IFES Q&A with Former Senior Program Manager for Francophone Africa Greg Kehailia

Publication Date: 
14 Apr 2015

News Type:

Greg Kehailia is currently the Senior Governance and Civil Society Advisor at the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). Previously, he was the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) Senior Program Manager for Francophone Africa in Washington D.C. and also served as IFES Chief of Party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has over 15 years of experience as a field practitioner in governance, democratization and electoral processes, mostly in war-torn, post-conflict and transitional countries. He has worked on voter education, empowerment of civil societies, defense and promotion of human rights, and reconciliation-related issues with IFES, the United Nations, the European Union and the Euromed Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures in the Middle East and Africa. Political violence and its prevention have been at the center of his work for the past 15 years.

Tell us about your experience managing programs in Francophone Africa while at IFES. What common challenges do the countries in the region face as they plan for peaceful and credible elections?

If we look at Francophone Africa as a whole, it is very difficult to identify common denominators but the language and the resiliency of its inhabitants. Francophone Africa is a vast and diverse region, counting over 20 countries with almost complete contiguity across the continent from its northwest coast to its southeast coast. The levels of democratic governance as well as security vary considerably from one country to another.

I am therefore not sure I can identify common challenges, but I found Francophone Africa a very striking illustration of the strong linkage between conflict and democratic failure. This linkage is true from both perspectives: conflicts feed corruption, vote-catching, “bigmanism,” and nepotism, among other things, and reciprocally, the lack of governance makes political violence incredibly present. Therefore, the challenges must as often as possible be tackled from both programmatic angles: the democratization process should be used as the way to address political risks and violence; reciprocally, political risk management, conflict mitigation and prevention programs need to be incorporated as a part of the democratization toolbox.

Francophone Africa also confirmed further to me that, when it comes to democratic governance, there are several principles which universally apply in “younger” and “older” democracies. The main one, in my view, is to never think of elections as a finished process, as democratic achievements developed in pain over decades can be lost overnight.

In Elections Worth Dying For? A Selection of Case Studies from Africa you describe various types of political violence experienced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where you served as a Chief of Party for IFES. In the case study titled “Countering Electoral Violence with Electoral Education,” you argue that voter education can, in some instances, address electoral violence. Can you please explain how and when voter education can effectively reduce the incidence of election-related violence?

The idea behind “Countering Electoral Violence” was to contribute to the reflection conducted by the IFES Africa team about electoral violence by creating a typology of events of electoral violence, with the goal of helping inform interventions aimed at preventing and mitigating electoral violence. Eight categories were identified.

As soon as the categories were delimited, it became obvious that the range of possible mitigation measures was as diverse as electoral violence itself and that voter education is not a cure-all. State-on-State violence, State-on-voter violence and State-on-party violence have few if anything to do with citizens’ understanding and interest in elections, for example. Party-on-party violence, party-on-voter violence and party-on-State violence cannot be fully addressed by voter education either, although voter educators must make every effort to extract party supporters from anti-democratic political movements.

Voter education is a citizenry-building instrument and is suited to address the cases of electoral violence where the citizens are the perpetrators, i.e., voter-on-voter violence and voter-on-State violence. Designing voter education curriculum to mitigate electoral violence depends very much on the target groups, resources and timing. It can involve working with traditional leaders on micro-local reconciliation; deploying “peace ambassadors” to monitor political violence; supporting grassroots organizations or larger civil society platforms to educate people about legal mechanisms; building media capacity to debunk rumors and contain hate speech, among a host of other efforts.

While at IFES, you were also responsible for managing programs in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Libya. What mechanisms have proven effective for supporting election security in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?

To provide a specific answer would of course be presumptuous, given the current state of the region; three of the four countries you have mentioned can be considered at war. However, I lived a bit less than a decade in the MENA region, including in Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, and what I keep from my years there is the people’s passion for justice. This passion for justice has been co-opted, manipulated and perverted by various anti-democratic forces to an extent which brings it beyond recognition, but I believe it was the main driver of the Arab Spring.

The Iraq, Jordan and Libya programs on which I worked at IFES were mostly focused on providing electoral assistance to election management bodies (EMBs), with the objective to increase the credibility of the electoral processes. However, electoral peace requires electoral justice, and assisting EMBs is therefore essential for electoral security. Along with my colleagues, I co-developed IFES’ first Syria program (unfortunately only awarded after I had left), which included another dimension that is, in my view, essential to prepare the creation of lasting infrastructure for peace: justice and reconciliation.

What are your main responsibilities as Senior Governance and Civil Society Advisor at IREX?

My main responsibilities mostly involve strategic planning and business development. I work under the Vice President's supervision on the development of programs across IREX’s global portfolio. This includes participating in the development of the organization’s strategy; using my networks and contacts to identify new business opportunities; traveling to establish relationships with client; and potential partners; gathering operational and programmatic intelligence and country context; and analyzing the competitive environment.

What was your most memorable moment while working at IFES?

It will sound like a cliché, but I had so many memorable moments during my years at IFES that it is really hard to pick one particularly. I guess, my time in the DRC as Chief of Party was really special to me because we gave our best as a team, with a very symbiotic field-headquarters relationship in a political context and security environment which were awfully deteriorated. If I had to choose one particular moment, then it would probably be the week of elections in November 2011 in the DRC where it was noticed that most of IFES’ analyses proved correct. Both the Washington team and IFES in Kinshasa ended up flooded with requests for interviews, feedback, and further analysis from governmental entities and the press, while simultaneously trying to put together – on demand from our donors – some rapid response violence-prevention mechanisms. It was fascinating and intense.

For the young professionals entering the field of democracy and governance, what recommendations would you share about gaining experience and making an impact?

What makes this job both complicated and fascinating, is that it requires a combination of technical expertise, the ability to conduct political analysis, operational management skills, and a good pinch of diplomacy and negotiating. My opinion is that it is important for young professionals to progressively gain skills in these four categories to work efficiently in the democracy and governance sector. The experience of expatriation is absolutely necessary in this regard. In order to make an impact once in the field, it is key to maintain a balance between the various stakeholders (local government, national partners, project beneficiaries, donors and headquarters) by acting as a link between them.