By Paul Ejime
ELECTIONS, as imperfect as they may be, are an integral part of the democratic process. They have also become a major source of conflict in Africa characterised by violence, allegations of fraud, malpractices and disputations of results.
Quite erroneously, many analysts tend to judge the outcome of an election based solely on activities on the election-day or E-Day. But like democracy, an election is not an event but a process with three important phases – before, during and the post-election periods. Each phase is as important as the other and impacts the outcome of an election.
Additionally, among other factors, the credibility of an election can also be measured by the credibility of the administrator.
The book – ECONEC Activities in Support of Credible Elections in West Africa – which was unveiled recently in Abuja at an International Symposium on Political Inclusivity and 6th Biennial General Assembly of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), documents in a free-flowing narrative and pictorial manner the various interventions undertaken by the Network in the past two years to demonstrate how proactive and advocacy actions through an Electoral Cycle can contribute to elections with integrity.
The interventions include Needs Assessment mission – to ensure that adequate preparations are made by stakeholders, especially the electoral management bodies (EMBs) concerned; capacity building of EMBs, and then Post-election Follow-up activities to ensure that issues/challenges identified during the previous elections are properly addressed before the next election. There is also the Peer learning and support mission geared towards capacity strengthening and ensuring that EMBs conform to regional instruments governing elections and in accordance with international best practices and standards.
The ECONEC Steering Committee under the leadership of Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Chair of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and his team – Prof Emmanuel Tiando, Chair of the Electoral Commission of Benin Republic, Mr Newton Ahmed Barry of Burkina Faso, Jose Pedro Sambu of Guinea Bissau, Maria do Rosario Goncalves of Cabo Verde, and Mr Francis Gabriel Oke, Head of the ECOWAS Electoral Assistance Division, the Permanent Secretary of ECONEC – demonstrated a rare commitment to the implementation of the cross-cutting interventions in support of credible elections in the region.
The interventions/activities covered at least nine of the 15 member countries visited by ECONEC delegations crossing the seas, traveling by road and by air to meet with national and international stakeholders – senior government officials, including those in charge of electoral security, the leadership of political parties, EMBs, non-state actors including civil society groups, the media and development partners.
While election is considered a sovereign national responsibility, ECONEC, within its mandate, continues to act on the basis that the process of delivering credible elections is a collective enterprise.
This 188-page book divided into six sections details the objectives and outcomes of each ECONEC intervention, identified challenges and also proffered solutions.
In fact, the uniqueness of the ECONEC interventions in the past two years is that through the well-planned and executed activities and advocacy actions, the Network provided concrete solutions and facilitated support received by several member EMBs. Cases in point were Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau, which held presidential and legislative elections during the period under review.
This publication also documents ECONEC’s interventions in the area of research such as the Study on the Cost of Elections in West Africa, and International Workshops on Professional Reporting of Elections and the Use of Technology in Elections.
ECONEC is also about partnership. The development partners that support the Network’s ground-breaking initiatives are duly acknowledged and their areas of interventions graphically illustrated. The partners include the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the German Agency for International Cooperation, GIZ, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), EU/ECES (European Centre for Electoral Support, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and of course, the ECOWAS Commission, which along with regional EMBs set up ECONEC in February 2008.
INEC Nigeria also provided immeasurable support, such as an equipped Permanent Secretariat flr ECONEC, which facilitates the operations of the Network. This publication would not have been possible without the sacrifice of the secretariat staff and INEC officials, some of whom accompanied ECONEC missions to various countries at INEC’s expense.
The work would also not have been possible without the generosity of the ECONEC President and INEC Chair.
One of the perennial challenges faced by ECONEC is funding. To wait for sponsor/s would have left the publication in a dream. It is good to dream, but according to Kenya’s outspoken lawyer, Prof. Patrice Lumumba, one of Africa’s major problems is that those who have ideas do not have the means. This work is an illustration of the meeting between ideas and the means facilitated by the cooperation and contribution of all concerned including the government officials, EMBs, government agencies, civil society organisations, the Media and the general populations of all the countries visited who opened their doors for interactions with ECONEC delegations.
ECONEC founding fathers are also acknowledged for their vision and foresight in setting up the Network for EMBs to share experiences and pool resources for better electoral management instead of allowing them to go solo with all the land mines on the path to the delivery of credible elections.
There is a section of the book devoted to comments/thoughts or assessments of ECONEC from within and outside, including from leaders such as Ghana’s immediate-past President H.E. John Dramani Mahama, an acknowledged democrat, who has led Election Observation Missions for several international organisations including ECOWAS and the Commonwealth; the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Gen. Francis Behanzin, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo, the ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia; Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, nicknamed “An election encyclopaedia,” and Ms Ayisa Osori, the OSIWA Executive Director, among others.
Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head, United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), penned the Foreword to this book. Fondly called the “Father of ECONEC,” Dr Chambas was President of the ECOWAS Commission when ECONEC was founded in 2008. In the Foreword, he provided a dispassionate assessment and perspective with a recommendation on the way forward for ECONEC, warning against what he called “Personalisation of Democracy,” which can be likened to the danger of “God Fatherism,” and the “Capture of State or Capture of Institutions,” not to mention the disturbing menace of “Vote selling and Vote buying.”
In analysing the challenges faced by ECONEC and by extension the EMBs, the book interrogates the phenomenon of external support for the conduct of elections or electoral management in Africa, warning that while such supports are welcome, they must be handled with extreme caution to guard against masked interference.
Prof Yakubu and his team have provided exemplary leadership that has revived ECONEC making it an indispensable partner in the consolidation of electoral processes and thereby revolutionising electoral management and administration in the ECOWAS region.
The reward for hard work, they say, is more work and naturally, the next question is about ECONEC’s sustainability. The Network has recorded remarkable achievements especially in the past two years. Going forward, the greatest concern is in relation to adequate funding of ECONEC and capacity strengthening of its member EMBs for the consolidation of the gains.
In line with the spirit of the Abuja International Symposium, which emphasised the participation and representation of women, youth, persons with disability (PWDs) and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the political processes in West Africa, ECONEC has elected a new five-member Steering Committee headed by a woman, Dr Maria Goncalves of Cabo Verde.
Also in a unanimous resolution, the 6th General Assembly conferred the title of Honorary President of ECONEC on Prof Yakubu in recognition of his exemplary leadership and contributions to the promotion of democracy and good governance in the ECOWAS region.
The collective quest for credible elections in the ECOWAS region must necessarily take into account the financial and operational well-being of EMBs in the region. This is because an ineffectual or dysfunctional ECONEC or EMBs could be a recipe for flawed elections with the attendant consequences of violence, instability or destabilisation of the region.
There is also the need, according to Ms Osori of OSIWA, to ensure that “West Africa does not suffer a democratic retrogression through the electoral process.”
Without any reservations, the book – ECONEC Activities in Support of Credible Elections in West Africa is recommended to all those interested in and/or concerned about the processes for the delivery of credible and transparent elections in the region – policy and decision-makers, governments, election administrators and observers, those charged with electoral security, political actors and scientists, students, researchers/scholars, civil society organisations, the Media, and voters themselves.
Paul Ejime is an International Media and Communications Specialist