SADC has come of age – Tax

The SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, is the 6th executive secretary and first female executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). She was appointed by the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government during its 33rd meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi, and was sworn in on August 18, 2013. A lot of developments have taken place under her stewardship since 2013. Zimpapers Head of Television Nomsa Nkala (N.N) recently had an in-depth conversation with Dr Lawrence Tax (Dr. Tax) at SADC headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana on a wide-range of issues affecting the region.

N.N: Your Excellency, you have been the Executive Secretary of SADC for the past four years, and you are the first woman to hold that post. What does this milestone mean for you and the African woman in general?

Dr Tax: First of all let me say I appreciate this appointment and the trust bestowed upon me because such positions are very competitive, strategic and politically sensitive. And SADC, in particular the Heads of State, felt it fit to provide me this opportunity to serve the organisation.

Yes, indeed, I am the first female Executive Secretary and there are number of things that have taken place in our region, and I will be explaining the milestones as we continue with this interview.

With regard to women, it is just to encourage them that these positions are not meant for any particular gender; they are positions meant for any gender. It’s just to be confident, prepare yourself and take up the challenge.

N.N: But it seems it took too long for a woman to rise to your position given that SADC got legal standing in 1992.

Dr Tax: SADC is a big organisation. It’s not just the SADC Secretariat. There are a number of high-level positions and we have a number of women in these high-level positions. We have ministers and even had a President in our region; we have a Deputy President in one of the countries. So yes, this position is just one of those positions.

N.N: So can you say the African woman is beginning to find her place in society?

Dr Tax: That is very complex. I always look at gender empowerment from a number of perspectives. What do we mean by a woman finding her position? It is one thing to have political positions, but it is another thing to have positions in society as a whole.

And where you begin, the focus should not just be on a political position; the focus should be starting from a girl child. What are we doing to empower a girl child? And we are doing a lot.  Indeed, we are finding our position, but it is a journey because finding somebody to rise to a position like Executive Secretary is a journey.

You have to get the right education, get a proper place in a family, you have to be treated equally like a boy child, you have to be given an opportunity to go to school, you come back home; you should not be seen as a girl that we are all from this continent you now go and fetch water and firewood while the boy child is at home studying.

So we are finding our position, yes, but still it’s a journey. Now you are looking at the political decision-making. We have the private sector where we need to have female drivers. It’s a journey, we are working, we have milestones, but there are still a number of challenges that need to be tackled.

N.N: Do you feel, though, that the attitudes regarding the girl child are changing in Southern Africa?

Dr Tax: Yes and no. It is changing but it is taking time because as I’ve mentioned before we have to look from the grassroots level. The policies are there, so that is an indication that attitudes are changing and that there is recognition. So the policies to create an enabling environment are there, but now to go and change the culture aspect that is where you need time because you need to sensitise the people; that means fathers and mothers, uncles, brothers and sisters to understand that this is the correct route.  We are seeing that it is happening at grassroots level, but maybe we need to expedite the process.

N.N: Your Excellency, tell me about your relationship with your male counterparts given the strong link between leadership and patriarchy.

Dr Tax: My relationship, I might say, is very good, excellent because it depends on how you relate with them yourself. If you go there and say, “I am a woman; here I am, I need favours”, then you might find challenges. I’m saying it’s very good; I will give an example to demonstrate what I mean. In the region, I interact with the Heads of State, ministers and I get proper guidance and the needed support without being looked at as a woman. I am looked at as the Executive Secretary of SADC.

I also relate and work closely with my counterparts in other regions. For example, in Comesa we have a tripartite arrangement and we have taskforce of CEOs. And we lead and they chair on a rotational basis.

In that configuration or arrangement, what I have seen is respect, support and encouragement. I have not felt that I am here and that I have been looked at as a woman. No. and maybe that also goes to the attitude change. This is also a demonstration that there is recognition that a leader is a leader regardless of gender.

I spoke of your own reflection. I have said this on a number of occasions that in my workplace or the mandate I have been given, gender doesn’t come to my mind at all. I don’t look at myself as a woman. No. I just consider myself as a human being. And when I consider myself as a human being, I say to myself I am a human being like any other human being regardless of my gender.

If I am given a mandate, it is the same mandate that can equally be given to another person. So my focus is: how do I deliver on the mandate given to me (not my gender?

