ANALYSIS: HYDEN MUNENE
IN SPITE of various political, logistical and other challenges faced leading up to and even during the August 12, 2021 general election, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) should be commended.
Thanks to ECZ, a variety of observers were accredited. Among these were representatives of African intergovernmental bodies (IGBs), which included the African Union (AU) and African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Other representatives came from non-African IGBs such as the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth as well as international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
There were also some domestic monitors who were drawn from local NGOs and civil society organisations, a consortium of church mother bodies known as the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), and research institutions.
I had the privilege of serving as one of a number of accredited election monitors on behalf of DHIPS. For DHIPS, it was the first time, as an institute, that it participated officially in the election monitoring process.
Its involvement is consistent with its vision and mission in that it is committed to promoting credible elections for the sustainability of human rights, good governance and peace in Zambia, in particular, and Africa in general.
Observers played two important roles during and in the aftermath of the August elections. Firstly, on election day, observers were present in all the 156 constituencies in Zambia. Monitors affiliated to the NDI and CCMG were the most represented across the 12,152 polling stations and collation centres in the country (NDI, 2021; CCMG, 2021).
Observers endured the long hours of voting, the counting of ballots, and the announcement of results to ensure that the outcome reflected the will of the people.
Election monitors also provided accurate information, which enabled the CCMG to prepare a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) with technical assistance from NDI. The PVT proved vital during the announcement of the presidential election results at the central collation centre in Lusaka. The CCMG’s highly accurate PVT, which was distributed to stakeholders, including political parties and international observers as early as August 13, was used to verify official results before they were announced by ECZ (Macdonald, 2021).
Secondly, and most importantly, observers intervened at a critical moment when the incumbent government objected to the outcome of the presidential election. Negotiations between President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) and President-elect Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) were brokered by former Zambian President Rupiah Banda, former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, and former president of Sierra Leone Ernest Koroma, representing the Commonwealth and AU election observer missions respectively.
As evidence of their meeting, the incumbent president, the president-elect, and the three facilitators posed for a photo which was shared online and in the media.
Later, former President Lungu conceded defeat and even congratulated President-elect Hichilema on his victory. The positive result of this negotiation was that the mediators managed to persuade the former President to hand over power to President-elect Hichilema without challenging the election outcome in court, which would have delayed the transition from PF to UPND rule.
Citizens in Zambia’s neighbouring countries watched the peaceful transfer of power enviously. To the world, Zambia became a shining example of a “true democracy” in Africa.
We learn two major lessons from the role played by observers during the 2021 elections in Zambia.
Firstly, we see that for the first time since 1991, when multiparty democracy was restored in Zambia, there was enhanced collaboration between regional and international observers and domestic monitors.
In fact, collaboration between domestic monitors and international observers started several months before election day, which helped to bridge the information gap.
Secondly, we see that the concerted efforts of local and international observers, coupled with the technical support supplied by NDI and CCMG, as well as mediation efforts brokered by the AU and Commonwealth missions, helped not only to deliver a credible election in Zambia, but also facilitated a smooth change of power from the PF to the UPND.
Not to be overlooked in this whole highly commendable handover is the important role played by all peace-loving Zambians across the country who would have it no other way.
It is worth noting that the 2021 general election in Zambia occurred at a time when election observation in Africa was under scrutiny for approving disputed elections.
For example, in Kenya (2017) and Malawi (2019), the courts annulled presidential election results, which were initially approved by local monitors and international observers. In view of the foregoing discussion, I would recommend two measures which can help to improve on the role played by monitors during elections in various countries on the continent.
First and foremost, to address the various problems and challenges of elections in Africa, there is a need for a dramatic shift from the narrow focus on election day to more robust assessments of the electoral processes during the pre-election, election, and post-election periods.
Election observation should also consider new challenges and policies vis-à-vis the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Secondly, election observers should expand their methodologies by creating a stronger link between monitoring and technical assistance, conflict prevention, conflict management and conflict resolution.
These measures would help to provide credible oversight of the electoral processes in Africa.
The author is a research fellow in the Dag Hammarskjold Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at the Copperbelt University.
ANALYSIS: HYDEN MUNENE