The ECOWAS Commission is soliciting the entrenchment of democratic governance in West Africa in order to have the right atmosphere for stability and the economic development of the region.
At the start of a two-Day regional conference on electoral security in ECOWAS Member States on the 30th of July 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria, attention was called to the several challenges of the electoral process which necessitate appropriate action by stakeholders in order for democracy and good governance to flourish.
Speaking on behalf of the ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Gen Francis Behanzin as well as the Director, Political Affairs, the Head, Mediation Facilitation Division Mr. Ebenezer Asiedu maintained that the regularity with which elections are held in the region has not excused it from being marred by violence.
Warning of an emerging threat to democratic governance, he said the observed flawed electoral processes have in some cases been characterized by manipulation and flagrant disregard of electoral laws to the point of rejection of the outcome of elections, thereby contributing to undermining the development and consolidation of the desired democratic culture.
“Unfortunately, the conduct of elections in Member States, and by extension in the region, which constitute part of our democratic governance practices, often comes with a general sense of fear, uneasiness and panic, with the perception of high risks of violence” He added.
It was for this reason, he intoned, that the regional conference had been organized to serve as an avenue for collaborative learning on regional and international best practices, as well as to assess past incidents and efforts at mitigation and prevention, while analysing intra-national and regional patterns of violence during all phases of the electoral cycle.
The gathering of stakeholders will also create a platform to collect and disseminate such best practices across the region as a resource tool to guide development practitioners, policy and decisions-makers in promoting peaceful and democratic elections.
In a goodwill statement, the chief of Party of the Reacting to Early Warning and Response Data in West Africa (REWARD) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mr. Alimou Diallo stated that the efforts which culminated in the convergence of the stakeholders is “a demonstration of a growing commitment to improve democratic culture and peaceful elections in the region”
He stressed that lessons learned in electoral administration, management and security are meant to help reduce tensions and violence during electoral periods, even though West Africa has witnessed a great deal of challenges related to its democratization processes. The region, he maintained, has also “overcome many hurdles and made significant strides since ECOWAS adopted Multi-party democracy as the only source of political legitimacy in 1991 with the Declaration of the ECOWAS Political Principles”.
The conference seeks to build on regional and international electoral violence prevention and electoral assistance programs that have gained prominence since the end of the Cold War era. This according to the USAID REWARD chief of Party, is also strengthening the determination and solid beliefs in the values of tolerance, mutual respect, unity in diversity, and coexistence among all communities in the region.
He charged participants at the conference to appropriately address the daunting challenges in the region exacerbated by terrorism and violent extremists and seek to resolve any differences with the potential to derail the hard-earned democratic credence of West Africa.
The representative Nigeria’s Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) Mr. Ifeanyichucku Agoha extolled the collaborative efforts of ECOWAS and INEC while expressing the hope that other regional organizations on the continent will also benefit from the rich discussions.
The Executive Director of the West African Network for Peace-building (WANEP) Dr. Chuckwuemeka Eze raised pertinent questions bordering on the nature of security in the region, the burden of colonial legacy and the important need of making ECOWAS Member States thrive peacefully by priming themselves to respond to their genuine needs.
The Vice Chairperson of the Commission Electorale Nationale Autonome (CENA) of the Republic of Benin Mrs. Genevieve Boco Nadjo as well as the former chair of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, General Sangare Siaka (Mali) gave brief situation reports in their countries and expressed the hope that the conference will help come up with strategies to curb electoral manipulations and violence among others.
A lead presentation was made by the senior advisor, electoral education and integrity of the Creative Associates International dwelling on the definition of relevant concepts as well as security, political, socio-economic and contextual factors which are usually at play during the electoral processes.
Elections are scheduled to hold in no fewer than 10 West Africa countries between 2019 and 2020. Participating stakeholders at the conference were drawn from ECONEC, Regional Electoral Management Bodies (EMB), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Civil Society Representatives, among others.