The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) plans to empower the Election Management Bodies in the region as a strategy to lessen incidents of violence that results from the electoral processes.
Amb. Zachary Muburi-Muita, the Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) said the 12-member states in the Great Lakes region have committed to strengthening the capacities of political players especially those of the Election Management Bodies (EMBs) to increase acceptance of election outcomes.
He added that the ICGLR recognizes the centrality of democracy to achieving a peaceful and stable region which would, in turn, provide a conducive environment for sustainable peace and economic development.
Speaking while opening a workshop by the ICGLR for election management bodies in Nairobi, Amb. Bon Ogutu, the Representative of Hon Monica Juma, Kenya’s’ Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs said the Great Lakes Region has experienced a paradox of democracy and violence triggered by contested elections that unfortunately negates the intentions of entrenching good governance and contributing to stability.
He said extensive literature on democratic peace suggests that democracies are less likely than other regimes to experience violent conflicts. “However, the process of democratisation in the Great Lakes Region seems to be, from time to time, fraught with difficulties, often resulting to violence,” he noted.
The United States Institute of Peace says that at the peak of the civil wars, there were about 2.7 million refugees from the region and more than 4 million internally displaced people as a result of disputed election outcomes ICGLR Member States.
According to the UN, there were more internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo than in any other country in Africa and more than 13.1 million of its people needed humanitarian assistance and protection.
Monica noted that the democratic ideals introduced to Africa by colonisers came with new tensions and highlighted old grievances about social injustices and ethnic differences soon after independence.
Amb. Ogutu said these have been the root causes that have characterized politics at the national and regional levels adding that the region has to ask about the preparedness, readiness and its ability to embrace multiparty democracy in the form it was originally defined and in the way, it has been applied in other parts of the world.
Some countries in the region tend to restrict democratic rights – such as the freedom of speech and free political activity – in the name of national security, peace and stability. There have also been cases of constitutional changes such as removal of clauses on presidential terms limit.
UN instruments for elections
Growth for countries to hold regular elections is partly informed by UN’s Article 21 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives”.
Further, sub-section 3 of the same Article 21 recognizes that “The will of the people shall be on the basis of the authority of government: this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.
As a result, Ambassador Ben Ogutu noted that for almost five decades now, more and more regimes in the Great Lakes Region have tried to open up the political space and implement the core principles of democracy and good governance.
These includes inter alia, freedom of speech, the right of demonstrations, multiparty system, transparent and fair elections, as well as accountability,” said Amb. Ogutu.
Prof Abdi representing Chairman of Kenya’s Independent Election and Boundary Commission noted that the two UN instruments succinctly narrow down to the right to political participation and the right to organize genuine, periodic elections. “These two statements are solely the reason why countries will invest in an election observer mission”.
In other words, he added, an observer mission contributes directly to the protection of human rights in a country where elections are taking place.
In line with these commitments, states have integrated these instruments into their electoral laws legitimizing the presence of observers.
Prof. Abdi Yakub Guliye, noted that the rapid and open sharing of information reduces the spread of fake news and rumours, time was ripe for the region to develop a comprehensive strategy to mitigate these threats.
Prof. Guliye noted that in recent years, the number of election missions around the world has been growing.
For example, in Kenya, during the recent 2017 general elections, 102 international and domestic missions were accredited with some 54,000 observers. “This is the indicator that electoral observation and monitoring have become an integral part of any democratic and electoral process,” he said.
But elections in the Great Lakes Region tend to be most violent of all elections and are often marked by conflicts that have led to the humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions.
“Consequently, in the region and indeed in many parts of the continent, there is a tendency for countries to move to different forms of benign dictatorships, which are erroneously assumed to be more likely to build national unity and prevent ethnic violence, then simple democracies,” noted Amb. Ogutu.
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