proud that IRI was able to start such an important conversation between citizens and elected officials and that today thousands of Congolese are demanding timely elections. However, the untold story is the one of Denis, our fixer. Denis worked tirelessly to help arrange meetings, contact participants and facilitate logistics. Beyond his hard work and dedication, Denis owned an artisanal mining business and was passionate about the development of his country. I had countless conversations with Denis and was most impressed by his ideas for the future. Denis wanted to buy new machinery to develop his artisanal mines and hire more Congolese. He also wanted to launch a milk business franchise and even dreamed of creating a fuel derived from tree sap (true story!). These ideas and others are what drive many African countries today.

Niger – On my countless trips to Niamey, I had the opportunity to start IRI’s political party program and provide communication, leadership and media skills to women and youth leaders across the country. In my last piece, I told the story of some of these youth leaders, Gamar and Kaka, who represent the future of Niger. Today I would like to tell the story of our driver, Abdoulaye. Abdoulaye – or Abdou for short- who started as running errands for the European Union and climbed the latter to mechanic, driver and now runs his own small car rental company. I met Abdou on my first trip to Niger and have had the opportunity to work with him for over two years. As many expats will tell you, drivers are often one of the most important staffers. They know where you live, they have an insider eye on security and they deal with your day to day frustrations. Abdou is one of the most hard working and trustworthy people that I have the pleasure to meet. He is always available, eager to share his opinions and excited about his work. Abdou has told me many times that he is proud to work at IRI because he believes that he is contributing the development of his country. These are the individuals that make IRI’s work possible today and that contribute to the development of the African continent.

Mali – Finally, I want to highlight the hard work and dedication of IRI’s Mali program officer, Nouhoum Sarr. In Mali, IRI supported the 2013 national elections, enabled over 1,500 citizens to engage with their local elected officials and continues to strengthen the capacity of the Malian National Assembly. Nouhoum has been instrumental and has often initiated many of these initiatives. I will never forget walking around the Malian National Assembly and watching Nouhoum greet dozens of members of Parliament by name. I am convinced that IRI’s local staff is our strongest asset and often one of our greatest contributions to the African continent. I love to hear the success stories of IRI-supported participants and I have full faith that Nouhoum will continue to do great things to strengthen Mali’s democracy.

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