International Perspectives on Governance Challenges in the USA

Governance matters. The norms and rules that shape social relationships, including those between people and their governments, and the extent to which those rules are broadly accepted and followed within a society, play an important role in determining the prospects for social well-being, whether that is measured in terms of economic growth, social justice, access to quality public services, or levels of environmental sustainability. Informed by the fact that governance matters, instructing, encouraging and supporting poorer countries to adopt particular approaches to “Good Governance” has for decades been a central strand of a global development agenda that has been led by countries in the global north.
Over the last 10 years, the “Good Governance” agenda has been increasingly called into question (see “Beyond the ‘Good Governance’ Mantra”). It is now more broadly accepted, first that effective governance emerges in particular places as a result of locally-led cycles of learning and adaptation, and second, that the countries that have dominated the global development agenda do not have ready-made solutions, and, indeed, face their own governance challenges. As a British citizen based in Washington DC, the last few years have provided more than ample evidence that governance challenges are felt everywhere, and, conversely, that smart approaches to addressing governance-related challenges can come from anywhere. Exceptionalism, thankfully, has had its day.
Spurred on by conversations with international colleagues about the governance challenges that have dominated the news in the United States for the last six months – rampant authoritarianism, systemic racial injustice, and devastating failure of leadership in responding to COVID-19 – this series of blog posts will share international perspectives on governance challenges in the United States. This builds on the earlier work on Defending Democracy that we led with the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International. It is also inspired in part by the work of the African Centre for the Study of the United States, in South Africa, and by the humorous and insightful perspectives on Brexit shared by Ory Okolloh (formerly of Luminate) and others at #BrexitExpert. (See also the Africa Reacts series published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, including the recent piece on “Africa reacts to the death of George Floyd and US protests”).
Our aim in providing a space for international colleagues to share their thoughts about governance challenges in the United States is to promote cross-country learning, and solidarity, as all countries grapple, in their own ways, with the challenge of improving governance and social well-being.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN in the early summer of 2020 sparked Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. that lasted until late fall and bled into the rest of the world. Protesters standing in solidarity with Black Americans were able to bring light to the violence experienced by civilians at the hands of corrupt police in their own home countries.

Adnen Ben Hadj Yahia and Open Gov Hub Director Nada Zohdy depict how in Tunisia, a desperate citizen self-immolated in protest of police harassment and ongoing oppression under decades of dictatorship. Our partner at BudgIT, Oluseun Onigbinde, shares how in Nigeria, the #EndSARS movement mobilized more than half of the country’s young population against law enforcement. As our staff Yeukai Mukorombindo and partner at CIVCUS, Masana Ndinga- Kanga note, the racial paradigm and parallels between the U.S. and South Africa remain difficult to ignore. Police and military overreach also became a fixture in the lives of Indians peacefully protesting federal legislation, as described by Dr. Pallavi Roy, Researcher Director for the SOAS-ACE programme.

Read our ongoing blog series on racism and governance challenges in international contexts, and the learnings they offer the U.S.

Democratic crises do not happen in isolation. With increased polarization contributing to democratic breakdowns across the globe, there are valuable lessons to be learned by the U.S. on how to minimize electoral risks. Our discussion of election crises in polarized democracies with Rachel Kleinfeld with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Krzysztof Izdebski from the ePaństwo Foundation, Rodrigo Diamanti with Un Mundo sin Mordaza), and Manu Bhagavan with Hunter College, CUNY & CUNY Graduate Center offered perspectives on India, Venezuela, and Poland while making clear the dangers of taking democracy for granted. A month into the newly inaugurated Biden/Harris administration, we brought together a group of civil society reformers from South Africa, Slovakia, and Guatemala to share the opportunities and potential pitfalls of pushing forward policy reform in a political "window of opportunity".

Our roundtable discussion with Stacy Whittle of Front Page LiveDagmar Thiel of Fundamedios, and Mikhael Simmonds of Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) provided insight into the capacity of the media to unite or further polarize an electorate. Catch the Outside/In: Media is the Medium of Human Understanding — Let’s Use it to Unite Us conversation breakdown for a thoughtful look at the challenges and responsibilities facing the media industry.

Watch our panel discussion with Petros Vamvakas from Emmanuel College, Priya Kvam from Breakthrough, Kavita Pavria-Sanchez from KPS Strategies, and Silas Kulkarni with Braver Angels, where we unpack the recessive trend of closing civic spaces and the challenges of communicating across diverse backgrounds in an increasingly polarized political environment.

Our podcast discussion with Sanjay Fernandes of SOLE Colombia offered actionable recommendations for those seeking to redesign democracy through increased participation or through structured, constructive dialogues across diverse groups. Alternatively, our Director of Operations and Programs, Smriti Lakhey, shares her experiences growing up amid Nepal's transition to democracy on the eve of the U.S. 2020 general elections.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the crisis management capabilities of countless nations, with some managing to curb the spread of the virus more effectively than others. Contributing writer Bud Gankhuyag shared Mongolia’s hugely successful COVID-19 response, which has thus far has been centered around proactive prevention and ample assistance relief.