Monday, 19 May 2014

Namibia votes in November 2014
By Ferran Martinez i Coma
The Electoral Integrity Project, University of Sydney

A conference “Detecting and Deterring Electoral Fraud and Malpractices in Africa” was held in Windhoek (Namibia) from 12 to 15 May.  The event was organized by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research and it brought together a combination of Africanist scholars and practitioners. Namibians will held Presidential and Legislative elections in November. The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) has been in power since Namibia independence in 1990, constantly increasing its advantage with its competitors.

The first session focused on concepts of fraud and malpractice. Hermann Thiel, Country Director of IFES in Jordan, building in previous works from his colleagues, gave a very clear conceptualization of fraud and malpractices. He then graphically presented a typology of the problems that may happen considering the intensity of the impact of the problem and the vulnerability. Discussants Roger Southall, from the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), and Denis Kadima, the Executive Director of EISA (South Africa) gave their respective insights. Southall described different types of fraud and he also highlighted the absence of comparative studies on gerrymandering.   

In the second session, different participants exposed clear manifestations of electoral malpractice and fraud. David Coltart, from Zimbabwe, highlighted the problems with the registry; Tom Mboya mentioned problems of voter disenfranchisement in Kenya while Professor Alexander Kaakyire Frempong from Ghana exposed the problem of registration of foreigners. There were also interventions covering Nigeria and South Africa.

The third session was on detecting the presence of fraud and malpractice. I presented the results of PEI and highlighted that problems of fraud and electoral malpractice may emerge at any point of the electoral cycle. I also emphasized the problems on finance and media while presenting the results of PEI in a regional comparative perspective. Halfdan Lynge-Mangueira, from Oxford University, presented the main question of his dissertation –namely, why did politicians in advanced democracies stopped rigging elections- and with his theoretical framework he presented his research on Ghana. Halfdan’s state of the art work mixes quantitative with qualitative analyses.

We closed the first day with a public event on electoral integrity of Africa that was open to the public. Besides the presenters, Dr. Paul Isaak, Director of Elections of the Electoral Commission of Namibia gave the keynote address on the Namibian elections. After the presentations, the audience engaged in a very lively and rich conversation with Dr. Isaak.

The second day was oriented towards improving electoral integrity. In the first session, Dr Seema Shah, currently working as an analyst at  AfriCOG (Kenya), showed us how the argument of the peaceful elections held in Kenya last year was used to silence the fraud in many stances. Shah’s uses Pippa Norris concept of electoral integrity as well as Judith Kelley’s work on monitor observation. Shah and her team have exposed numerous problems of the elections in Kenya. Her work is a beautiful application of academic concepts into real world situations.

In the second section, Ushahidi founder, Daudi Were, explained how he and his colleagues decided to create a platform to expose and improve how the elections were conducted. Ushahidi’s approach is through very simple technology that is not only been used in elections but also in humanitarian catastrophes. One of the principle of Ushahidi is making all voices count and their approach can be extremely useful for crowdsourcing studies.

The last and finals session was devoted to propose suggestions and ideas to be implemented in Namibia. The ideas proposed were divided for the short, medium and long term, since Namibians will go to vote on November 2014.

On the short term the most relevant suggestions were: make clear and public the playing field: at this point, Namibians do not know under which electoral formula will be voting; draft and publish an observation guideline to be shared with the different Namibian civil society groups; use Ushaidi’s knowledge to prepare a platform for citizens.

On the medium and the long term, the focus was on voter education as well on training of the different actors involved in the Namibian elections. 

The EIP project will follow the general and presidential elections in Namibia and next year we will be able to report about their 2014 elections. 

Further information: