Sahel Strategy Forum
The Sahel Strategy Forum (SSF) was an innovative partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy, bringing together senior diplomats from the Sahel, civil society, non-governmental organizations, academics, the private sector and policy analysts to highlight the fragility of the region, monitor events and offer policy recommendations to governments and multilateral institutions.
At the SSF's highly anticipated launch, H.E. Mohamed Bazoum, Foreign Minister of Niger, gave the keynote address that emphasized efforts to promote tolerance and moderation in Islam and the need to work with pastoralists communities and youth. Since the SSF’s inception, guests included Abdoulaye Diop, Foreign Minister of Senegal and the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso.
Cote d’Ivoire Watch
In response to the political crisis born from the disputed 2010 presidential election results, Bridges launched its inaugural crisis watch project. Cote d’Ivoire Watch brought together a bi-partisan coalition of non-governmental organizations, former senior government officials, private sector stakeholders, and civil society activists who were committed to restoring democracy in Cote d'Ivoire.
Ivoirian President Alassane Ouattara publicly commended Cote d'Ivoire Watch for playing a significant role in the restoration of the nation’s democracy. In addition, he emphasized that Cote d'Ivoire Watch's strong support of the country's readmission to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was a critical factor in the country's economic recovery.
Mali Watch was precipitated by the country’s March 2012 coup d’état and swift expansion of Islamic extremist groups in the northern half of the country. The project brought together a non-partisan coalition of non-governmental organizations, former senior government officials, private sector stakeholders, and Malians in the U.S. committed to the restoration of peace, security and democratic institutions in Mali. Through bi-monthly meetings held with the Malian Ambassador to the U.S. and senior State Department and USAID officials, Mali Watch contributed to policy dialogues about security, elections and humanitarian assistance.
Members of the coalition authored articles, opinion editorials, and testified before Congress. Bridges President Vivian Lowery Derryck and then Africa Society President Bernadette Paolo traveled to Mali to serve as observers in the highly successful 2013 presidential election.
Mali Watch ended after its goal, the restoration of democratic governance with territorial integrity, was met.
Mali Moving Forward
Mali Moving Forward (MMF) was launched after the presidential inauguration as a method to sustain Bridges’ commitment to Mali's quest for peace. MMF continued the watch model and worked with Malians to address challenges of security, reconciliation and economic revitalization in the northern half of the country.
For more than three years MMF and its predecessor, Mali Watch [link], served as unique civil- society-driven efforts to monitor events in Mali. These efforts gave birth to the Mali Affinity Group [link], a permanent initiative, that closely monitors progress in sustainable development, post-conflict reconciliation and economic growth in Mali.
Women in Leadership: Promoting Women’s Political Participation
Bridges Founder and CEO, Vivian Lowery Derryck, was a featured speaker in a U.S. State Department series focused on Bridges’ leadership pillar, in Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Liberia.
In Liberia, lectures, site visits and workshops were conducted on ways to increase women’s participation in the 2011 national election. Discussions with businesswomen, female NGO leaders, elected officials and social activists focused on women’s disaffection with political parties, strained relations between men and women politicians, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, especially in a post-conflict country, and the need for special outreach to younger voters.
In Sierra Leone, focus was placed on promoting women’s political participation with the goal of increasing the number of women in elected office, coalition-building among women parliamentarians, strengthening leadership skills among young women and girls, and increasing women’s economic opportunities.
In The Gambia, discussions focused on ways to increase women’s political participation in an authoritarian political context. Women shared several obstacles that limited their political involvement including: fear of being arrested for expressing a political opinion, low self-esteem, lack of role models, poverty and the failure of reform on female genital mutilation (FGM) and gender-based violence.
Linking Women Leaders as Liberia Commemorates the Legacy of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height
On April 9, 2013 Bridges convened a ceremony at the Embassy of Liberia to honor civil and women’s rights activists, Dr. Dorothy Irene Height. Dr. Height was a recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. In addition, she was president for forty years of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a non-profit that advances the quality of life for African-American women and their families. When Dr. Height died in 2010, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had a medal struck to commemorate her legacy and commitment to Africa’s development.
Through the efforts of Bridges, Liberian Ambassador Jeremiah C. Sulunteh was finally able to present the commemorative medal, created three years before, to NCNW officials, including Ernie Green of the Little Rock Nine.