The scourge of foreign election observers in Africa

The issue of whether African countries should allow bodies from outside the continent to come and observer elections in Africa has always been a prickly subject.

There are those who are of the view that African countries should allow unfettered access to observers from Europe, America and other nether regions to observe elections in African countries.

To them, an African election is deemed to be free and fair once those foreign bodies pronounce it as such.

Yet others are of the view that Africa and its regional blocs such as SADC, the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC), the Community of Central African States (CAS) and the Maghreb region have developed strong institutions over the years to be able to observe elections in member countries, without outside interference.

Indeed most African countries have come of age when it comes to democracy and holding of regular democratic elections.  Gone are the days of coups and dictatorships that were the scourge of the continent through the 1960s and 1970s as the winds of democratic elections have swept across the continent.

Africa has put in place institutions to safeguard the holding of democratic elections on the continent.  Of course, Africa cannot exist in isolation as it is also part of the global village, but we question critics who still want African countries to have observers from Europe and America to come and observer elections so that they are deemed free and fair.

Yet there are no African countries which have observed elections in Europe and America!

Namibian President Hage Geingob has waded into the subject and rightly pointed out that Africans needed to be proud of who they are and their institutions instead of always listening to foreigners. In a wide-ranging interview we carried last week, Dr Geingob said African countries must be allowed to do things their own way without outside interference. We could not agree with him more.

As we have pointed out, Africa, through the African Union and its regional blocs, has developed strong institutions that promote democratic elections.  We believe these are what serve Africa’s interests best.

SADC in 2004 came up with its Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which were a result of broad consultations by member states and the SADC Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC).

The principal objective of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections is to promote the holding and observation of democratic elections based on the shared values and principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights enshrined in the 1992 SADC Treaty.

The AU also has its Declaration of OAU Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa adopted by the Heads of State and Governments at the 38th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit in Durban, South Africa, in 2002.

Through these African institutions, election observer missions are sent to member countries holding elections, after which they make pronouncements of the polls.  This clearly shows that Africa, as President Geingob rightly pointed out in the interview, does not need foreign or observer missions from outside the continent to make declarations on polls on the continent.

In fact, it would be up to member states to invite observer missions from outside the continent, if they so wish.

Isn’t it telling that no African elections observer mission has been invited to Europe or America to observe elections there?  Is it not because countries in those regions have their own systems that they follow and no one has the right to criticise their systems?   Why should it be different when it comes to Africa, we ask?

After all, are the same countries that criticise African democratic institutions not the ones that enslaved, colonised and plundered Africans?  These countries still have a vested interested on what happens in African countries and will not waste time to meddle. The French are notorious for meddling in West Africa.

Most countries, especially in Southern Africa, had to resort to armed struggles to bring about the one-man one-vote that Africans were denied by colonial usurpers.

In the most recent case, we saw ECOWAS standing firm in the Gambia and superintended over elections there and a peaceful transition.  This just shows that Africa’s institutions have come of age and must therefore be allowed to run their own affairs.

In Lesotho, SADC has come hard on that country’s rulers and on the side of the ordinary people.

The result is that the Basotho will go to the polls on 2 June to choose their news leaders in a poll SADC will observe.

We believe foreigners, that is people or bodies from outside the continent, must allow Africans to chart their own paths and decide their own destinies.

We believe it is high time leaders on the continent stand up in defence of Africa’s interests.

It is time that Africa must stand up and be counted!

May 2017
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