The Chairman of the Board of Directors and the Director General of WAI participate in the Regional Dialogue on Emerging Trends and Challenges of Electoral Democracy in Africa, Abuja, Nigeria, 25 – 26 May 2016

PWAI PCA BritoThe Regional Dialogue on «Emerging Trends and Challenges of Electoral Democracy in Africa» took place in Abuja, Federal Republic of Nigeria, from 25th to 26th May 2016 under the aegis of the Department of Political Affairs, African Union Commission (AUC). The partners of the event were the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Electoral Institute (EI) of Nigeria, the Economic Commission of West Africa (ECOWAS), and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) of Nigeria. The participants included academics, civil society stakeholders, and representatives of Electoral Management Bodies in Africa. The Dialogue was organized in the context of the Memorandum of Understandings that International IDEA has with INEC and ECOWAS, respectively. Dr. Maurice Enguelegue, Senior Programme Officer at IDEA, served as overall coordinator during the whole session.Six Panels were set for the presentations and discussion, notably:

  • Overview of Emerging Trends
  • Tenure of Political Leaders/Elected Office Holders
  • Media and Communication on Elections
  • Contestation on Electoral Processes and Outcomes
  • The Reform of Electoral Management Bodies (EMB’s)
  • The Role of Regional Organizations and Mechanisms 

Ing. José Brito, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cabo Verde and current Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the West Africa Institute (WAI) presented his contribution in Panel 1 «Overview of Emerging Trends» which was moderated by Mrs. Joyce Kazembe, former Deputy Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of WAI revelled that according to the surveys, the percentage of people that are floating voters (those who have not decided prior to the election period for whom they would vote) has increased over time. He stated further that the number of people registering is declining and that generally voters are beginning to focus on issues of government performance.  Even as voters are becoming more enlightened, ethnic aspects continue to influence voting patterns and the numbers of political parties have been growing in recent years.

Mr. Brito argued that the role of external actors has been growing in elections. He noted that economic influences were very strong and that there is growing influence of regional organisation and civil society in electoral processes and outcomes. He further noted that civil society has been very good in voter education and casting a spotlight on the promises made by political parties.

Mr. Brito focused attention on issues relating to the funding of election campaigns. He noted that this is an area of difficulty as campaigns are becoming much more expensive to run. This is often difficult for opposition parties, as they don’t have the access that ruling parties often have. Ruling parties often use state resources. Attempts have been made to address these issues, through state funding of political parties, but the matter is difficult because often there are illicit financial flows. As a final word, Mr. Brito pointed out the importance of technology and social media in shaping electoral processes and outcomes.

Panel 2 «Terms & Tenures of Political Leaders & Elected Offices» was moderated by Mrs. Maria do Rosario Lopes Goncalves Pereira, Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of  Cabo Verde.  She emphasized the important link between the length of tenure politicians hold in office and the quality of governance in a country.

Pr TR PodiumIn the frame of panel 4 «Contestation on Electoral Processes and Outcomes», Prof. Traoré underlined the importance of this issue to the work of the West Africa Institute. She reflected that democracy is defined as a system of governance of the people, for the people and by the people, but needs in fact to be improved. In speaking about elections, the issue of ‘results credibility’ is contentious and a serious challenge for many Africa countries. This underlines also the fragility of many African democracies.

 According to her, this weakness is mainly due to the tendency of African leaders to put their personal, family and ethnic interests prior the public interest and to cling to power. Prof. Traoré noted that in some instances, these interests are visible through the manipulation of voter lists, the delineation of voter districts and the manipulation of the ballots which then creates political tensions and contestation. She drew the attention on the fact that Europe needed 200 years to implement a democratic system that is still perfectible. For this reason democracy cannot be imposed to African countries in the way it is implemented in the Western world and in this respect, African States should reflect and establish an adapted democratic system.

During the 1990s many African countries were convinced to democratize in order to receive development aid. However the era of democratization came with challenges that lead to the contestation of results. These challenges include the multi-party system and the levels of citizens’ awareness. Other factors that contribute to contestation are the inconsistency of political parties in keeping campaign promises, the confusion raised by high number of political parties in most African countries and the fact that the results of the elections are published too much time after the vote. In concluding, Prof Traoré, stressed that the manner in which results are released often raises questions about the credibility of the political system. She also indicated the importance to increase the participation rate during the election in order to strengthen democracy.

O J AdesidaDr. Olugbenga Adesida presented his contribution in Panel Five «The Reform of Electoral Management Bodies». This session was moderated by Mr. Francis Laleye, Program Coordinator of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) project being implemented with the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA).

Reflecting on his experiences in Cabo Verde and as an observer of political parties in Africa, Dr. Adesida framed his remarks on two issues. First, why reforms are necessary and secondly, the types of reforms required. Reform is needed to secure peaceful electoral processes and so electoral management bodies can adapt and respond to new realities. The pressures of the costs of elections and greater demands by citizens for effective engagement and participation make it necessary for innovate reforms. Countries must also become more ambitious and conduct certain electoral activities on their own, without relying on donors resources. The challenges of institution building suggest that permanent Electoral Management Bodies (EMB) structures are needed. This would enable EMBs to establish sustainable mechanisms that facilitate better cooperation with relevant government departments to deliver on key aspects of the electoral processes. One such area is the voters roll. Examples in countries like Cabo Verde on such systems should be looked at.

Reforms should also give attention to the quality of engagement with various actors and in the different stages of the electoral processes. With the advent of technology and the lessons of the past, innovative strategies are more readily available. The reliance on new innovative methods however, should not diminish the important role of consensus amongst political actors on the most appropriate ways to ensure effective reforms. For instance, the real-time and televised electoral results should be possible to strengthen credibility of the election outcomes. However, securing agreement from political parties on this approach remains important. Government commitment and investment on building the basic application for such vote tabulation would also be important.

Applications through current smartphone technology makes it possible for transparency and tracking of the entire voting event by various parties, including the ordinary citizen, voting station officials, political contestants and civil society. The application can also include different levels of control to prevent voter fraud. Innovations such as these should be pursued as they provide low cost solutions that contribute to building legitimacy, transparency and greater confidence in the election’s outcomes.

The two days dedicated to the  Regional Dialogue on «Emerging Trends and Challenges of Electoral Democracy in Africa» were rich in exchanges and recommendations formulated for a better management of the electoral process in Africa.

The next appointment for a further edition of the  Dialogue has been scheduled in Praia, Republic of Cabo Verde  in September 2016.


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