I recognise I am a woman; I have other gender-related responsibilities as a mother, wife, aunt… those are separate from my work mandate. So, that has been my attitude. I think also even though this is what I feel, let me take this opportunity to encourage all women not to be inferior because of their gender. They have to be proud of their gender and have to be ready to take up the challenge or mandate given to them. The girls also; that should be the route.

N.N: Often, women in leadership say they get constant reminders of their gender. Have you experienced that at all?

Dr Tax: I would say if you encourage it, but if you don’t encourage it, I don’t think that happens. Obviously, people will be tempted. That is a big challenge. They will be looking at you; that you have to expect.

When you are given a big mandate, some people will say, “She is a woman. She is not going to deliver.” And I have said I don’t focus on that, and I don’t need to engage in such kinds of discussions. My approach is to prove that I can deliver and that I have to deliver.

N.N: I assume changing attitudes is one of your biggest hurdles. Any other major challenges in your role so far?

Dr Tax: The challenges are normal challenges. You are here to lead an organisation. You have to first and foremost understand what it is all about. You also have to understand who the key players are and the sensitivities. For a regional organisation or mandate, obviously there are sensitivities, which, now, create some challenges.

What do I mean? SADC has 15 Member States; we are at different levels of development. Now, you have some of the Members States who have different national priorities vis-à-vis regional priorities, and that is not because they do not want to be part of regional integration but they have to balance.

That is one of the challenges to say if this is the case, how do I bring all the Member States together to find common ground and manage these sensitivities? There are challenges, but they are challenges depending on what you are addressing.

N.N: Some say SADC is ineffective as it has failed to resolve political instability in some troubled nations. What do you say about that?

Dr Tax: (laughs) I will say that I would wish to meet such a person, and I’m saying that because first of all, I don’t know what they are comparing SADC with to come up with such a conclusion that it is an ineffective bloc.

Historically, we know where we came from. We started from the liberation struggle and SADC as a result of that common agenda and vision. We worked together through that journey, and we were able to liberate Member States. Now, you live in a dynamic environment.

You don’t expect that you are going to have a challenge-free environment. There will be dynamics, challenges and you will have to address them.

Out of 15 Members States, we had challenges in Madagascar. As you may recall, we were able to help Madagascar. We had challenges in Lesotho, previously before this time around.  We managed to help Lesotho. We had election issues in a number of Member States, and we sailed through.  Yes, I know there are a few issues here and there in the region where we are continuously trying to support each other.

Even if we have not reached conclusion or we have not been able to address the challenges to the end, that cannot be taken as the region is ineffective.

N.N: I suppose critics look at issues that have been on-going for a long time; the Renamo threat in Mozambique, for example, has not been effectively dealt with by SADC.

Dr Tax: Renamo is not on the SADC agenda. It has not been escalated to that level, and we have legal instruments which guide our co-operation. So if a matter is not part of our agenda, we don’t discuss the agenda.

And how does a matter end up on the agenda? If we feel that we are seeing threats in not attending, and also if we feel that the internal mechanisms are not working . . . but if you are confident and seeing that the internal mechanisms are working and steps are being taken, you don’t interfere because these are sovereign countries.

N.N: So, in Mozambique, the internal systems seem to be working. . .

Dr Tax: Yes, we follow. Even if we are not part of the process, we know what is going on; we know that there are negotiations that are going on. There have been some milestones.

Yes, political processes are not straightforward processes. You may agree on this, tomorrow you go to the table and there are new issues altogether. But we have not reached a stage that we are seeing that we need to intervene.

That is one way; it’s our assessment. But the other way is that if a Member State approaches SADC and says now we feel that we need regional intervention. We have not received that request.

N.N: Do you need the authority of a particular government for you to intervene?

Dr Tax: It depends on what the issue is and the gravity of the situation. This is about co-operation, and co-operation is about diplomacy. Co-operation is about agreeing and moving together. It’s not about forcing each other.

So, I can’t give you a straightforward answer that we need authority or we don’t need authority. It depends on situations.

N.N: Some former liberation movements in SADC often claim that some of the regional instability is caused by their former colonial masters. Do you agree?

Dr Tax: Yes and no. I may see agree because the dependence is still there. We are still very dependent on external partners for many reasons. So you can translate that because of your dependence, one can influence your processes. But it also depends on how you put your cards when you negotiate.

Even if you depend on a partner, you also have to understand your strength that indeed I am coming here I am negotiating for a trade deal, but I am the one who is going to provide the raw materials and you are also coming with whatever else you are coming with.

