Elections in Malawi in 2009. Sida is now supporting the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), in its attempt to strengthen election processes throughout Africa by observing elections, providing knowledge support and administration.
Photo: Electoral Institute for Southern Africa (EISA)
Hope for democracy as regional organizations grow stronger
An election process that is lined with irregularities not only leads to an immediate risk of conflict, but also presents a long-term threat to the country’s democratic development. When authorities are unable to provide a credible election, this weakens voters’ belief in the democratic process. Sida is now supporting the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), in its attempt to strengthen election processes throughout Africa by observing elections, providing knowledge support and administration.
This century, the organization has become a central player in developing democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. The broad geographic area covered by EISA in its work has given the organization valuable knowledge about how effective election support should be organized, based on the specific regional context.
Staffan Smedby, officer for Sida’s support to EISA, says:
“Through EISA, the countries’ election authorities have an opportunity to exchange experiences while boosting networking across national borders between civilian organizations, such as observing elections.”
Regional bodies a motor for change
EISA’s support of various countries’ elections is today complemented by more long-term co-operation with influential interstate organizations, such as the African Union (AU) and the regional economic forums – the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The knowledge base that EISA has established over the years is now helping to strengthen these organizations’ ability to act with support and control to promote good election processes in the region.
“I think that EISA gets more out of its work through these organizations,” Smedby says. “EISA builds up their institutions and ensures that there is a greater capacity overall to work with observing elections in the region.”
Through their political mandates, the interstate organizations have an immediate legitimacy and therefore also a good opportunity to improve the democratic process in southern Africa. Their work with democracy provides a forum where neighbouring countries can meet. The countries participate in each other’s election processes and this creates strengthened regional legitimacy to continue the process of democratization.
Election in Ghana a step in the right direction
On 7 December 2008, a presidential election was held in Ghana, and none of the two main candidates managed to win. A re-election was demanded later that month and in the period leading up to the election day on 28 December, the political tensions in the country rose. Despite a polarized election campaign, both of the elections were held under controlled conditions. The presence of EISA and other election observers contributed to creating stability and adding the necessary legitimacy to the election.
“The election in Ghana was very dramatic, but in the end there was a broad feeling of acceptance surrounding the election result,” Smedby says. “The presence of international election observers was a very important part in the election finally being regarded as fair.”
On 7 January this year, opposition leader John Atta Mills was sworn in as the country’s new president and was able to take power under peaceful circumstances.