Electoral Umpires Urged To Help Halt Democratic Slide In West Africa

*By Paul Ejime

Dr Maria Do Rosario Goncalves, President of the Governing Board of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONE) has called on electoral umpires to “demonstrate diligence and professionalism in their work” so as to halt the seeming democratic reversal in the region.

“With several military coups in the past two years and violent contestations of election results and the controversies over presidential term limit, our region appears to be witnessing a form of democratic reversal,” Dr Goncalves, who is also Chair of Cabo Verde’s National Electoral Commission, CNE, said in Accra, Ghana on Monday.

She spoke at the opening of the 7th ECONEC Biennial General Assembly and a Symposium under the theme: “An efficient communication strategy for enhanced relationships between EMBs and electoral stakeholders in West Africa.”

The ECONEC president noted that the current situation “makes the task of EMBs (Electoral Management Bodies) more difficult …and more so in restoring public confidence and trust in the electoral process, by conducting credible, transparent, free and fair elections.”

“I want to encourage us (EMBs) to acquit ourselves creditably by demonstrating diligence and professionalism in our work,” Dr Goncalves counselled.

She told the meeting attended by officials of regional EMBs including INEC, and representatives of election support organisations and development partners that “elections are so contentious and divisive and have become triggers and drivers of political conflicts and instability in many parts of the world, more so in our region.”

Dr Goncalves said that ECONEC was able to record some achievements even under very difficult and challenging circumstance of a devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic hit the world like a storm toward the end of 2019 and has not let up in its disruption of global economies and life in general, including the conduct of credible elections, the core mandate of our Network,” she said, adding that “Many EMBs became more innovative and creative toward ensuring that their countries’ electoral calendars were not disrupted.”

However, she lamented that “in many cases, this ‘new normal’ came at very huge costs,” and urged the attendees to observe a minute silence in honour of two senior officials of national Electoral Commissions – the former Chairman of the Guinea Electoral Commission Mamadou Salif Kebe, and Dr Amadeu Luiz Barbosa, the former Vice-President of Cabo Verde’s national electoral Commission, who died from COVID-19 complications in April 2020 and May 2021, respectively.

Dr Goncalves said as part of its 2019-2021 Activities, ECONEC undertook post-election follow-up and Peer learning and support missions; conducted a regional orientation and capacity-building workshop for newly appointed Commissioners within ECONEC Member Commissions.

The Network also carried out a regional seminar on the creation of a gender department within EMBs; a capacity-building workshop on media coverage of elections, and a regional workshop on EMB communication strategies and stakeholder relations.

The ECONEC president explained that these activities were made possible “through the cooperation of members of the ECONEC Governing Board, the Secretariat in Abuja, and members of our Network.”

Dr Goncalves thanked international organizations and technical partners (including the African Union, ECOWAS, European Union, GIZ-EPSAO, OSIWA, International IDEA, EISA, UNDP, UN-Women, USAID, IFES, WANEP, WAEON, CDD Ghana, WACSI, AAEA), for their continued support.

She also paid a special tribute to Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, “our immediate past-President and Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria, who laid the solid foundation, which ECONEC is building on today,” adding that for his contributions, “Prof Yakubu has been bestowed with the deserving title of Honorary President of ECONEC.”

Dr Goncalves said it would be “difficult to match ECONEC’s achievements under Prof Yakubu’s leadership, and we count on him, INEC and Nigeria for their continued support.”

“No doubt, ECONEC, since its inception in 2008, has recorded tremendous progress, especially in the past four years, yet so much still needs to be done,” the ECONEC president, noted.

“Another area of advocacy,” she said, “is political inclusion,” adding “For instance, among our 15 member Commissions, only three are headed by women.  We can do better in gender mainstreaming in the composition of EMBs and political governance system as a whole, by ensuring inclusivity through the participation and representation of more women, youths and persons with disabilities in politics.”

The Accra meeting is expected to choose a new president and members of the governing board to run the ECONEC affairs for the next two years.

*Paul Ejime is a Global Affairs Expert and an Independent Consultant to International Organizations on Strategic Communications, Media, Peace & Security and Elections.

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About Cholo Brooks 17483 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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