Now, you have to capitalise on your strength. Yes, you may have that influence, but you have ways to manage that influence depending on how you play your cards.

N.N: In your view, have most countries in SADC been able to do that; to competently negotiate their trade agreements?

Dr Tax: That is a difficult one. Even though I am an economist, let me look at it from an economical-political point of view. We have to understand where we have come from and where we are.

In most of our countries, some people say you have been independent for 50 years, but we are seeing very little. But when they do that, they compare with other countries which have been independent for 300 years.

So, it is a journey, and I am looking at it from a historical-economical-political point of view. The focus when we were struggling for independence was to get political and flag independence.

And when we got independence, we were to prepare ourselves to manage our economies. The preparation of managing our economies took different routes in different countries because some Members States had to define ideology.

Now it depends on the route of the ideology they took. But also we had to prepare ourselves in terms of the socio-economic requirements, for example, skills development.

Before even going to skills development, you had to come up with a vision: Where do I want to go 50 years from now? What is my mission and how do I go there? I think that is where, maybe, it took some time for most of our countries before coming up with a clear mission and from that mission to say how do I prioritise to make sure that I arrive at that mission?

So, what used to happen was that yes, we went to school. But we are going to school without a clear purpose of why you are going to school. You need to know what you are prioritising because you have to make sure that you have the elites that are going to manage the administration.

How long does that take? It’s not an activity that you say I am going to see the impact. Education takes time. Now, what kind of education (is it)? Did we align our education system with the priorities in terms of managing our economies?

You are seated at a table with a partner from a European country. It’s a team with 20 people, experts in different aspects. I am saying this from experience. You are a team of five people, and maybe you don’t have deep expertise in those areas.

So, you will try your best to negotiate but you have to understand that you may end up not with the best deal. That has been realised now and that’s why you will see that the dynamics have changed completely.

N.N: So you believe that most SADC countries appreciate the role of effectively managing their economies?

Dr Tax: They do. That’s why now, if you have been following what is going on in most of these economies, first even if you take SADC as an example as a region, we have now prioritised management of our economies, in particular, resources.

We have our resources and we need to make sure that we manage those resources for our benefit. And you can see the alignment with the priorities. Most countries now have focus on making sure that we have our priorities right, but we also understand that for those that we feel are right priorities how are we going to realise them? What do we need?

And if this is what we need, how do we get there and put in place those requirements?

N.N: Is it reasonable, in your view, to have taken this long to get to the point of managing our economies?

Dr Tax: Yes and no. It is not a straightforward question with a straightforward answer. I always listen to the comparison: There are late-comers, but they have leap-frogged others (I’m avoiding mentioning countries).

But those, they had a benchmark. They learnt from the mistakes of the others. So, it took time because we had to learn. Maybe we learnt the hard way. It has taken time. Maybe, we would have done it much earlier than that, but it is a process which was expected to take place.

It’s not unique to the SADC region. It was the same process even in other parts of the developing world.   

N.N: Let’s talk about industrialisation. The SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap is the region’s guide into the coming years. What has been impeding Africa’s quest to industrialise?

Dr Tax: It’s the same reasons; prioritisation. Conventionally, people will talk about lack of skills, lack of finances, infrastructure gap. But again I’m going to say why is that? My answer will be appropriate prioritisation and not appreciating the opportunities that exist in utilising co-operation in regional integration.

We started in the Free Trade Area. We knew that we have opened up our market, but did we go a step further to say yes we are opening up our markets, what should we do?

And this is a tough lesson because it is not only within SADC. We have also had a number of trade agreements with other parts of the world, but it was very clear that the major challenge has been supply side constraints.

Now it goes back to appropriate prioritisation. If you want to trade, you must make sure that you have the capacity to produce, compete and trade. Yes, you have a lot of priorities, but which should come first?

Is it the social? Appropriate prioritisation, but it is also about balancing your priorities because as a country you have a lot of competing priorities. On one hand you need to make sure that you provide for education because you are talking about appropriate skills.

On the other hand you have to make sure you provide for health. Still, you have to make sure you create opportunities for youth employment. Now in that kind of environment where you have competing priorities, how do you prioritise?

That is one of the challenges. Resources are limited, but how do you prioritise? Should I start by enhancing the capacity to produce, and in doing so, increase my capacity to raise revenue, and in that regard, be able to provide for the social requirements?

Or should I start with the social requirements, hoping that then I will prepare an environment and capacity for economic prosperity? So, it’s a challenge which requires balancing and right prioritisation.

