Consideration of the Midyear Report of the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union on the Elections in Africa (January - June 2021)

Elections in Africa

Date | 23 September, 2021

Tomorrow (23 September) African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 1034th session to consider the midyear report of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on the elections in Africa.

Following the opening remarks of the PSC Chairperson of the month and Permanent Representative of Chad to the AU, Mahamat Ali Hassan, the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye, is expected to present the midyear report on elections held in the continent. Representatives of member States that organized elections during the period from January to June 2021 may deliver statements.

The midyear briefing is based on PSC’s request, at its 424th meeting held in March 2014, to receive quarterly briefings on national elections in Africa as part of AU efforts towards conflict prevention on the continent. Since then, the Council has been briefed by the AUC on a regular basis. This briefing follows the previous one, which took place during the 982nd meeting in February, to highlight the outcome of elections organized between January and June 2021 and provides an outlook of the elections set to take place between July and December of this year. Apart from providing reviews and outlooks of the elections, the bi-annual briefing is also expected to shed light on key trends in governance, patterns emerged in the conduct of elections, the electoral support and interventions made by the Commission, as well as policy recommendations.

From the 17 presidential and parliamentary elections on the AU calendar for 2021, 11 presidential and parliamentary elections, namely Uganda, Niger (runoff), Cote d’Ivoire, CAR, Congo, Djibouti, Benin, Chad, Cape Verde (parliamentary), Algeria, and Ethiopia) were conducted between January and June 2021. For the second half of the year, seven elections are organized or are expected to take place, which includes Sao Tome and Principe, Zambia, Morocco, Somalia, Cape Verde (presidential), The Gambia and Libya.

In relation to the governance issues in the continent, the midyear report captures four key trends: the increasing appeal for democratic dividends around the continent; the “choiceless” nature of electoral politics; voter apathy; and the persistent challenge of the concentration of power at the centre. These worrying governance trends are further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the quality of elections in the continent. The resurgence of unconstitutional change of government in Africa, which witnessed three military seizure of power this year alone, is also a clear indication of the ‘deepening democratic deficit’ that the continent is facing.

One of the positive developments witnessed in the reporting period likely to be highlighted in the report is Niger’s first-ever democratic power transfer since its independence in 1960, although the attempted coup few days before the presidential inauguration signals the fragility of the democratic gains. The other positive trend is member states ability and will to stick to their electoral calendars despite the enormous challenge posed by COVID-19 pandemic and other political and security issues. Given that the PSC (for instance during its 982nd and 713th meetings) emphasized the importance of mobilizing funds from within the continent with the view to reducing external manipulation and influence, there are encouraging trends in this regard as well. The report indicates that four of the member states that conducted elections during the reporting period ‘primarily financed’ their elections by national funds. The increasing participation of women and youth in the electoral process is another area of positive development though there are still limitations in the participation of the same as candidates.

Despite electoral progress in some member states, challenges to elections in Africa have persisted in the reporting period. Volatile security atmosphere not only dented the credibility of some of the elections but also affected voter turn out. Security threats, political tension, shrinking political space, opposition boycott, and low voter turnout have continued to be worrying trends affecting the elections in some member states. It is worth noting that elections conducted amid intense political climate and high opposition boycott are clear indications of deep-seated divides, highlighting the imperative of political dialogue to accompany elections.

Some elections including the April presidential election in Benin exhibited continued challenge of voter apathy. There is a need to address the factors behind this problem given that voter participation is one key element of credible election. It is to be recalled that the PSC, at its 713th session in August 2017, ‘urged member states to make deliberate efforts towards ensuring and promoting participation in democratic process’.

In relation to the elections that happened in third quarter of the year (covers Sao Tome and Principe, Zambia, and Morocco), of particular interest to the Council is the general elections in Zambia held last month where power has been transferred peacefully to an opposition leader after incumbent Edgar Lungu conceded defeat. The successful transfer of power is a testament to the effective electoral support provided by the AU, which deployed election observation mission to Zambia led by former President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma.

The PSC may also wish to discuss those elections scheduled to take place during the fourth quarter of the year, particularly in Somalia, The Gambia, and Libya. The power tussle between the Prime Minister and the President in Somalia not only risks escalation into an open conflict but also threatened to derail the Presidential election slatted for next month. In Libya, uncertainties are looming on whether the conduct of the parliamentary and presidential elections is feasible within the agreed timeline of 24 December as some of the contested issues (such as the types of elections to hold in December, a referendum on a draft constitution and qualifications to stand as candidate) remains yet unresolved. Given its history of engagement in supporting the transition in Somalia, The Gambia and Libya and the high stakes involved, it is a high time for the AU to utilize all the available tools to keep the electoral process on track.

