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Elections and Peacebuilding - Key Issues, Challenges, Lessons Learned, and Best Practices

On July 11, 2017, the Wilson Center Africa Program hosted a panel discussion on “Elections and Peacebuilding – Key Issues, Challenges, Lessons Learned, and Best Practices,” as part of the 2017 annual Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding conference.

Date & Time

Jul. 11, 2017
11:15am – 12:45pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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On July 11, 2017, the Wilson Center Africa Program hosted a panel discussion on “Elections and Peacebuilding – Key Issues, Challenges, Lessons Learned, and Best Practices,” as part of the 2017 annual Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding conference.  The event featured three speakers: Ms.Elizabeth Lewis, Deputy Director, Africa Division, International Republican Institute; Dr. Ibrahim Diarra, Director, Centre Ivorien de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (CIRES), Cote d’Ivoire; and Fr. Alain Nzadi-a-Nzadi, Director, Centre d'Etudes Pour L'Action Sociale (CEPAS), Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Together, the panelists drew on lessons learned from Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, Kenya, and broader international perspectives to examine the role of elections in democratic transitions, identify key challenges to democratic elections in Africa, highlight best practices, and offer recommendations for improving the integrity of elections in Africa.

Ms.Elizabeth Lewis provided an overview of the role of elections in peacebuilding in Africa, addressing the progress made and identifying remaining challenges. Acknowledging that elections are more complex in conflict situations, Ms. Lewis stressed the importance of viewing elections as part of the larger peacebuilding process rather than as an end in themselves. Moreover, she suggested that successful post-conflict elections are held after broad-based, inclusive political dialogues focused on strengthening internal democratic institutions, building legal and constitutional frameworks, and including all stakeholders occur. While elections mark pivotal steps in democratic transitions, according to Ms. Lewis, they should not be held without proper preparations; free and fair elections must seek to utilize adequate voter technology, ensure that all citizens are educated on their choices and rights, and consider electoral logistics. She cited examples from Central African Republic and Kenya where the uses of popular dialogue and legal and constitutional reforms, respectively, have seen successes in the broader peacebuilding process. Ms. Lewis then offered key recommendations for elections and peacebuilding, stating that African regional institutions and the media should embrace the roles they may play in fostering space for democratic elections, and that all stakeholders must refrain from focusing on elections at the expense of the overall peacebuilding process. She noted that states should wait to hold elections until management bodies have the capacity to ensure credible processes, and that civil society organizations continue to bring the electoral processes to citizens to guarantee that African elections are not an elite-driven process.

Dr. Ibrahim Diarra discussed African elections and peacebuilding from the perspective of Cote d’Ivoire. Dr. Diarra noted that the transition to multi-party system in 1990 also marked the advent of electoral violence in Cote d’Ivoire. Dr. Diarra suggested that to further consolidate democracy by reducing electoral violence Cote d’Ivoire should augment civic education, address the issue of illiteracy, both generally, and in relation to understanding electoral laws, and minimize the role that clan, ethnic, and religious identification plays in elections. Dr. Diarra noted how the frustration of the youth, the use ambiguous electoral texts by politicians for their own means, and the ongoing land and ethnic conflicts in the country contributed to this violence. Conversely, he highlighted how the first televised candidate debates increase public inclusion in the elections, and mentioned televised debates as a possible tool for reducing violence.  Further, he suggested that Cote d’Ivoire should sign a charter committing to peaceful elections, and that external actors can play a supportive role. To resolve electoral issues in Cote d’Ivoire, Dr. Diarra recommended increasing public access to and understanding of electoral legislation (particularly through radio, TV, and public sessions), inclusion of all stakeholder groups in the electoral process, and employing indigenous mechanisms for conflict resolution to reduce violence before, during, and after elections.

Fr. Alain Nzadi-a-Nzadi began his discussion by framing the issue of elections and peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo around its critical location in Central Africa and the impact its peace and stability has on the region, particularly given the region’s lack of democratic models. Fr. Nzadi-a-Nzadi compared the 2006 and 2011 elections in the DRC, focusing on the legislative changes that occurred before the elections in 2011 that allowed President Kabila to remain in power. He also suggested that the stipulations of the December 2016 agreement have not yet been met and may delay the elections slated for late 2017. To solve the electoral issues in the DRC, Fr. Nzadi-a-Nzadi recommended that the DRC hold democratic, regular, free, and fair elections that give room to political alternation, that countries in the region seek cross-country solutions to ensure stability, that leaders acknowledge that there is a ‘life after the presidency,’ and that external policymakers and stakeholders consider strong sanctions against government officials who do not respect the integrity of elections in Africa and their role in the peacebuilding process.

The Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding (SVNP) is a continent-wide network of African policy and research organizations that works with the Africa Program to bring African analyses and perspectives to key issues in U.S.-Africa relations. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York since 2011, the project provides avenues for African researchers to engage with, inform, and exchange perspectives with U.S. and international policymakers in order to develop the most appropriate, cohesive, and inclusive policy frameworks for the issues of peacebuilding and state-building in Africa.

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Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, including our blog Africa Up Close, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more

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