“Electoral Integrity in Africa” was the subject of interrogation, and/or reflection at a panel discussion hosted by the Hans Seidel Foundation, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Nangof Trust last week in Windhoek.
The discussion, moderated by IPPR Executive Director, Graham Hopwood, was led by Namibia’s own Director of Elections, Dr Paul Isaak. But foremost as discussants were what one would describe as a formidable team of African statespeople and academicians, or/and activists if not patriots, like David Coltart, a lawyer by profession and former Zimbabwean Minister of Education and founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change and its founding Legal Affairs Secretary; Professor Alexander Frempong of the University of Ghana; Dr Otive Igbuzor, the Executive Director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development from Nigeria; Tom Mboya, a governance and anti-corruption specialist from Kenya, of course not to be confused with the late Kenyan and African nationalist.
Despite having such a knowledgeable team at its disposal, the absence of Namibians at such a discussion and on such a pertinent question, especially in view of the imminent elections in Namibia within a few months, was conspicuous to say the least and a disappointment and quite ominous at best.
Many issues relating to elections and electoral processes came under the spotlight and were shared among the panellists and the other interested parties present, among the latter one or two politicians, members of the civil society, reporters and concerned youths.
But coming through clearly is the fact that elections cannot be defined as having integrity just by the outcome of the actual polls, meaning by the results of the votes.
On the contrary the integrity of the elections depends on the whole electoral process all the way from A-Z. One such process, I could not help but talk silently to myself, was this very panel discussion but an opportunity many Namibians as evidenced by the close to empty hall, cared little about.
To many if not most Namibians, the thinking must have seemed that elections are still a few or couple of months away to be of any importance, let alone any consequence right now. Of course until only lately when both the administrators of elections and the role players seem to have been prodded by a section of the media to express themselves about especially the electronic voting machines (EVMs). How wrong could they not be or have been as by the testimony of fellow African brothers, who in their own countries have been weathering and are still weathering many an electoral storm, that this is a process.
As Professor Frempong well pointed out, unlike most people think, the actual polling itself is not the most important matter in the process. In fact voting per se in many an election has proven to be the smoothest aspect.
However, it is the post-polling process, starting with the processing of the ballots, the counting at any polling station, and everything else that follows, that has proven problematic, if not controversial. Of course, and everything that may have preceded the polls, that means the preparation for the polls every step of the way.
Hence the reference to the process, meaning every intervening period between one poll and another is as important. It seems a fact many role players in the electoral or democratic process are either oblivious of, if not ignorant of.
And once again if one has to reflect on the current ominous silence in Namibia, with only a few months left to the actual polling, one would wonder what must be afoot.
The last spirited reminder lately that Namibia is going to the polls later this year was when role players raised the issue of the short period in which they would be allowed to scrutinise the provisional voters’ roll, and the PDF format at which it was availed to them. The period was subsequently extended to the end of April, albeit in the same PDF format to which stakeholders objected.
The deadline of end of April has come and gone. What has since transpired? No one knows as one has been hearing little, especially from the main stakeholders, the political parties who were at the forefront of the bid to have the time in which to scrutinise the voters’ roll extended, as well as the user-unfriendly PDF format of the roll amended.
As much, the media seem also to have been worrisomely quiet. Perhaps, like the other main role players waiting either for the Directorate of Elections/Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to bark, before they either follow benignly like a flock of sheep that they seem to have been, perhaps subdued by taunts of “the lady doth protest too much”.
Does it mean the electoral process is finished? Not at all as surely things must be cooking if not simmering somewhere somehow.
Already one has been hearing one or the other members leaving and joining one or the other political formation. But such happenings seem to be cast as just a normal transient phenomenon remote from the polls.
The full meaning and/or impact seem to be ignored by the media if not cast aside so that they would not be seen and understood in their full realm. And their importance to the whole process becomes blurred.