City leaders pledge to strengthen democracy

Man talking while standing at end of table with five other people (State Dept./Ava D'Sa)
Akram Elias, left, president of Capital Communications Group Incorporated, talks to local leaders participating in a Summit for Democracy initiative, including Roheyatou Lowe, of Banjul, The Gambia; Olga Ditsie, of Jwaneng Town Council, Botswana; and Christopher Pappas, of uMngeni Municipality, South Africa; as well as Emilia Balke, International Visitor Leadership Program liaison. (State Dept./Ava D'Sa)

Mayors and municipal leaders from more than a dozen countries visited the United States in June and July to connect with their U.S. counterparts and find ways to strengthen democracy.

“Democracy is a relatively new concept for our community,” said Christopher Pappas, mayor of uMngeni Municipality, South Africa, who visited the U.S. in June. “Twenty-seven years after colonialism and apartheid, people still fear government and change. Our aim is to build confidence in the democratic institutions as a vehicle for change.”

Pappas was among the participants in a State Department initiative, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, called the Summit for Democracy International Visitor Leadership Program.

Other officials came from Argentina, Botswana, The Gambia, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Mozambique, the Philippines, Poland and Slovakia.

The program stemmed from President Biden’s two-day, virtual 2021 Summit for Democracy. Both the summit and the exchange program focus on ways to:

  • Strengthen democracy and defend against authoritarianism.
  • Fight corruption.
  • Promote respect for human rights.
6 people posing for photo outside (State Dept./Ava D'Sa)
City leaders who visited the U.S. in June include, from left: Roheyatou Lowe, of Banjul, The Gambia; Christopher Pappas, of uMngeni Municipality, South Africa; Olga Ditsie, of Jwaneng Town Council, Botswana; Bettina Inés Romero, of Municipal City of Salta, Argentina; Ardian Gjini, of Municipality of Gjakova, Kosovo; and Ciro Buonajuto, of Comune of Ercolano, Italy. (State Dept./Ava D’Sa)

Once in the United States, the mayors met with public and private sector officials in Washington, Denver and Phoenix. Municipal leaders met counterparts in Dallas; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Los Angeles.

“Democracy means living together in respect and tolerance, no matter what religion, gender, color, sexual orientation, etc., and achieving more together through participation and co-creation,” said Christian Huebel, city director for democracy and strategy in Mannheim, Germany.

9 people posing for photo in front of building (State Dept./Ava D'Sa)
City leaders who visited the U.S. in July include, top row from left: Jerryne Felicidade Ana Jacob, of Pemba, Mozambique; Joy Eniola, of Dublin City Council, Ireland; Leonora Morina Bunjaku, of Municipality of Gjilan, Kosovo; Anne Grimes, of the Office of International Visitors; Karolina Medyk, of Warsaw, Poland; Ma Josefina Belmonte Alimurung, of Quezon City, the Philippines; bottom row from left: Christian Huebel, of City of Mannheim, Germany; Firman Hamid Pagarra, of Makassar, Indonesia; and Jakub Kmet, of City of Bratislava, Slovakia. (State Dept./Ava D’Sa)

Upon returning home, the participants will continue to work together to discuss their action plans and their progress to date.

“Democracy believes in the value and opinion of every citizen,” said Leonora Morina Bunjaku, deputy mayor of Gjilan, Kosovo. “This gives every citizen one vote so we can all be equal.”

This story originally published July 26.