Megan Anderson is Team Lead for Africa in the Office of Global Programs; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL); U.S. Department of State, to which she brings over ten years’ of experience working on rule of law, human rights, and governance issues in the non-profit and public sectors. In her current position, Ms. Anderson serves as the principal point of contact within DRL on State Department human rights programming in Africa. She represents Africa-related programming interests to DRL’s Front Office and other offices within the State Department, Congress, and other government agencies, primarily USAID.
Early in her career, Ms. Anderson gained an appreciation for the struggles of citizens and activists in situations where the rule of law was especially weak—Sierra Leone’s fight against the Revolutionary United Front in the 1990s provided an especially compelling example and influenced her decision to study African politics. As a Senior Program Assistant at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) working on elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she witnessed how, as she puts it, “citizens up against incredibly convoluted political systems tirelessly working to have their say.” Later, as a Program Officer at Freedom House, she saw echoes of such efforts as restrictions on civil society increased across countries in Africa, a trend that has continued apace since Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Proclamation came into effect in 2009. Upon her arrival at DRL in 2011 Megan worked to bring light to such restrictions in Africa (and increasingly, globally) and how they impact not only DRL partners on the ground, but the U.S. foreign policy goal of promoting laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms. In September 2013 the White House launched Stand with Civil Society, and Ms. Anderson’s office played a critical role in creating this initiative and continues to sustain it today; the Lifeline Fund for Embattled CSOs is managed out of DRL, which played a leading role in its creation in 2011 along with 12 other like-minded governments. Since its creation, Lifeline has provided over $7 million in emergency and advocacy grants to over 1,050 CSOs operating in 99 countries and territories. By prioritizing a commitment to directly support civil society through Lifeline, the U.S. Government and partner governments (and now, foundations) have tangibly made a difference in people’s lives on the frontlines despite countries’ increasing restrictions through both repressive legislation and the failure to respect their own laws.
Initiatives like Lifeline consistently remind Ms. Anderson what a critical role the U.S. Government can play in encouraging a robust rule of law abroad. She notes that, when a mistrust of civil society motivates governments to restrict basic human rights—such as freedom of association and freedom of expression—the U.S. Government has an opportunity—and an obligation—to serve as an outside voice and advocate for greater rule of law. In that context, programming like DRL’s is both “a critical” and “one of the most tangible” tools the U.S. Government has for advancing human rights protections and rule of law abroad. She also notes that protecting such rights is in the interest of the U.S. Government, as respect for rule of law, free media, and a strong civil society are the “bellwether of strong democratic partners” for the USG in a range of partnerships, including military. Moreover, she views rule of law as a crucial bulwark against human rights abuses. Factors such as judicial independence, civil society awareness of human rights, and improved civil society capacity for advocacy all underpin strong protections for human rights.
Ms. Anderson believes that there are crucial complementarities between DRL’s work and the work of other USG agencies. For example, she works closely with USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Huma Rights and Governance (DRG Center). While USAID’s programming is designed to be more high-profile, DRL’s targets human rights and rule of law advocates working in sensitive political environments. She also liaises closely with INL, sometimes co-funding the same partners to address critical rule of law needs in countries such as the Central African Republic. INL often plays a visible role—such as rebuilding judicial infrastructure— while DRL will provide training for incoming judges. In addition, DRL liaises closely with the United Nations, in order to bring a multilateral approach to its efforts.
Ms. Anderson recently attended the JUSTRAC symposium, “Youth and the Rule of Law in Sub-Saharan Africa,” which reminded her that affecting meaningful change in rule of law and human rights takes a concerted effort of many years. She hopes that fora such as this symposium can give advocates (and accordingly, governments) in the region a better vocabulary to explain why respect for rule of law and human rights is in their own security interest. To cite a particular example, Ms. Anderson expressed that, after the symposium, she is “fired up to look for ways to expose young people to government-to-government interaction and to create opportunities for positive interaction between law enforcement and youth.” She also notes that, as someone who devotes a lot of attention to dealing with urgent, pressing human rights problems, she appreciates a setting like this JUSTRAC symposium in which she has the opportunity to reflect more comprehensively on the preventive nature of DRL’s work.