N.N: So does SADC provide guidance to individual countries on this issue?

Dr Tax: When a country requests, we do that. But we provide guidance in a different way altogether because when we sit, we analyse what our challenges are and what we should do, and we agree on the direction that we should take as SADC Members States. So, in doing so, that is guidance in one way.

N.N: Is that analysis done country-by-country?

Dr Tax: It’s not a general overview. For example, we cannot say we are putting in place a regional industrialisation strategy without considering national policies. And how do you align regional policies and national policies?

So it’s a must that you undertake country analysis for those country analyses to inform regional policies and strategies.

N.N: Critics say the continent is poor because of rampant corruption and weak leadership?

Dr Tax: To me that is a general statement which needs to be qualified. Because when you say a region is corrupt, what exactly do you mean by the region being corrupt?

Yes, we have individuals; we are different human beings. We have individuals who might be corrupt. We have challenges. Again, weak leadership is a very loaded statement which needs to be qualified. Weak leadership in what regard? Without our founding fathers who are leaders of this organisation, would we be where we are now?

And where is our starting point when we start analysing about weak leadership? Are we looking at specific people? We are talking of leaders at what level (because leadership is at various levels)?

N.N: I suppose they look at the general performance of an individual country, which is then tied to that country’s leadership.

Dr Tax: In SADC, we have micro-economic convergence criteria. We have agreed that for us to measure whether an economy is moving in the right direction, GDP should not be below (a particular level), inflation should not be higher than (a certain point) and debt-sustainability should not be below this, and we are within those ranges.

Last year, we had challenges, which were attributed to a number of factors. We had drought in the region. We had the commodity crisis worldwide. We are part of the big global environment.

The only thing that I may agree that it is still a challenge is that yes, we are seeing economic growth but the economic growth has not translated to addressing poverty, which, for us as a region, is our ultimate objective.

What we need to do and are doing now is to understand that if economies are growing as assessed via the micro-economic indicators, why are we not addressing poverty to that level? And that is what we are now busy trying to see. What kind of measures should we put in place to make sure that we address poverty issues?

N.N: So, basically, what you are saying is most SADC countries are making meaningful progress economically?

Dr Tax: Yes, but that does not mean we should relax. We are making progress, but still, there is a lot which needs to be done.

N.N: In 2014, SADC was divided over what should precede the other: industrialisation or market liberalisation. Are all Member States now pulling in the same direction?

Dr Tax: The region has never been divided.

N.N: South Africa felt that there should be market liberalisation.

Dr Tax: I am not aware of that. I want to explain. 2014 – if this is what you are referring to – that is where there was recognition that we need to refocus. And it wasn’t that South Africa was of a view of a different path and the other Members States; no.

What was discussed was the recognition that yes, we have opened up our market, and we can trade among ourselves without tariffs because we have eliminated tariffs. But the question was: are we trading equitably? That was the question.

And it was felt that one of the Member States because of the level of development is the one that has the biggest market share and that is South Africa. Then Member States said if this is the case, we want to co-operate. How do we ensure that we all trade equitably?

And then it was agreed that we need now to industrialise, and the purpose, which is still the purpose, was to enable the other Member States to enhance their capacity to produce, their capacity to trade, meaning that you have to be competitive.  To be able to trade you must have the infrastructure, your products are of the quality which is expected. So it wasn’t about having different views. It was about how do we continue on an equitable path?

N.N: When can we begin to see tangible results on this march towards industrialisation?

Dr Tax: “Tangible results” is subjective and depends on how you define it. Industrialisation is not an event; it is a process. And if you ask me what I am proud of since I joined this organization, that is one of the achievements which I am seeing but it will take time.

The decision was taken in August 2014. And when you say you want to industrialise, it is not just a statement. You must make sure that you have the tools and the capacity.  When you are talking about industrialisation at regional level it is even more complicated because you are bringing different members and players together.

On reflection, one would perhaps ask: how did you manage? Because within six months (of the decision being taken) we had a strategy. It is unprecedented. That’s why I say that I am proud because when the decision was made, after the Summit I said I am very happy because I have been pushing for economic integration.

It is my desire, it is my dream, to see economic integration, but a timeline of six months to come up with a strategy, how am I going to realise that? So, it was a day-and-night assignment. But again, going back to your question, “How do you relate with your male counterparts”, I got very good support from my other partners.

