Towards Ensuring Free and Fair Elections: SADC/Zimbabwe Road Map: Civil Society Role and Challenges

The African Public Policy and Research Institute (APPRI) in collaboration with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR)
Pages: 34
Publisher: IJR
Date of publication: 2011



The issue of democratic elections in Africa has remained a very problematic matter. This has become particularly the case because in many African countries elections have been attended by violence either at the point when they are taking place or after results come out. The general picture is that of a tendency not to accept the results if they are not favourable. Out of this emerges violence which plunges the countries into extended periods of political instability that also affects the economies of the affected countries. It remains a challenge for the emerging African democracies to address the issue of post-election violence if they are to enable their citizens to achieve the so much desired advanced quality of life.

While it may be easy to identify instances of post-election violence, it is more difficult to explain the genesis of such violence. While different people from different countries may advance different explanations that depict local situations, a general explanation may have to do with the process of failure to deepen democracy in the majority of the countries. For some analysts, the crisis of a shallow democracy arises from a failure to make a meaningful democratic transition. It appears that African democracies are not able to consolidate, hence the failure to internalize democratic principles that are essential for respecting election results even if they are not favourable. At another level, it has been argued that the failure of democratic consolidation arises from the adoption of liberal democracy which emphasizes personal accumulation through the state apparatus. Whatever argument is raised, the workshop noted that Southern Africa has a huge deficit of democratic transition and consolidation that needs to be addressed for purposes of both political and economic stability.

The case of election-related violence in Zimbabwe was deliberated upon and was considered to be a threat to regional security. It was argued that the Zimbabwe experience was informative to other states in the region, particularly on the handling of elections and their aftermath. Elections are a democratic mechanism of power transfer and they should be respected and the results should be accepted. There is a need for the states to reformat themselves such that some sectors are not allowed to influence the electoral process or the results of elections. Particular reference was made to the security sector which in the case of Zimbabwe was seen to be driving the violence that has ravaged the country resulting in the loss of many lives. The fact that the army has ceased to be the protector of democracy and democratic institutions lamented. The uniformed forces are manipulated by politicians to focus on the protection of regimes rather than the people. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift from regime security to human security. Security sector players should not be aligned to any political party and should not be politicized. In some African states, the uniformed forces are partisan political actors who have assumed the responsibility of being ‗king makers' and that does not work well for the consolidation of democracy. The workshop was of the view that there is a need to stop the politicization of the security sector in order to eradicate election-related violence.

The depoliticization of the security sector lies at the foundation of removing the uniformed forces from politics. The fundamental mechanism for this is security sector reform (SSR) which should be treated as a process rather than an event. If the countries of the region can undergo the SSR process, the military would be able to perform the mandate suggested by different African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocols to which many of the member states are signatory. It is through genuine SSR processes that the paradigm shift suggested above can take place.

The role of civil society in African elections remains very paramount. It can be argued that where the civil society space is open, the pre-election ground can be better levelled, the electoral process would be better monitored, and the post-election environment would be healthy. All this is possible if civil society does not abdicate from its democratic mandate of oversight. The workshop emphasized that civil society faces numerous challenges, both internal and external. The case of Zimbabwe showed that internal squabbles and intense competition within civil society remains a big challenge. There is also the problem of state hostility in a politically polarized society. It was clear that in all the countries civil society remains weak and therefore not able to play its role of being drivers of democracy. In spite of all these challenges there is clear evidence that civil society continues to address issues of election-related violence. However, their ability to mobilize communities for political change and full democratization remains very minimal, especially if compared to the achievements of their counterparts in other parts of the world. It should be underscored that the workshop concluded that civil society remains the most viable and potentially effective way of dealing with the issue of election-related violence.