By Lizeka Maduna
The DDP with My Vote Counts’ two-day event held at Elangeni Hotel in Durban on July 10 saw parliamentary members from various countries as representatives, the youth, activists and civil society organizations come together to tackle pertinent issues concerning elections and electoral accountability in Africa.
This summit was aimed at discussing elections and alternate mechanisms of accountability and reform after elections as opposed to the past, where elections are often discussed after ballots have been cast, according to DDP.
“Unfortunately, many of our past elections have been mired in controversy. Research indicates that more than half of Africa’s ongoing conflicts are a result of claims over legitimacy which poses a massive security risk.
Although some African countries have made strides in the consolidation of their electoral democracies, studies reveal that the threat to electoral integrity is greater in Africa than it is anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, many countries have suffered from political violence, capture of state institutions, militarisation and a deeper entrenchment of autocracy,” DDP said via a spokesperson.
In South Africa alone, political tensions have been a major issue over the past years. Last year, the former premier of KwaZulu-Natal Willies Mchunu released a report which investigated the killings. It found “serious weaknesses” in the criminal justice and intelligence systems, which contributed to the fact that most perpetrators of these conspiracies and murders never face justice.
In its discussion, the summit raised a question of accountability and how it could be effected.
According to Denis Kadima, the executive director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISDA), there are several approaches to exploring accountability and who should be held accountable and how.
“There’s an academic perspective whereby when they talk about electoral accountability, they look at how voters sanction incumbents through periodic elections; it’s more complex.
“The second approach is much more centered around the electoral management body which is normally called electoral commissions. So, in this perspective we look at how electoral commissions account to the voters, how they work and how they can be held accountable,” he said.
In the first approach, Kadima says it’s more about looking at the performance of the government and voters’ behavioral patterns.
“It’s the means voters hold politicians accountable through periodic elections and this is seen from the perspective of voter behavior. Most of the time it’s based on economic performance of regime, so people look at the living conditions and decide,” he said.
Meanwhile the discourse was more centered around electoral accountability and its dynamics, young people raised concerns about electoral illiteracy in a South African context among young people.
The chief executive of the Independent Electoral Commission Sy Mamabolo said strides had been made to educate people about electoral processes, however, it was time for a different approach such as integration of civic education with the formal schooling curriculum.
“Voter education needs to be integrated with the curriculum at schools, and that civic consciousness will address the type of attitude that citizens must have on matters of elections. But, that civic consciousness is broader than just elections. It’s about how one interprets the political system and how does one engage with public participation processes amongst other things,” he said.
Among parliamentary delegation representing the different countries were a Somalian Commissioner, members of parliament from Lesotho and Tanzania; and other representatives from Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria. These are some of the countries whose elections over the years have stirred a lot of controversy due to its power dynamics, violence, and fraud allegations.
The summit in its own explorations revealed how politicians and political parties still hold power over the people due to the status quo that relentlessly put citizens at the receiving end of inequality. Also, corruption in Africa is among the things that have played a major role in how elections usually pan out in most countries.
Strides have been made over the past few years in ensuring free and fair participatory elections; however, the panelists on the summit felt a great need for continuous engagements between electoral stakeholders throughout elections cycle.
The big question remains, how do we address all these issues?
Youth, which is the majority voice could save Africa. According to Denis Kadima, youth participation was among the weakest links when it comes to elections and voter turn out. Kadima said that it’s either the youth is not well informed or there’s a lack of trust for political parties, which leads to young people turning a blind eye.
“If majority of your population does not vote, how credible are your elections?” Kadima asks in reference of youth participation.
A comment from the audience was that the youth either lacks interest in participating due to lack of knowledge, or, the lack of provisions of spaces encouraging youth inclusion.
Recommendations to a better functioning electoral processes and accountability was through youth empowerment and civic education using civil society as a steering wheel.