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.
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.
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.