Uneca came in immediately because we had started discussions on how they can help us. it was not specifically on industrialisation, but after the decision, we saw that was an opportunity. Within six months, we had a strategy. It is a milestone even though it is not impactful yet.

But once you have a strategy, it is not enough. You need to have a plan. So, the next stage we were now preparing to have an operationalisation plan, which, again, in one year was put in place, and was approved in March 2016. But we did not say while we are preparing this instrument let us wait. No. The decision was prepare a strategy, but also start frontloading industrialisation. So we started working on the value chains we profiled.

We have already identified pharmaceuticals, minerals and agro-processing. We are now moving to coming up with the value chains. So, progress is taking place. If you ask me, when are we going to see concrete milestones, my answer is the process has started and we are seeing.

Within two years I believe we are going to have value chains in the different countries and then you can see the impact; not only the output but also the outcome of industrialisation.

N.N: Is there willingness among all in SADC to go in that direction?

Dr Tax: There is willingness, but another challenge is: who are the drivers in terms of industrialisation? There is willingness among Member States. That willingness is there; it was very vivid when we were preparing these tools which I have just referred to. That is at the level of Member States.  We have tried as much as possible to bring in the private sector in the preparations. What is required now is for the private sector to be the drivers of industrialisation. That remains a challenge; not because they are not willing, but it goes back to the issue of capacity.  Do we have that strong private sector in the region to drive industrialisation? If we don’t have, how do we bring in other partners on a win-win platform?

N.N: Is SADC still pursuing a single monetary union and customs union?

Dr Tax: They are still on the cards but there are challenges. Integration in the conventional way has stages. We started with the Free Trade Area, and then we were to go to the Customs Union and then to the Common Market and Monetary Union.

But it has been difficult for one major reason. We have SADC Member States who belong to different configurations and customs unions. Now the regions are different.

It takes a lot of time harmonise the regions. We have tried; there have been negotiations, but it has been very difficult because customs union regimes are different.

Now, realising that challenge, we didn’t say we are just holding, we decided to see how we can harmonise through a tripartite arrangement. So a tripartite arrangement. . .we are moving.

Again, it has taken time as well because when you talk of trade negotiations, there are multiple considerations by Member States. But we have signed the instruments; that is a big milestone.

The impediment was to finalise the Offer of Exchange, the real instrument to be able to operationalise. Progress is also encouraging. East Africa and SACU are about to sign.

So far, 20 out of 26 Member States have signed. The process of ratification is going on. These are technical and legal issues but they are very important because once you have signed, you are required to have two-thirds for the instrument to be operational; two-thirds in terms of signing and also in terms of ratification.

That is one aspect in trying to address the issue of the Customs Union, but also recognising that it may take time before we realise a full-fledged Customs Union and Common Market. Some of the elements of the Common Market and Monetary Union are already being implemented.

For example, we are negotiating trade in services. It can only happen in a common market. We have a programme in financial integration and inclusion. It can only happen in a monetary union.

So, we have taken a developmental approach instead of a conventional integration approach to make sure that the elements which are critical for regional integration and co-operation we will continue implementing them and co-operating on them.

N.N: But given the different economic structures, how will that work?

Dr Tax: It has nothing to do with different levels of economies. It is about the instruments you put in place and the commitment. One of the challenges the region faces is living up to the commitments.

We have a number of protocols and commitments, but sometimes it takes time to implement those commitments or Member States to abide by those commitments. Now, why does that happen?

Sometimes it goes back to competing priorities, but sometimes, maybe, lack of deep understanding of regional integration, the benefits of regional integration and also the implications of regional integration and those commitments before you enter into those commitments.

N.N: Would you then say SADC is effectively pursuing what it was created for?

Dr Tax: I will say that without hesitation. Yes, indeed. It is a region with dynamics and we have to manage those dynamics. But we are making progress.

Nomsa, how would you describe President Mugabe’s Chairmanship of SADC (August 2014-August 2015)?

(Laughs) I don’t want to assess my leaders that it made an impact, but what I will say is that it was not only President Mugabe, but a number of Chairs. When you assume Chairmanship, there are two things which you do. First, you decide on the theme, and based on the theme, a work programme is prepared.

His theme then was “Value-Addition and Beneficiation”, and that is what drove industrialisation. Now, I’m throwing this question back to you: Since we started this conversation, how much has industrialisation featured? So, that is a clear response that indeed, there has been an impact not only during his tenure but a continuous impact.    