With respect to the practice and methodology of election observation, AU has deployed short-term election observation and technical missions to all countries that organized elections during the reporting period except for Cape Verde and Algeria (on account of logistical reasons). As highlighted in the Chairperson’s report, in case of Ethiopia, AU deployed a long-term election observation mission in addition to short-term AU Election Observation Missions (AUEOMs). While positive measures have been taken to make AU observation missions more effective and efficient, one important issue worth following up for the PSC is its decision, at its 713th meeting (2017), for the establishment of monitoring and follow-up mechanisms for the implementation of the recommendations of the observation missions. The other issue is on the progress in terms of building synergies with regional mechanisms, particularly through deploying Joint High Level Political Mission (JHLPMs) and championing joint election observation missions, as stressed by the Council during its 653rd session in 2017. The joint deployment of JHLPM in The Gambia and Ghana, as well as AU and ECOWAS co-leading pre-election mission in Niger in 2020 are some of previous experiences for the Commission to build on in this regard.

The expected outcome is a communiqué. It is expected that the PSC would congratulate those member states who successfully conducted their elections during the reporting period. The Council may welcome the growing positive trend of peaceful transfers of power in some member states, notably in Niger and Zambia. However, the Council is also likely to express concerns over persisting challenges of elections including tense political climate, insecurity, opposition boycott, and low voter turnout. In this respect, the Council may encourage member states to take all the necessary steps to create conducive conditions for conducting credible, peaceful and democratic elections. On AU election observation mission, the Council is likely to echo the communique of its 713th meeting in stressing the importance for member states to ensure the implementation of the recommendations of AUEOM.

The Council may also encourage the Commission to build more synergies with regional mechanisms on election related matters, particularly through the deployment of JHLPMs as well as joint election observation missions. In relation to the upcoming elections in Somalia, the Gambia and Libya, the Council may request the Commission to use all the available tools at its disposal to support the election process in these countries, particularly through the deployment of strategic technical support to the electoral management bodies (EMBs) as well as preventive diplomacy and mediation interventions. As elections continue to be conducted within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council may reiterate its call for member states to ‘expedite the adoption, and there after the implementation of AU Guidelines on Elections in Africa in the Context of COVID-19 pandemic and other Public Health Emergencies’ with the view to ensuring safety and security of people.


Insights on the Peace & Security Council - PSC VTC Session on AU Guidelines on Elections in the context of COVID-19

Elections in Africa

Date | 29 January, 2021

Tomorrow (29 January) African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will have its 977th session on the AU guidelines on elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergencies. The session is expected to take place through VTC.

Permanent Representative of the Republic of Senegal, Baye Moctar Diop, will make opening remarks in his capacity as the PSC chair of the month. The Commissioner of the Political Affairs of the AU, Minata Samate Cessouma and Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr. John Nkengasong, are also expected to brief the Council.

At its 935th meeting convened on 9 July 2020, the PSC requested the AU Commission to provide a regular briefings to the Council on elections in Africa and ‘expedite the development of guidelines for the organization of credible elections, in the context of public health emergencies and humanitarian disasters’. Tomorrow’s session provides the Council the opportunity to follow up on this request and consider ‘African Union guidelines for elections during COVID-19 and other public health emergencies’, which has been developed by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the AU Commission.

In her presentation, Commissioner Samate is likely to mention the May 2020 DPA’s briefing to the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC) of the AU on the impact of COVID-19 on elections in Africa where the PRC noted the lack of a common guiding framework for the conduct of elections in the context of COVID-19 and other public health emergencies (PHEs). It is also worth recalling that one of the recommendations that culminated from the May 2020 peer-learning consultative meeting of the African Election Management Bodies (EMBs) on Covid-19 and election in Africa, which was convened by the DPA in collaboration with the Association of African Electoral Authorities (AAEA) and EMBs Networks of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), has been for the AU to develop guideline on the issue.

The briefing may shed light on the context that necessitates the preparation of the guideline. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a dilemma to member states that on one hand they need to hold a periodic and credible election, but on the other hand, they have the responsibility to protect lives. Regular, free, fair and transparent election is a democratic imperative, which member states are required to uphold. The briefing, in this regard, is likely to make reference to the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance as well as the 2002 OAU/AU Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, which clearly require member states to hold credible and regular elections as a key ingredient of democracy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an additional layer of challenge to the already fragile electoral process in Africa. Vibrant and democratic elections usually engage large number of people during political campaign and voting days with the potential to accelerate the spread of the virus, posing a huge health risks. This may discourage voters’ turnout, particularly those in the vulnerable brackets, with a repercussion on the credibility and inclusivity of elections, not to mention the competing priorities that governments face (upholding a democratic imperative at the same time protecting the safety of citizens). In this respect, the guideline alludes to Covid-19’s risk not only to the health of African people but also to the health of democracy.

