Partnerships for Meaningful Elections in Africa
With the recent conclusion of 2015, it is meaningful to reflect on the successes and lessons from last year. In a U.S. Institute for Peace address in 2015 during his visit state visit to the U.S., Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari reflected on the democratic success in his country in 2015: “the contributions of IRI [International Republican Institute], NDI [National Democratic Institute] and IFES [International Foundation for Electoral Systems] to the success of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria are well documented. I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for their partnership and support to the democratization process in Nigeria.”
In order to build on such successes, the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) partners – IFES, NDI, and IRI – organized a panel with the Open Society Foundations and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on January 29 on “Partnerships for Meaningful Elections in Africa.” The panel presented to a large audience of both international and domestic stakeholders with the purpose of reviewing lessons learned in 2015 and sharing projections about opportunities for collaboration during upcoming elections in 2016.
Richard Klein, a Senior Advisor for Election Programs at NDI, kicked off the presentations with a discussion of parallel vote tabulation (PVT), a method that was developed a number of years ago but is only now being implemented in African countries. He outlined the dual purposes of the PVT system: to certify the quality of the voting process, and to contribute to a peaceful resolution of potential conflicts over results through accurate reporting, and further cited recent CEPPS successes on this front in Zambia and Nigeria. He outlined trust as a key issue and suggested that PVTs have great potential for building this trust.
Next on the panel was Open Society Foundations Senior Policy Analyst for Africa Sarah Pray who presented on situation rooms. She emphasized the frustrations that often go hand-in-hand with traditional observation methods, and enthusiastically advocated for the real-time attention to election issues addressed by the use of situation rooms, which have been successfully implemented in Nigeria for elections at all levels. She envisions situation rooms, with the buy-in of election management bodies and civil society, significantly decreasing Election Day issues that can cause potential security conflicts over the integrity of elections.
The next panelist, Gretchen Birkle, Regional Director for Africa at IRI, took a more proactive stance as she spoke about the role of women and youth in elections. She focused on the security issues that exist with an ever-growing youth population and shared several examples of effective youth engagement programs conducted by CEPPS partners, including a weekly call-in show for youth in Nigeria and Mandela Fellows in Tanzania. She went on to describe other inclusivity initiatives including gender assessments about women’s participation in elections, and IFES and IRI collaboration on disability rights initiatives.
The panel then featured IFES Regional Director for Africa Rushdi Nackerdien, who presented on the use of technological innovation in upcoming elections. His presentation emphasized that Africa is at the cusp of technological innovation when it comes to elections, with a tremendous amount of opportunity for incorporation at all election stages from voter outreach and poll working training in the pre-election stage to sentiment analysis and reform in the post-election period. Nackerdien underscored the pressures for not just reform, but reform on a tight timetable. He noted IFES’ technological success stories in Nigeria and in Burkina Faso regardless of these time constraints, with one of the fastest results transmission times on the continent. But while he touted the opportunities ahead of us, he also stressed the importance of balancing trust, transparency, speed, and competence, citing public perception as being critical to future successes.
The final panelist was Leah Kaplan, a Democracy and Governance Officer for USAID based in Côte d’Ivoire, who shared her experiences in coordinating election activities among a variety of donors. She stressed three major success points in Côte d’Ivoire: regular communication with Ambassadors, using non-financial resources from the donor community, and working closely with others on the ground so as not to duplicate efforts. She indicated how pleased the election commission had been and is enthusiastic to duplicate those efforts in upcoming legislative elections.
The event’s focus on lessons learned and on projections into what lies ahead in the world of democracy and governance also provided a platform to celebrate some of IFES Africa’s successes in 2015. Highlights of the year have included: IFES’ extensive engagement in Nigeria’s historic March 2015 elections, which led to the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, marked by the participation of over 29 million voters in the polls. Specifically, IFES’ voter education campaign reached over 67 million people while they also provided technical support training to 650,000 poll workers, 250 judges and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Electoral Officers across Nigeria. IFES also established 37 Elections Operations Centers (EOSC) to track and monitor electoral operations, which worked on a national scale for the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria. Additionally, IFES contributed to the inclusiveness of the elections by working with the INEC to ensure that internally displaced persons were not disenfranchised and provided assistance to INEC’s Graphic Design Center, which produced its first in-house designed ballot papers.
IFES’ work in Burkina Faso also made significant contributions to an election that is described as “the freest and fairest” elections in the country’s history. This included IFES’ procurement and installation of an election results scanning, tabulation and transmission system and the trainings associated with it; a system that returned one of the fastest results transmission on the African continent. Elections were proceeded by an in-depth IFES assessment of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (CENI) capacities and needs, which helped IFES administer targeted trainings and address gaps in key areas including systems to secure electoral materials and processes and voter education with an emphasis on peace messaging.
The event concluded with emphatic agreement that the electoral work in Africa that lies ahead in 2016 will require early planning, proper attention to historical contexts, and coordinated efforts among stakeholders; a good sign considering that all of these elements contributed to the success of the day’s panel itself.