Our series this week will focus on elections in Africa, many of which have been controversial. We will look at efforts to make them free, fair and credible.
Chris Fomunyoh is the Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington, DC. He told English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe that independence and transparency issues are key to achieving credibility and legitimacy. “Transparency can build the confidence level of the electorate and citizens of a given country – for example, the make-up of the electoral commission, whether these individuals are people who’ve performed exceptionally well in the private sector or public service, are they interested in the democratic process, or likely to favor one candidate or the other.” Fomunyoh says a professional staff is necessary so the commission can effectively carry out its assigned task. He describes two models commonly adopted by African countries: “…[In] some countries, parties nominate a multi- or bi-partisan commission…. Others appoint members for life, and their sole duty, fulltime, is to prepare elections…. If the commission sets out to allow the media, other stakeholders access to all the commission is dealing with, then you can have some guarantees that what comes will be seen as fair, irrespective of who is manning the commission.”
Fomunyoh says one factor that has hampered democratization in Africa, making it difficult for affiliated journalists to exercise independence, is state ownership of the media.
He says although funding of political campaigns remains a crucial factor, it does not always give the richest a win. But so that candidates don’t feel disadvantaged, he says, money is voted from the public treasury and distributed based on criteria that is understood and accepted by all. Other countries limit how much a candidate can spend on a given campaign.
Fomunyoh is encouraged by how well the continent embraces election monitoring. “It’s a testimony of support to democrats in that country. A government that steals an election misses the legitimacy needed in the post-election period. I am just gratified how increasingly Africans are getting engaged in that process; that for me is hope that every election will be a normal political process where we could all be proud of the outcome.”
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