According to the 2020 elections calendar of the DPA, national elections were slated to take place in seventeen member states. With the outbreak of the pandemic, some countries (such as Burundi, Mali, Malawi, Benin, Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, Niger, Central Africa) decided to go ahead with the elections as originally planned amid high public risk posed by the pandemic, while others, such as Ethiopia, postponed.

Member states will continue to grapple with COVID-19 related challenges this year as well, as a dozen of African countries are set to hold national elections including Ethiopia, Chad, Libya, Somalia, and the Republic of Congo. Given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic (particularly concerning how long it is going to last), and the potential for the occurrence of other PHEs, and as elections cannot be postponed indefinitely; it remains imperative to develop a guideline that would help adapting the electoral processes to the new circumstances of what has been referred to as the ‘new normal’. In this context, the guideline is envisaged as a blueprint for member states and EMBs to navigate their way through elections amid COVID-19 and other PHEs that may emerge in the future. As indicated in the guideline, it constitutes a non-binding continental framework for guaranteeing the holding of safe and credible elections by providing ‘a comprehensive practical tool and contextually adaptable directives for electoral administration in contexts of PHEs’.

Samate may also take the opportunity to stress that the guideline is by no means to replace national electoral laws nor is its intention to serve as a binding legislative instrument for AU, RECs or member states. The guideline, rather, clearly states that it is meant to ‘complement existing national laws, rules, regulations and procedures for conducting elections…’ and ‘reinforce the norms and instruments on election at the national, regional and continental levels.’

In her briefing, Samate is also likely to focus on the key aspects of the guideline such as: the strategic considerations for conducting or postponing elections, the implications of COVID-19/PHEs on elections and its mitigation measures, and duties and responsibilities of key stakeholders. It is worth noting that on 22 July 2020 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) also issued a statement on ‘Elections in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ recognizing the need to ensure respect for the right to regular, free, fair and credible elections while complying with the public health measures necessary to safeguard the health and life of the public when convening elections during the pandemic.

The briefing by Nkengasong is expected to provide insights on the specific health protocols that need to be followed in the context of elections. As suggested in the draft guideline, these include ensuring observance to COVID-19 protocols (physical distancing, regular hand-washing, use of sanitizers); limiting number of people during political campaigns or civic and voter education as well as ensuring alternative modalities such as virtual platforms; increasing the number of polling centres; and providing longer and staggered voting periods.

Given the restrictions that the COVID-19 public health measures entail on various freedoms related to the holding of elections, the guideline offers guidance on key strategic considerations that should inform member state’s decision on whether to hold or postpone elections during COVID-19/PHEs, while it recognizes this as a constitutional prerogative. In this respect, Samate is likely to highlight two points in her briefing as captured in the guideline. The first is the need for member states to critically engage in assessing its specific context against the existence of enabling environments to deliver democratic, credible and peaceful elections amid COVID-19/PHEs. The second is the importance for member states to ensure that the decision either to hold or postpone elections are always outcomes of consultation, dialogue and consensus among key stakeholders. This should include, underscored in the 22 July Statement of the ACHPR, ensuring observance of applicable constitutional procedures, including judicial certification or review, as has been done, for example in the Central African Republic.

The guideline discusses at length how COVID-19/PHEs could affect the different electoral activities that fall within one of the electoral phases: the pre-election, election and post-election phases. It further suggests key mitigation measures that need be taken into account by EMBs, political parties, CSOs, and other stakeholders to ensure that the pandemic or other PHEs do not compromise the credibility of elections in Africa.

Of a particular interest to PSC in relation to the different mitigation measures could be the viability of electronic voting in the African context. Many have already flagged the risk of political backlash that rushing into electronic voting may entail in countries with no requisite infrastructure. In this connection, the WHO general guideline on election during COVID-19 makes an important caveat that ‘in the Africa setting electronic voting is still a long way to go, so election will have to be through in person voting’. While the AU guideline advices African EMBs to embrace new technology for elections, it emphasizes that national consultation, dialogue, consensus, and mutual trust among all key actors should precede the adoption of the new modality.

The briefing may also touch upon the duties and responsibilities of key stakeholders- notably AU, RECs, member states, EMBs, election observation and monitoring bodies, political parties, and civil societies- in ensuring safe and credible elections in Africa amid COVID-19/PHEs.

Nkengasong is further expected to provide update to the PSC members on the situation of Covid-19 in Africa. It is to be recalled that the Council requested Africa CDC to continue providing regular briefings on the ‘progress, trends and challenges in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in the continent’ during its 935th session. The director is likely to highlight the recent spike of COVID-19 cases with a second wave of the pandemic hitting the continent, which is further compounded by the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. Despite the efforts to secure vaccines both within the COVAX initiative (which aims to buy and deliver to the poorest countries), an effort recently supplemented by AU’s securing 270 million vaccine doses, the Director may caution the availability of vaccines beyond those on the frontline in the short term. As such, the representative may advice member states to reinforce safety measures, lending hand in emphasizing the importance of implementing the guideline.

