The Southern African Development Community (SADC) seems to have finally discovered a working formula to successfully manage elections in the region.
Thanks to the collective effort of member states, the southern African region has made commendable strides to bringing peace and political stability. Last year, SADC was able to manage national elections in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Madagascar, SADC’s efforts paid off after the deployment of former Mozambique president Joachim Chissano as Special Envoy resulted in the November 2018 elections and presidential run-off in December to be held without any incident.
In DRC, SADC managed to bring political parties to the table and convinced them to agree on the development and implementation of an electoral calendar and electoral roadmap, which led to the holding of national elections in December 2018.
The election that was feared could result in bloodshed in the mineral-rich nation – was also concluded peacefully. The dispute over the presidential results was peacefully resolved through legal means, which opposition leader Martin Fayulu has accepted.
The positive developments were due to efforts by the regional body to revisit the way it has observed elections, says SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax.
“We have also revisited the way we observe elections and we are operationalising those issues. We have been receiving criticism that what is the value of election observation and we have been trying to explain that it is not just an event where you go and observe elections.
“No, it has a lot of benefits and with this new approach, which we have devised, you start with the pre-elections. When you go for pre-elections, you scan the environment in terms of the legal environment, political environment and peace and security environment, and it is like an early warning mechanism that this is what we are seeing and this is what we hear from the stakeholders please take note and let them help you in your preparation process. So, it has been very very useful,” Tax told The Southern Times during a recent interview.
“We also have the new approach, which requires that during the election we observe that process; and we observe with credibility, we have credible data. So, we take the process from the beginning to the end [so that] even when elections are contested or even when your statements are contested you can confidently explain that no what you are saying is not correct, we concluded in this manner because this was the situation. So, that also builds confidence and trust among stakeholders.”
She said SADC has proven the importance of dialogue in maintaining peace and stability.
“The system, which I have just explained, worked very well for Madagascar and has also worked very very well, extremely well, for the DRC because in Madagascar also SADC said but we don’t interfere in a country’s sovereignty.
“In Madagascar, because of the stages of observation and also because SADC mediated, we facilitated and we had an early warning mechanism. Our approach is prevention rather than interference.
“The stakeholders were able to sit together with the facilitation of SADC and former president (Chissano) and then they were mediated and the reports, we have shared with them to enable them to come together and resolve their problems. They had elections first round, and second round but you can see there was peace,” Dr Tax explained.
“In DRC, as well, there were a lot of issues but because of the same system, things turned out for the better. Because of our efforts, nobody believed that DRC will have peaceful elections, that there will be a smooth transfer of power. And that has happened and that is about SADC’s reliability, which I said I am proud to be part of.
“So, in all earnest SADC has proven its critics wrong that instead of interfering and intervening, a solution that means cooperation instead of taking guns was found instead of using force.”
The national of Tanzania, Dr Tax is the first woman to be appointed the Executive Secretary of SADC since September 2013.
“SADC has proven that dialogue is very important and listening to each other is very important, understanding the dynamics is very important and you intervene based on an informed position,” she said.
Meanwhile, Tax has commended SADC leadership under its chairperson and Namibian President Dr Hage Geingob for his exemplary leadership that he displayed to ensure the successful holding of elections and peaceful transition of power in the DRC and Madagascar.
“We really thank our current Chair President Geingob because for the DRC, for example, he met a number of stakeholders and the message was very clear. ‘DRC is your country, the DRC is a sovereign country, DRC you know your interest. DRC you have a responsibility as stakeholders of DRC to ensure the sustenance of peace. SADC is here to help you, let us know what you want us to help you with but we respect your sovereignty’.”