Election and referendum monitoring in Africa has become a growth business in the last two years. Starting with Namibia's independence, 'experts' from international and regional bodies, foundations and foreign governments have assembled for two- to three-week jaunts to African countries to assess whether voting events were free and fair, and have then walked away.
Some groups have attempted long-term, more responsible observer missions, but too many have consisted of a week or so of limited monitoring, an official announcement and a quick departure. Their conclusions may affect whether the winners are recognised by the international community, which in turn affects aid or assistance to that country.
It may be that outside observers can be effective and impartial, but recent experiences (namely elections in Kenya, Ghana, Angola and Cameroon) suggest that the manner in which these exercises are being conducted may be not only unsuitable but actually damaging to efforts towards achieving long-lasting democracy.
Standards of justice and fairness should be universal. A flawed election is a flawed election and should be rejected as such. A clear stand on principle will restore some of the shattered faith of people who have fought so hard and given up so much to create the opportunity for change, that their labours have not been in vain.
Observer groups would do well to remember that the process of voting, whether for a political party or a political system, is representative of the state of civil and political rights within that country.
The right to vote goes beyond just having the right to exercise choice, it implies having the ability to campaign, educate and discuss options free of harassment, intimidation and repression. The actual voting is part of a long process that involves creating conditions where the rights of all citizens are respected and protected. This is not a two- or three-week project.
Africa may not have a long history or experience of elections, but that does not justify supporting any result just because the election occurred. Such an argument damages the credibility of groups that genuinely want to build democracy in Africa and dooms their struggle to futility.
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
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