The expected outcome is a communique. The PSC is expected to welcome the preparation of the guideline and may wish to commend the efforts of the DPA and others involved in developing the guideline. The Council may acknowledge the importance of the guideline in providing a practical guide for member states, EMBs, civil society organizations, domestic and international observer groups, political parties and other stakeholders on how to conduct safe and credible elections within the context of COVID-19/PHEs, and may decide to adopt the guideline. The Council may further encourage member states and EMBs to give effect to the guideline by developing their own national policy on elections during COVID-19 and other PHEs that are suitable to their contexts. It may also call upon the AU commission, RECs, member states, EMBs, political parties, civil societies, think tanks, domestic and international observers and other stakeholders to engage in popularizing this guideline for its effective implementation. As holding safe and credible elections is first and foremost the responsibility of member states, the PSC may urge them to commit all the means and resources required to ensure that the enforcement of COVID-19/PHEs measures do not compromise the conduct such elections in a free, fair and credible manner.


Insights on the Peace & Security Council - Briefing on Elections in Africa in the Context of the COVID19 Pandemic

Elections in Africa

Date | 09 July, 2020

Tomorrow (9 July) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is scheduled to hold its 935th meeting to receive a briefing on elections in Africa in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is expected that PSC members will conduct the meeting through video teleconference. It is expected that AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Minata Samate Cessouma will brief the Council.

Since the advent of the pandemic in the continent, countries have adopted various measures to curb the spread of the COVID19 pandemic through various social distancing measures, lockdowns and declaration of state of emergency or state of disaster. The nature of the pandemic and the public health response measures are such that they directly affect electoral processes. The COVID19 measures affect not only the logistical preparation for elections but also the exercise of various rights including the convening of political meetings and rallies that are key for communicating the agenda of contesting political parties and for the electorate to express its views on its needs and be informed of the position of the candidates.

On the other hand, electoral processes by their very nature lead to the gathering of people, the convening of political meetings and the staging of rallies. As such, if not conducted with due regard to the social distancing measures, electoral processes can become the ground for the spread of COVID19 and the resultant rise in the morbidity and mortality that the virus causes.

Tomorrow’s briefing on elections will be the first one to be taking place in the context of COVID19 and presents an opportunity for considering how COVID19 affects electoral plans in Africa. It would additionally afford the opportunity to consider on whether and how elections could be held amid the pandemic and the parameters to be observed if they are to be postponed.

According to the AU calendar of elections, there are about 18 planned elections in 2020 in Africa. The Department of Political Affairs is scheduled to provide an overall update on current developments in countries that have recently concluded elections, those that are preparing to undertake elections and those that have decided to postpone elections.

The last time the PSC held a session on elections was at its 869th on 19 August 2019. In the communiqué, the PSC underlined the need for strengthened citizens participation in democratic process and it also requested the finalization of the reports of AU Election Observation Missions in a timely manner and the early planning for the deployment of the AU Election Observation Missions.

During tomorrow’s session, the PSC may assess the challenges COVID19 poses on electoral processes in Africa. More particularly, of interest to the PSC would be an overview on the challenges that have emerged due to the COVID19 pandemic and their impact on holding transparent, fair and free elections in Africa. Considering these issues affords the PSC an important opportunity to provide guidance to member states on how to manage elections in the context of COVID19. This is important in order to ensure that the holding of elections under restricted conditions or postponement of elections due to COVID19 measures would not lead to electoral disputes and instability. The elections that are expected to receive attention include the recently concluded ones in Burundi, Mali, and Malawi as well as the constitutional referendum in Guinea. The briefing may also provide an overview of upcoming elections in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, and postponed elections in Ethiopia and Chad. The Council may also particularly address countries such as Somalia and Central African Republic that are experiencing fragile transition and instability and are planning elections in 2020.

From the list of countries that held elections or scheduled to hold elections, it is clear that not all of them are on the same standing in terms of the sensitivity of the election for unstable contestation. This means that apart from the general guidance required on how elections may be held in all the countries, there is a need for paying particular attention to the situation of elections in countries with fragile transitions.

The briefing may highlight challenges related to restrictions on mobility. This can have negative impacts on candidates communicating with their supporters and electorates critically engaging with political parties and candidates. As the election in Mali illustrated, the other challenge is also related to the low voter turnout due to fear related to the spread of the pandemic.

The other impact is that it has adversely affected the deployment of independent observers in countries that have held elections this year. Restrictions on international travels means that the AU has not been able to deploy international observers in some of the recent elections held in the context of COVID19. One of the issues that members of the PSC may wish to get information on during the briefing is the adjustments and new changes that the Department of Political Affairs introduced in its provision of support to member states in the context of COVID19.

