“The great observer gamble” is a “must read” on the Zimbabwe election and international election observation

An important election and election observation drama is playing out now in Zimbabwe, and “The great observer gamble” (free feature) in Africa Confidential is the key explainer.

Subhead: “After an eight-month charm offensive wooing bankers and diplomats, the government is failing the legitimacy test”

Please follow the link and read in full.

In this case the U.S.-funded joint NDI-IRI international observation mission made a difference in international understanding of the difficult realities of the election in the context of seemingly conclusory approvals from the regional SADC (of which Zimbabwe is a member) and the African Union.

I have no criticism of the NDI-IRI effort and as far as I can tell my old colleagues have upped their game in important ways in this situation from my previous experience in Kenya. At the same time I would note that with the incumbent government already under sanction and not an important U.S. ally, and in a fairly small (in population) country with lots of opposition support in the U.S., this was a case where it was easier to stick to the facts of the vote without getting caught in a diplomatic undertow.

An important question now is how IFES in supporting the Zimbabwe Election Commission will handle the announced election challenge litigation from the primary opposition. With a fraction of one percent margin over the 50 percent runoff threshold and a lot of delay and uncertainty with the central tally (aside from voter register and larger “playing field” issues, this looks quite a lot like Kenya 2013, which I have been looking into through the Freedom of Information Act.

Mnangagwa’s team may have done enough to allow the most enthusiastic business people and governments to step up re-engagement. Much will depend on the strength of the opposition’s case at the election tribunal and the credibility of its handling by the courts.

Africa Confidential

[Update – the judicial challenge has been file. As in Kenya the process is truncated by a 14 day deadline for the court to rule.]

[This is one of my photos from the IRI Kenya 2007 Observation, as we arrived at Olympic Primary School in Kibera, Nairobi. One of the Zimbabwean newspaper sites used a copy of this image with the gentleman on the left cropped out for their Zim coverage.]

Always “steady progress” – COMESA “elders” to observe COMESA member elections in Kenya and Rwanda

From a COMESA Press Release yesterday:

COMESA believes that elections play a pivotal role in societal transformation in the region and provide a footstall for entrenching democratic principles.

Premised on this critical role, Member States have continued holding periodic elections which have heralded a new dawn by signifying steady progress towards deepening and institutionalizing democracy in the 19-member bloc.

Nonetheless, COMESA is still dispatching teams of Election Observers to issue Preliminary Statements just after the upcoming elections in Rwanda on August 4 and Kenya on August 8, with further reports after 90 days.

Zimbabwean Ambassador Dr. Simbi Mubako will lead the team for Kenya to arrive 30 July.

Think I am too jaded?  Enjoy this:

The presidential elections in Rwanda follows the 2015 referendum that unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that allowed President Kagame to run for office in 2017.  The forthcoming elections are considered important in Rwanda’s socio-economic and political progress.

In the past years, Rwanda has made significant progress in consolidating its political stability, economic growth and development.  Furthermore, Rwanda has recorded major milestones in consolidating democracy through holding periodic parliamentary and presidential elections as stipulated in its legal framework.

Since 2008, COMESA has continued to support the elections process in Rwanda.  COMESA observed the parliamentary that were held in 2008, 2013 and the presidential elections held in 2010.

I am all for extra diplomats and elders from the region being in Kenya for the election to meet diplomatic needs that may arise.  But let’s not confuse this type of “intramembership” diplomatic obsevation with an independent election observation. 

[See U.S. and IGAD Statements on Djibouti election from last year, featuring Kenya’s Issack Hassan for IGAD]

New Academic Work on African “Power Sharing” from Carl LeVan at American University

I wanted to take time to commend to your reading list a forthcoming article entitled “Power Sharing and Inclusive Politics in Africa’s Uncertain Democracies” to appear in the January issue of “Governance: an International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions” available through Carl LeVan’s blog.

I won’t try to summarize in a blog post but let me offer some quotes that may intice you to take time to read the paper for yourself:

The power of elections to serve as a democratizing agent evaporates though when political authority can be negotiated independent of institutions. Without the possibility of political turnover, leadership selection yields neither uncertainty about outcomes nor institutional credibility for the process. Power sharing pacts in Kenya and Zimbabwe offer a cautionary tale because they serve as substitutes for political liberalization rather than engines for it. . . . .

. . . .

In other words, African cultural norms appear to embrace an expectation of democratic competition which empowers citizens. Elite bargains therefore drive a wedge between politicians and citizens. The international community exacerbates this preference gap when it provides an element of legitimacy externally that (corrupt) elections fail to bestow internally.

. . . .

. . . mandated inclusion formally weds governments to unsustainable levels of spending. Power sharing emerges as resource distribution, rather than an aggregating device for for formulating a shared policy agenda. . . .

. . . .

The international community shares a measure of complicity. It buttresses institutional capacity by praising decent elections in Ghana and Zambia and then it undermines institution building by renegotiating the rules or by relying on presumed virtues of self-proclaimed democrats. Julius Nyerere, independent Tanzania’s first president once said “Leadership cannot replace democracy.” Supporting African democracy now requires strengthening institutions with the capacity to formulate competing interests and the courage to respect the risks inherent in certain levels of competition. As donors weigh the competing foreign policy goals mentioned in the introduction, they should respect the differences between strengthening democracy and the post-9/11 predisposition for strengthening states. Post-election pacts oftern promote the latter at the expense of the former, and this distinction should not be lost in the discourse on institution building.