Friday, 22 May 2015

Addressing electoral integrity in Africa

By Andrea Abel van Es, May 22, 2015

On April 29th and 30th, the Electoral Integrity Project, represented by Dr. Andrea Abel van Es, took part in the first of a series of working group meetings organized by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), on the topic of “Addressing Electoral Integrity in Africa”.

Since the 90s, most African countries have held up to three consecutive elections; the focus of election assessment has therefore shifted from whether African countries are able to conduct regular elections to that of the quality and integrity of these elections. In the last 18 months, elections were held in over 14 African countries, of which a number of these elections led to disputed outcomes. The contests in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi exemplify elections that were in the spotlight for different reasons, ranging from the technical hitches to allegations and suspicions of fraud in the management of voter registration and results tabulation.

Election observer missions have been limited in their ability to undertake an in-depth analysis of some of the complex phenomena and factors impacting the integrity of elections, because of the vagueness of existing instruments with regard to the terms that define the quality of democratic elections. Furthermore, while the instruments provide some sanctions against member states that fail to conduct democratic elections, the aforementioned limitation of observer assessment also limits the extent to which these sanctions can be enforced.  

Commonwealth observes Zambia 2011 Elections, Photo credit- Liesl Harewood

Election observation is undertaken by different groups and institutions on the basis of universally accepted principles that set the benchmarks for assessing elections. These principles are enshrined in different international norms and obligations that require states to conduct regular competitive elections. African states are subscribed to a number of regional and sub-regional obligations that include: the African Union Constitutive Act; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the AU/OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa; the Guidelines for AU Election Monitoring Missions; The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; the EAC Protocol on Good Governance; the ECCAS Treaty and the SADC Principles and Guidelines on Democratic Elections.

Since different regional and sub-regional organizations often have different obligations and conceptualizations of electoral integrity varying in detail, oftentimes different observer groups come to differing conclusions with respect to the conduct of elections, making it hard for those policy makers wanting to affect change and improve the integrity of elections to do so, and easy for those incumbents who want to maintain the status quo to do so.

EISA has commenced a research and advocacy project aimed at contributing to the assessment of electoral integrity and mitigation of electoral flaws that undermine democratic consolidation and good governance in Africa. The project further seeks to understand why election observation missions lead to differing results in terms of improved elections across Africa, and to consolidate the various assessment frameworks in to an appropriate basis for evaluating electoral integrity in Africa.

The meeting of the working group in April kicked off the one-year inception phase of the project focused largely on research to provide a context-specific framework for defining electoral integrity in Africa. The first phase seeks to publish selected case studies of recent elections (Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Burundi, Congo Brazaville and Central African Republic), identifying the common trends and challenges faced and how they were addressed. Dr. Abel van Es, as the international expert on Electoral Integrity, gave a presentation on Global Perspectives on Election Integrity, to situate the context of the African continent.

The working group, composed of regional experts including Mr. Ayman Ayoub Ayoub (North Africa expert), Dr. Victor Shale (Southern Africa expert), Mr. Ibrahima Amadou Niang (West Africa expert), Professor Gilbert Khadiagala (East Africa expert) and Professor Alain Didier Olinga (Central Africa expert), as well as EISA staff.

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