With respect to the various avenues taken by member states the PSC may address key elements on the processes and procedures of elections. First, for countries that have opted to hold elections, it may urge Africa CDC to develop and adhere to strict safety and public health guidelines to prevent the further spread of the virus. It will be essential for the PSC to urge member states to evaluate their capacity to hold credible and transparent elections while keeping citizens safe. Moreover, these measures have also direct effect on the level of participation of election observers. Hence, the PSC may also request member states to address challenges and provide alternative plans to fill this gap.

Second, with regards to countries that opt to postpone elections, the PSC may urge for the respect of legal processes and political consensus, to prevent instability or charges of unconstitutionality. The PSC may pronounce itself on the need to comply with established constitutional processes when opting for postponing elections. Additionally, consideration should be had for states to build consensus with all the stakeholders including electoral bodies, opposition parties and civil society actors not only to address the legitimacy deficits that may result from postponement of elections but also to ensure that postponement does not lead to political instability. Irrespective of whether member states opt to postpone or hold elections, there is also a need for ensuring that there is greater transparency by governments on their decisions and the process they use for arriving at such decision.

Also, of interest for PSC members is to receive indication from the briefing on countries expected to have highly contested elections and countries expected to hold elections in fragile transitions. These countries require particular attention not only to ensure that COVID19 does not further exacerbates an already volatile situation but also to ensure that contestations surrounding election does not undermine their efforts towards containing the virus. For example, in Malawi, the newly elected government changed the plan for the inauguration of the new president on account of reports of spike in the spread of the virus during the electoral process.

In the context of recent elections, the briefing by DPA may also highlight positive developments including the role of an independent judiciary in the democratization process of countries as demonstrated in the election in Malawi. The briefing may also present best practices that might guide countries that are planning to hold elections.

The expected outcome is a communiqué. The PSC is expected to address the various challenges arising from COVID19 and their effects on planned elections and the electoral process. It may in particular express concern on the negative impacts of COVID19 on holding elections in context that is free from fear and insecurity. With respect to member states that opt for proceeding with scheduled elections, the PSC may urge that they comply with the applicable standards of holding free, fair and credible elections. To this end, it may call on those states to put in place the necessary public health measures including social distancing and hygiene measures during the electoral process. For member states that opt for postponing elections, it may urge them to ensure that proper constitutional procedures are followed and close working relationship and consultations are maintained with all stakeholders in rescheduling the calendar for the elections. The PSC may call on Africa-CDC working with the Department of Political Affairs to develop guidelines on the holding of elections in the context of COVID19. It may request the AU Department of Political Affairs to adjust the provision of its support to member states to the COVID19 environment to ensure that its critical role in the democratization process through supporting electoral processes is not disrupted as a result of COVID19.


Insights on the Peace & Security Council - Briefing on elections in Africa

Elections in Africa

Date | 19 August , 2019

Tomorrow (19 August) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will hold its 869th session focusing on elections in Africa. The PSC is expected to receive the Report of the AU Commission Chairperson on Elections in Africa for the period of January to December 2019. It is expected that the Department of Political Affairs will introduce the report to the PSC.

The practice of providing briefings on elections in Africa can be traced back to the Report of the Panel of the Wise entitled ‘Election-related disputes and political violence’ and the 392nd meeting of the PSC. But it was at its 424th meeting that the PSC decided to have a briefing from the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) on elections in Africa on a quarterly basis.

The last time the PSC held this session was at its 815th meeting held on 04 December 2018. From the 18 presidential and parliamentary elections on the AU calendar for 2019, tomorrow’s session is expected to offer a review of the nine presidential and parliamentary elections and one constitutional referendum held on the continent between January and June 2018. The elections expected to receive attention within this context include those held in Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Comoros, Benin, South Africa, Malawi, Madagascar and Mauritania as well as the constitutional referendum in Egypt.

Of particular interest would be the trend that the briefing is expected to highlight in terms of not only good practice and challenges observed in conducting elections but also in terms of the monitoring of elections. This may include reference to ‘any cases of election malpractices and shortcomings’ that the communiqué of the 747th meeting of the PSC required AU Electoral Observation Mission reports to highlight for future lessons.

Some of the issues observed in a number of the elections under review include election irregularity, incidents of violence, tense political environment, low voter turnout, change of electoral calendar, uneven playing field for candidates and restrictive environment. Low voter turnout seems to be a feature of most of the elections. While the AU notes that the 2019 general elections in Nigeria registered the lowest turnout of elections held on the continent during the reporting period, there is no statistics on percentage of voter turnout for the elections in Benin. Yet, given the impact of low turnout on quality of elections and voters’ confidence over elections, there is a need for addressing the various factors leading to low voter turnout. The exception to this trend of low voter turnout is that of Guinea Bissau where the turnout of registered voters was 84.69.

