We Are Watching You
** International election observer missions under the microscope
Just before Kenya’s March 2013 elections, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson warned the electorate about making the “wrong” choice.
The poll pitted the West’s favoured candidate Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding President, Jomo Kenyatta.
Carson said: “We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices have on their nation, on the region, on the economy, on the society and on the world in which they live. Choices have consequences.”
The subtle threat did not sway the majority of the electorate, as they went on to elect Uhuru Kenyatta, but not before concerns were raised about Western interference in Africa’s electoral processes.
President-elect Kenyatta’s running mate William Ruto, said: “Western diplomats should not dance around issues. They should tell us they support Raila …
“They should stop telling us that if you vote a certain way there will be consequences. There is no difference between those who issue threats and intimidation and those who advocate for violence.”
With the Southern African nations of Zimbabwe and Madagascar both due to hold key elections this year in what are generally highly-charged environments, the matter of observer missions will again assume centre stage.
In Zimbabwe, there is much at stake for the different competing political interests, while the stakes could be even higher from a peace and security perspective for Madagascar.
For both countries, the role of international election observers will be critical.
Addressing the 7th annual symposium of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa about three weeks ago, Nigeria’s Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, called for banning of non-African election observer missions from involvement in polls on the continent.
He said involvement of Western observers undermined Africa’s sovereignty.
“We must reflect on the role of non-African observation mission or the so-called international observers …
“There have been times when they have been accused of taking sides or deploying missions only in countries in which they have a stake.”
The Former Nigerian leader added: “In some instances, the conduct of these non-African observers has been less than wholesome to the extent that they have in some instances been accused of undermining the sovereignty of the countries.
Pansy Tlakula, the chair of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, weighed in saying: “Some of them are donors who provide funds for the management of elections. Thereafter they send observer missions to observe the election in that particular country.
“We need to have this conversation on whether Africa really needs non-African observer missions.”
Just before its 2002 Presidential elections, Zimbabwe deported Pierre Schori – who headed the European Union’s observer team – after he continually violated the conditions of his visa and meddled in the country’s internal affairs.
Zimbabwe had also barred observers from Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Britain after they had openly adopted an anti-President Robert Mugabe stance.
And for the June 2013 general election, the Zimbabwe government has reiterated that it will not invite observers from several Western countries.
Vice President Joice Mujuru recently said, “Why should we be monitored by other countries outside the Southern African Development Community when we are a sovereign state?
“Let us be wary of foreign interference in our internal politics. Some countries, particularly those which have imposed illegal sanctions on us, wish to pursue their interests at our expense by imposing themselves on our national electionprocesses so as to influence the outcome in their favour.”
Political analyst Dr Nhamo Mhiripiri says, “The West have always had a big brother attitude when it comes to their relations with Africa to the extent that they do not believe that as Africans we are capable of independently running our own affairs.
“This is why you find that the tone of most Western leaders when it comes to Africa is that of a master and servant. When they say electionscan only be credible when Western observers are present, what they actually mean is that they have to be involved for the polls to be ratified as free and fair.”
Britain’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Deborah Bronnet, stirred a hornet’s nest when she implied the exclusion of Western observers observers would make the elections illegitimate.
But in a 2002 article for the New Statesman, titled “How the West helps the vote-riggers,” Mark Almond says, “Determining the legitimacy of elections is not just an arithmetical exercise in checking that the returns match the declared result. It is a powerful weapon in global politics.
“I have seen blatantly rigged polls endorsed by official observers, and I have seen honestly conducted elections discredited.
“This has led me to the conclusion that – to paraphrase Stalin – it doesn't matter who votes, it matters who observes the voting.
“The international observers' reports form the basis of a new government's acceptability to international organisations; they also determine access to aid and investment from Western taxpayers through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and so on.
“A popular mandate is good, but a majority among the observers is better.”
He adds, “For all the pious indignation in recent weeks about violence in the run-up to the Zimbabwean elections … Western governments have repeatedly turned a blind eye to intimidation and manipulation of the media when it has suited them. And it has suited them a lot.”
In reference to the Oragnisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which co-ordinates the EU’s electoral observer missions, Almond says: “After the mid-1990s, the OSCE's observer missions moved on from complacently confirming the west's new friends in power to an activist role in undermining those who got above themselves and forgot their debt of gratitude for the international community's role in preventing the wrong candidate from winning a ‘legitimate’ victory.” He gives the example of the elections in Montenegro in 1997 to demonstrate how far the EU goes in manipulating electoral outcomes under the guise of “observing” the polls.
“In Montenegro in 1997, the West was confident that its favoured candidate would win … But the wrong man came first and a bigwig from OSCE headquarters telephoned the naive mission leader who had failed to see the flaws in the polls which led to this result…
“There was a second round of voting. This time, no mistakes were made…”
Almond goes on: “(President) Mugabe had a point when he said that Africans don't come to observe UK or US elections – in fact, neither Britain nor America allows foreign observers at all.”
At present in Venezuela, analysts have noted an attempt to discredit the electoral system ahead of April 14 elections to pick the late President Hugo Chavez’ successor.
The campaign appears to have intensified following comments made on March 15 by US’ Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who said that it would be “a little difficult” for “open, fair, and transparent elections”.
Interestingly, just last year the same political opposition that is trying to influence international observers, with the assistance of the US, actually asked the national electoral commission to supervise its own intra-party polls.
Four opinion polls show the opposition is likely to lose by a wide margin, hence the push to discredit the elections before they are held.
What is more interesting, however, is that another US Assistant Secretary of State, Johnnie Carson, last month attempted to influence the outcome of Kenya’s general election.
Carson insinuated that Washington would not recognise any outcome apart from a Raila Odinga victory.
Election observation by the international community as we know it today is a fairly novel phenomenon, originating in the 1980s and coinciding with Cold War détente.
Because of these origins, analysts tie the practice with Western attempts to “guide” democracy in other countries.
Before the 1980s, election observation was mainly the preserve of the United Nations, starting in the Korean Peninsula in 1947. But even then, there was skepticism because the UN was a creation of the victorious powers in World War II and thus catered for their geopolitical and economic interests.
That has largely not changed and today Western observers are generally an extension of their home governments’ foreign policies.
Institutions like the US’ National Endowment for Democracy (which has been described as the “acceptable face of the CIA”) and the British Westminster Foundation spend huge sums of money in “training” NGOs in developing countries on electoral matters.
The majority of poll observers get their funding from such organisations, which don’t hide their affiliation to their home governments.
To counter these activities, developing countries in 2005 adopted the UN Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation.
The Declaration comes with a code of conduct for international election observers and it states: “No one should be allowed to be a member of an international election observer mission unless that person is free from any political, economic or other conflicts of interests that would interfere with conducting observations accurately and impartially and/or drawing conclusions about the character of the election process accurately and impartially.”
Further, observers “should be prepared to disclose the sources of their funding upon appropriate and reasonable requests”.
“International election observation must be conducted with respect for the sovereignty of the country holding elections and with respect for the human rights of the people of the country.
“International election observation missions must respect the laws of the host country, as well as national authorities, including electoral bodies, and act in a manner that is consistent with respecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“International election observation missions must actively seek co-operation with host country electoral authorities and must not obstruct the election process.”