ECOWAS UNDERSCORES NEED FOR INDEPENDENCE, INTEGRITY OF ELECTORAL MANAGEMENT BODIES
The ECOWAS Commission has underscored the centrality of the independence, professionalism, fairness and integrity of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) to the collective efforts to nurture democratic culture in West Africa.
In a keynote address to the third General Assembly of the Network of Electoral Commission in West Africa (ECONEC), on Tuesday 23rd October 2012 at the Commission’s Abuja headquarters, the Vice-President of the Commission, Dr. Toga Gayewea McIntosh, noted that “as the principal arbiters in electoral processes, EMBs can decide the fate of a nation between war and peace.”
This realization, he said, inspired ECOWAS to encourage networking among EMBs to promote peer learning, capacity building, setting of regional norms, and the spread of best practices in domain of electoral management in the region.
According to the Vice-President, “electoral disputes, often provoked by the refusal of losing candidates to accept the verdict of the ballot box or poor management of electoral processes, constitutes one of the key triggers to the cycle of instability that the region has witnessed over the last two decades.”
He therefore, urged ECONEC to equip its new leadership with the appropriate strategic work plan designed to address both capacity needs of EMBs and structural challenges that negatively affect electoral processes. The Network should also consolidate on its strength “in a systematic oversight and norm-setting body with a strong moral standing for peer review of electoral management.”
In line with the provisions of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (2001) and the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework of 2008, “ECOWAS continues to support Member States in the electoral process by way of deploying Pre-Election Fact-finding and Election Observer Missions to Member States conducting elections,” the Vice-President noted.
The organization also plays a critical role in the resolution of pre- and post-electoral disputes by facilitating peaceful resolution of disputes using the provisions of Constitutions and electoral laws.
In addition, Dr. McIntosh, said ECOWAS continues to render financial, logistical and technical assistance to Member States, particularly in post-conflict setting to assist them in the preparation of elections, adding that this assistance would be intensified in the future, particularly in the area of pooling electoral resources by means of creating zonal depots for non-perishable electoral materials in the region, to help cut cost and improve efficiency.
He expressed the Commission’s appreciation to the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for its commitment to transparency and good governance in the region and for financing the establishment of the ECOWAS Electoral Assistance Division.
In his remarks, the OSIWA representative Mr. Mathias Hounkpe noted that while progress had been made in election management in the region, so much work still needs to done, adding that the Society would continue to support countries to improve the quality of electoral processes.
In his welcome address, the Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, said that “adapting the tested practices of sister EMBs and avoiding their mistakes not only saves us from trying to re-invent the wheel as it were, but it also saves us valuable resources.”
He said the Annual General Meeting was a “wonderful opportunity for us to learn from one another how best to continue to reform and improve the electoral processes in our countries with a view to deepening democracy in our sub-region and our continent of Africa.”
Mr. Francis Oke, who provided a background of the meeting on behalf of the ECOWAS Director of Political Affairs, Dr. Abdel-Fatau Musah, noted that between the end of 2010 and November 2011, elections were held in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Benin, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Liberia, the Gambia, and Senegal in March 2012. ECOWAS deployed election observers to all the countries expect the Gambia.
More elections are scheduled in the region in 2012-2013 in Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone and Ghana.
The ECONEC, established in 2008 brings together the Chair and vice-Chair persons of Election Commissions of ECOWAS Member States as well as high-ranking experts in electoral matters and officials of international institutions that support democracy.
The current meeting, sponsored by OSIWA, and being held under the aegis of ECONEC, will review the conduct of elections and propose measures for improving poll management as part of efforts to entrench democratic culture in the region.