N.N: Moving on to other issues, Botswana is hosting an American military base and some reason that this is a threat to regional security given the hostile relations between the West and some SADC countries. Is that a reasonable assumption at all?

Dr Tax: I wouldn’t like to comment on that because I have not analysed that matter.   

N.N: So the issue has never come up at SADC meetings?

Dr Tax: It’s not part of the SADC agenda and personally, I have not analysed it.

N.N: Several African countries have conducted elections. Zimbabwe will hold its own next year. Based on SADC standards, what is your assessment of Zimbabwe’s electoral system?

Dr Tax: Again, if I go to analysing the electoral system, it will be premature and I wouldn’t like to present my assessment on assumption. And I am saying this because according to our structure and guidelines on democratic elections, before a country goes to elections, we get a notification from Member States that we are going to conduct elections, and we invite you to come and observe those elections.

Before we send the election observations mission, what we do first is send what we call an assessment mission. So the mission will go there and assess all what you are saying; electoral preparedness in terms of legislation, the security situation, among others.

So I would be more comfortable once that assessment has been done to be able to say now that yes, indeed, we have assessed and this is what is prevailing.

N.N: What about judging on the last election held in that country?

Dr Tax: The last election, as you are aware, was credible as pronounced by SADC. And since then, the government has been in power, and has governed. We have not, as an organisation, received any complaints.

You cannot gauge one election to the other because you are talking of a period of four years, but we have no reason to doubt that things have changed that dramatically to expect that there are going to be massive challenges during these elections in terms of the law, in terms of the environment. We don’t expect that.

N.N: Some Western groups attacked the credibility of that election.

Dr Tax: If you go by that then all the elections on the continent won’t be credible. Elections in the region are observed by the African Union. Elections are observed by SADC and other partners. For us, as SADC, we are part of the African Union, and if it is very clear that our conclusions and African Union conclusions are the same, then we believe that we did our job. Would it happen that we have differences in terms of conclusion between African Union and SADC, then it will be an issue of concern.

We don’t know what their measures are. We don’t know what their criteria are. We don’t know how they do it, so I can not align myself with something which I am not party to.

N.N: The feeling has been that the presence of the Western groups gives more credibility to African elections.

Dr Tax: Is it because we don’t trust our systems? It is because we feel that we don’t have credible people to do that? That is now where we also need to understand that we are Africans. It is our continent. It is our region and we have an obligation of leading our continent.

N.N: Many African countries are now opposed to Westerners observing their elections. Do you believe this is a fair standpoint?

Dr Tax: I don’t think that is the case because in elections, they are invited. The come and observe. And since I joined SADC, I have seen the European Union being part of it.

N.N: Rwanda stopped the EU from participating, and some African countries have raised their reservations on the issue.

Dr Tax: When you go to elections, you have to explain how you want to do it because elections are not about interfering with the internal processes. It’s not about that.

There are instances, I am not going to mention a country (it’s within SADC), where one of our external partners wanted to be part of the counting process. And they wanted to even count before the Electoral Commission Board. They wanted to go a step further to put their own instrument.

Now, are you observing or you want to be part of the internal processes? We don’t go and interfere in internal processes, but we want to make sure that even if you are not sure about the system, which is being used, ask and get an explanation.

Even before, that is why we have pre-election (assessments). How did you conduct your voter registration? This is what we did. Was everybody given an opportunity to be registered? Yes.

And we consult widely. We don’t consult only with the government, but a number of stakeholders. If you have doubts, you have to communicate those doubts before to enable the government to take the necessary action.

Is the electoral commission independent enough? Do you feel that it is independent? Yes. If it’s independent, then let them do their work. But if you now want to be the electoral board, you want to be the one to conduct the voters register you are not helping. Because what you need to help is to help by making sure that you are enabling that country to have the required systems in place.

N.N: So, from the example you have given, is it fair then to say that those countries that bar Westerners from observing their elections are justified?

Dr Tax: I may say they are justified if there are justifiable reasons. And they may not be justified because I don’t have the facts, I cannot rule. But what I am insisting is that you need to observe elections based on your guiding principles but also understanding that that is a sovereign country with their legislation. Elections are governed by constitutions and electoral and other laws.

So you have to understand those laws as well. A country cannot just wake up in the morning and say I don’t want you to come and be part of my elections. There must be reasons.

Now, because I don’t know the reasons, it’s very difficult for me to say this was the case and this is how it happened. But I am trying to explain a (possible) scenario.

October 2017
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