Beyond and above voter turnout, issues of participation of some segments of the public particularly women and youth are also highlighted as areas requiring attention. In this respect, it was observed that in South Africa ‘only 18.5% of youth in the 18-19 age bracket registered to vote.’ The AU accordingly observed that ‘t]hese call for serious attention as a significant proportion of first-time voters were apathetic.’

The elections that witnessed tense political environment and major contestations include those in Benin, Comoros and Senegal. In all of these cases, fierce disputes resulted from the introduction of electoral legal reforms on matters of political party registration, term limits, electoral system and increased cost of candidatures. Of these, the country that registered retrogression in its electoral processes is Benin, where the AU observed not only an environment that was exclusive of opposition candidates but also violative of individual liberties. These developments highlight that there is a need for the AU to closely monitor electoral legal reforms and develop standards that should be followed in undertaking such reforms as a means of preventing electoral disputes and violence.

Claims of vote rigging have been observed in the elections in Malawi. Of interest to the PSC in this respect would be the post-election protests that followed allegations of electoral fraud.
The impact of insecurity on the electoral processes also remains as has been the case, for example, in parts of Nigeria. This remains a major issue for the upcoming election in Mali.

In terms of positive developments, Mauritania witnessed the democratic transfer of power to a new elected president, the first in the post-independence history of the country is notable.

From a perspective of election observation practice of the AU, it was noted that the AU was not able to deploy election observation mission to Madagascar. In respect to the practice and methodology of election observation, it would be of interest for the PSC to get update on developments relating to the need that various PSC outcome documents including the communiqué of its 747th session indicated in terms of enhancing the African Union Election coordination mechanisms with other relevant international missions. This includes the coordination with electoral observation missions of regional bodies.

The upcoming elections expected to take place during the third and fourth quarter of 2019 that tomorrow’s session will cover are Algeria, Botswana, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia and Tunisia. The AU has envisaged to deploy election observation mission to all the six countries.

In respect of these elections, it would be of interest for PSC members to know about how the AUC plans to engage not only in terms of deployment of election assessment and observation missions but also in terms of identifying risks of electoral disputes and preventive measures that should be adopted. In respect of early warning on such electoral disputes, the upcoming elections that may in particular be of interest are the elections in Mali (on account of the security situation in the country) and Algeria (on account of the protest events in the country).

The expected outcome of the session is a communique. It is expected to address the various issues arising from the report. It would, among others, highlight the continuing importance of elections in the democratization process of the continent, the need for improving the quality of elections including through ensuring the independent functioning of electoral management bodies and the provision of even playing field, and the importance of resolving existing crisis and conflicts as necessary condition for inclusive and credible elections. Enhancing the role of this briefing to map electoral risks for providing early warning to the PSC highlighting the measures that the AU could take for mitigating the risks through joint work of DPA and PSD would be of particular importance for the work of the PSC. To this end, the outcome could highlight the importance of holding the quarterly briefing timeously. In terms of lessons from the elections in Senegal, Comoros and Benin, the PSC may highlight the need for ensuring that electoral legal reforms follow the requirements of inclusiveness, fairness, transparency and consensus of all political forces as a measure of democratic legitimacy and preventing electoral disputes.


Insights on Peace & Security Council - Briefing on elections in Africa

Elections in Africa

Date | 04 December, 2018

Tomorrow (4 December 2018) the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) will hold a briefing session on elections in Africa. It is expected that the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Minata Samate Cessouma, will present a briefing to the PSC. The Department of Peace and Security (PSD) is also expected to make a statement.

As highlighted in the program of the month, this is a quarterly briefing. While the practice of providing briefings on elections in Africa can be traced back to the Report of the Panel of the Wise entitled ‘Election-related disputes and political violence’ and the 392nd meeting of the PSC, it was at its 424th meeting that the PSC decided to have a briefing from the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) on elections in Africa on a quarterly basis.

The last time the PSC held this session was at its 747th meeting held on 18 January 2018.

Tomorrow’s briefing is expected to offer a review of the elections held on the continent between January and November 2018. The elections expected to receive attention within this context include those held in Cameroon, eSwatini, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda, Soa Tome and Principe and Zimbabwe. Of particular interest would be the trend that the briefing is expected to highlight in terms of not only good practice and challenges observed in conducting elections but also in terms of the monitoring of elections. This may include reference to ‘any cases of election malpractices and shortcomings’ that the communiqué of the 747th meeting of the PSC required AU Electoral Observation Mission reports to highlight for future lessons.

While some of these elections continue to reflect continuing challenges relating to credibility of elections and confidence of parties in electoral bodies, others such as Madagascar show the importance of regional and continental engagement for addressing disputes relating to the electoral process. In terms of positive developments, the peaceful transfer of power from an incumbent party to a previously opposition party through election witnessed in Sierra Leone is expected to be highlighted as being exemplary. In countries with conflicts such as Mali and Cameroon, a major issue of interest is the implication of conflicts on electoral processes.

