African Democracy/Hopes and Challenges

After more than a decade of interviews and research, this documentary film “African Democracy: Hopes and Challenges” offers an expansive examination of the development of democracy in select countries on the world’s second-largest continent. This is the culmination of an 11-year journey across Africa which I took along with various teams of student researchers. The documentary also revolves around extensive interviews with more than 200 citizens in African countries including a dozen so current and former African presidents, prime ministers, rebel leaders and liberators from colonialism. It explores the struggle to establish democratic norms in areas such as human rights, elections, political parties, economic sustainability and corruption. The film also scrutinizes the issue of democracy through the eyes of many of the students who worked on the project, forcing them to confront stereotypical American views and expectations of African politics and society. At a time when media stories about Africa often center around war or disease, I wanted my students to be able to see for themselves the amazing changes taking place on the continent and to be able to deconstruct the stereotypes, myths and falsehoods they’re fed about Africa every day. I felt it would be powerful to capture their experiences on film right alongside conversations with African citizens and with some of the very architects of African democracy.

  • IRVIN D REID, Darryl Shreve, and John K. Awotwi
    Key Cast
    "Director and Narrator"
    Executive Producer
  • Darryl Shreve
    EMMY WINNER: Darryl Shreve: 1). What Are you fighting for (2009); Be Inspired (2016) Emmy winner; NOMINEE: 3). Free the Wall (2017) Academy Award nominee. Forjando uno Comunidad: A History of Mexicans in Detroit (1998ish doc) Aired on PBS for about five years.
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 23 minutes 56 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, United Republic of, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    16:9, 29.97, 1920 X 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • None
Distribution Information
  • None
Director Biography - IRVIN D REID

Irvin D. Reid is President Emeritus of Wayne State University in Michigan, having served as President from 1997 to 2008 when he became Inaugural Holder of the Eugene Applebaum Chair in Community Engagement and director of the Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society. Prior to becoming the President of Wayne State University, he served from 1989 to 1997, as President of Montclair State University in New Jersey, and from 1983 to 1989 held positions of Dean, School of Business Administration, and John Stagmaier Professor of Economics and Business Administration at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He earned Masters and Ph.D. degrees in business and applied economics from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and B.S. and M.S. degrees in psychology from Howard University. He is currently a private investor in residential apartments in Detroit and a partner with American Community Developers, Inc., in the development of affordable housing in Brush Watson Park, a mixed income community in Midtown Detroit where he and his wife reside. He is a first time film maker.

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Director Statement

In 1998, I met with then President Samuel Nujoma of Namibia to discuss the challenges of governing in Africa. It was exactly a decade later that I inaugurated the African Democracy Project (ADP) in Mozambique after a discussion with former president Joaquim Chissano who invited me to bring my students to Africa to observe an actual election. I returned to Mozambique with my students to observe national elections in October of 2009. Since then we have conducted courses in Botswana, Liberia (2011), Ghana (2012, 2016), Namibia (2014-2015), and Tanzania (2015). With the success of our research and student engagement project, our mission evolved and included the making of a documentary on democracy in Africa. This is how I discovered the joy of documentary making. Nothing has been more gratifying than creating this project. There also has been some very gratifying comments about my film. I share the following:

“I watched the full African Democracy program and thought the documentary provided a significant summary of both the history of the democratic movement in Africa and its current status. Both the progress of the democratic movement and the hurdles it faces were clearly outlined. I was left with feelings of both optimism and concern. I found the female leader’s description of the need to strengthen the institutions of her country to stand fast to face the cult of personality in its leadership very troubling and prophetic given what we are facing in our country today. I look forward to other such documentaries in the future.” Kenneth Watson.

Since creating the opportunity for my students to observe democracy in faraway places and since making this documentary, it never occurred to me that Mr. Watson’s comment, “given what we are facing in our country ....” could cause such soul searching as it has in my former students, many of whom I have heard from since January 6th, and indeed in myself. The model of democracy to the entire world on that day came alarmingly close to collapsing with the American head of state leading an insurrection, including extraordinary violence, mayhem, and deaths when he (head of the Executive Branch acted as a cult leader and led an attack on a second branch of government (a joint session of Congress), after a third (the Judiciary), had repeatedly (more than 60 times) rejected his nonsensical attack on a foundation of our democracy (a free and fair election outcome). It brought us the closest since 1812 to losing our democracy.

This ten-year exploration of democracy in Africa may well have come out differently because of the impact on all of us here at home and those who follow us abroad because the ideal model we all held so high for so long fell so low. As one of the students concluded about the country she was visiting, “their model of democracy is not perfect; but neither is ours”, to which we can all say “Amen”.