In terms of the role of this briefing session to provide early warning on election related disputes, the upcoming elections that the briefing is expected to highlight would in particular be crucial. In this respect, the run-off presidential election in Madagascar is expected to be a major test in terms of peaceful transition of power for a country that remains under the shadow of the political crisis resulting from the 2009 unconstitutional change of government. It is to be recalled that the PSC held a session on the situation in Madagascar on 18 November. With the major actors of the 2009 crisis Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, facing off in the run-off election, the bitter rivalry between the two have made the stakes in the run-off election higher than the first round of elections.

Another election that will receive the attention of the PSC is the presidential election expected to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The issues relating to the election planned to take place on 23 December, including its timely convening as per the electoral calendar of 5 November 2017, have been subject of deliberation at the 808th session of the PSC held on 19 November. From the perspective of tomorrow’s briefing, what is of interest is an update from the DPA on the request of the PSC’s communiqué from its 808th session for the AU Commission (AUC) ‘to take all necessary measures for to dispatch an electoral observation mission, commensurate with the issues at stake in these elections.’

In terms of the elections expected to take place in the first quarter of 2019, the briefing is expected to cover the general elections in Nigeria, the presidential elections in Senegal and legislative elections in Benin. In respect of these elections, it would be of interest for PSC members to know about how the AUC plans to engage not only in terms of deployment of election assessment and observation missions but also in terms of identifying risks of electoral tensions.

From a perspective of the practice and methodology of election observation, it would be of interest for the PSC to get update on developments relating to the need that various PSC outcome documents including the communiqué of its 747th session indicated in terms of enhancing the African Union Election Observation methodology, reporting and coordination mechanisms with other relevant international missions. This includes the coordination with electoral observation missions of regional bodies.

The outcome of the session is expected to address the various issues arising from the briefing. It would, among others, highlight the continuing importance of elections in the democratization process of the continent, the need for improving the quality of elections including through ensuring the independent functioning of electoral management bodies and even playing field, and the importance of resolving existing crisis and conflicts as necessary condition for inclusive and credible elections. Enhancing the role of this briefing to map electoral risks for providing early warning to the PSC highlighting the measures that the AU could take for mitigating the risks through joint work of DPA and PSD would be of particular importance for the work of the PSC. To this end, the outcome could highlight the importance of holding the quarterly briefing timeously.


Insights on Peace & Security Council - PSC Open Session on African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance

Elections in Africa

Date | 22 August, 2018

Tomorrow (22 August) the Peace and Security Council (PSC) will have its second open session. The session will be held under the theme ‘The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance: Challenges and Prospects for Structural Prevention of Conflict’.

The meeting will receive a briefing from the Director for the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Khabele Matlosa. The focus of the session is a thematic area for which the DPA is responsible.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (African Charter) was adopted on 30 January 2007 by the African Union (AU) Assembly. It came into force on 15 February 2012. It is perhaps the most comprehensive instruments of the AU that enshrines the norms, values and standards that embody the aspiration of the African Union for a democratic, inclusive and just continent. So far it is signed by 46 member states and ratified by 31.

The African Charter sits at the heart of the African Governance Architecture (AGA), a set of normative frameworks and institutions that serve as vehicle for the promoting and ensuring respect for the democratic and governance values of the AU. While a state reporting guideline that outlines the details of information that states party to the African Charter should report on regarding the measures that they have taken to realize the obligations they subscribed to under the Charter has been developed, Togo is the only member state that has submitted its initial State report on the implementation of the Charter.

The theme of this session lies at the cross section of the PSC mandate that combines security and democratic governance. Indeed, under Article 7(1)(m) the PSC is explicitly mandated to ‘follow up, within the framework of its conflict prevention responsibilities, the progress towards the promotion of democratic practices, good governance, the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the sanctity of human life and international humanitarian law by member states’. Undoubtedly, the African Charter offers the PSC the best framework in the pursuit of delivering on its mandate under this provision.

It is in some ways striking that a periodic review of and systematic reflections on the implementation of this key instrument has not been made a standing agenda item in the working methods of the PSC. This is not only because the African Charter fits squarely in the mandate of the PSC but also on account of the link between the governance challenges facing many parts of the continent and the occurrence of conflict situations on the continent. Indeed, as set out in the concept note for tomorrow’s session, despite the progress registered on the continent where elections are accepted and practiced (albeit unevenly) universally, what informs the session are the worrying trends that include ‘persistence of intra-state conflicts; manipulation of constitutions by incumbents to prolong their stay in power; rampant corruption and illicit financial flows; mismanagement of diversity; militarization of politics; refusal to accept electoral results by candidates, igniting electoral violence; extreme poverty; and human rights abuses and violations.’

This session is thus meant to be ‘an opportunity for its Members and partners to deliberate on the progress and challenges for the effective implementation of ACDEG as a mechanism for structural prevention of conflict’. Apart from examining the role of various sectors of society including the media and civil society organizations, the session importantly seeks to address the role of and gaps in the Charter for structural conflict prevention.

As a point of departure in addressing the issue of the challenges facing the African Charter and its role in structural conflict prevention, it is important to underscore that there is no need for the AU to adopt any protocol to the Charter. Nearly all the issues facing the effective operationalization of the African Charter and its role in structural conflict prevention are associated with its effective institutionalization and implementation by the AU and member states.

In terms of the institutionalization of the African Charter, the first issue is the full ratification of the Charter by all AU member states. The full continental implementation of the African Charter and its promotion by the AU, including by the PSC as instrument for structural conflict prevention, requires its full ratification. Second, despite its direct relevance in the work of the PSC, the African Charter is not properly and systematically applied by the PSC. While the PSC occasionally makes reference to the African Charter, thus far this practice remains ad hoc.

Third, while the elaboration of the state reporting guidelines within the AGA framework is a crucial step in its institutionalization, the lack of submission of reports by state parties to the Charter undermines it. There is thus a need for promoting the submission of reports by states or alternatively the establishment of a mechanism for undertaking such a review. In this regard, it is worthwhile to explore the review compliance of states parties to the Charter with the provisions of the Charter within the framework of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an innovative mechanism for review of the performance of AU member states vis-à-vis the various commitments that they have made within the framework of various AU instruments including the African Charter. Finally, there remain gaps between the AGA institutions and frameworks and the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) that supports and relies on the PSC. One aspect of this is also the finalization of the draft framework on AU and regional economic communities/mechanisms (RECs/RMs) cooperation on the implementation of the African Charter’s principles.

In terms of its implementation, the African Charter faces the same issues as other AU instruments. First, there is the issue of the domestication of the African Charter in the national legal system and its internalization in practice in the conduct of public affairs. More often than not states parties to the African Charter lack the political mind-set and the mechanisms for ensuring that the conduct of public affairs are guided by and comply with the values, ideals and requirements of the African Charter. Second, from the perspective of the role of the African Charter as structural conflict prevention instrument, it remains unclear whether the new tool on the structural vulnerability assessment of the APSA has as its major component appropriate indicators from the African Charter that serve as framework for a systematic assessment of AU member states structural weaknesses vis-à-vis democracy, elections and governance. Third, there is also the issue of the popularization of the African Charter among wider sections of the public in states parties to the Charter. In this respect, there is a need for ensuring that further attention is given to the work on enhancing public awareness of the African Charter. It is here that the AU, particularly the DPA and the AGA platform, need to establish strategic alliance with the media, civil society organizations and academic and policy research institutions as the key vehicle for promoting the Charter and building constituency at national levels for its adherence.

Fourth, one of there is also the issue effective continental enforcement mechanism. In this respect, a major challenge is the fact that the AU rule on sanctions for breach of AU norms on democratic governance is currently limited in its application to unconstitutional changes of government. The result of this practice is that if the breach of AU norms on democratic governance does not qualify to be unconstitutional change of government, the PSC does not invoke its Article 7(g) power to sanction a member states irrespective of the gravity of the breach. Fifth, the lack of clarity on the question of term limits and notably the application of Article 23 (5) on manipulation of constitutional amendments meant that contestations over third termism has increasingly become a source of political instability and in some instances conflicts.

The foregoing clearly establishes the major challenges that imped the effectiveness of the Charter. From the perspective of the role of the PSC, a major challenge is achieving consensus among its member states. At one level, there is the issue of the fact that there are PSC members that are not parties to the African Charter. Under such circumstances, it is not clear how the PSC can promote and make use of the Charter in pursuit of its mandate. More importantly, there is the perennial issue of sovereignty, which some member states tend to invoke particularly in the realm of democratic governance. Accordingly, part of the honest conversation that the concept note for the session anticipates should address is the imperative of accepting and clearly affirming the application by the PSC of the African Charter as part of the implementation of its mandate, particularly as it relates to prevention of conflicts. Instead of a protocol to the African Charter indicated in the concept note, this and the institutionalization and implementation challenges highlighted above should be the main issues that the expected outcome of the session should focus on. In this respect, apart from deliberating on the development of guidelines on the amendment of constitutions, the PSC should provide for elaboration of guidelines on the application of sanctions for major democratic governance breaches under the African Charter other than unconstitutional changes of government.

While the expected outcome of this session is a statement, in the light of the importance of the theme and its direct relevance for the mandate of the PSC the and its direct relevance for the mandate of the PSC the communiqué apart from addressing issues highlighted above can also establish the theme of this session as a standing thematic agenda of the PSC during which the PSC receives an annual report on the state of democratic governance and threats to peace and security in Africa.