Quaker Election Observing in East and Central Africa
In 2002, Quaker Peace Network-Africa (QPN-Africa) was formed to bring Quaker (and Mennonite) African peaceworkers together to meet and exchange ideas. By 2004 the group realized that one of the major causes of violence in Africa was elections themselves. Frequently elections led to violence and sometimes ended up with armed conflict. Consequently QPN-Africa decided to bring all Quaker and Mennonite organizations in the region together to cooperate in election observing.
Since then QPN-Africa has placed official election observers in the following elections: Burundi in 2005 and 2010, Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006 and 2011, Rwanda in 2011, Kenya in 2007 and its constitutional referendum in 2010, and the South Sudan referendum for independence in 2011. It plans to observe the Kenya elections in 2013.
The election observing is always a coalition of Quaker and Mennonite organisations working together – for example, in the 2010 Burundian elections, nine organisations were involved. This ensures that resources are coordinated as groups take on various responsibilities. The QPN-Africa label is important in keeping any one organisation from being targeted for retaliation by any group that does not approve of its activities and reports.
Normally QPN-Africa places both citizens of the country and international volunteers as the election observers. In particular it has worked to bring citizens of East and Central African countries to view elections in neighbouring countries. This not only adds credibility to the observation team but also allows for people from one country to see how elections are conducted in another country. Over time QPN-Africa has become expert in this election observing.
QPN-Africa found that observing voting at polling stations during the election itself was useful, but hardly sufficient as most of the problems begin much earlier, during the enrolment of voters and then throughout the campaign period. There may be intimidation of candidates and voters, threats, violence such as the throwing of grenades and sometimes even assassination, illegal use of state resources by the ruling party, overt placement of police and soldiers at polling stations, bribery before and on election day, manipulation of voters by officials at polling stations, and other infractions of proper election procedure. Post election violence when the results may have been doctored for the benefit of the ruling party is also a major concern.
Prior to the 2010 elections, Burundi had experienced many years of civil war and communal tension. QPN-Africa therefore began the preparation for election observing by doing Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) workshops in order to bring the different communities together. They worked with eighteen groups in nine communities, which were then formed into Democracy and Peace Groups.
From these groups 120 people undertook training for election observation. One activity was ‘the ball game’ in the picture. Participants in teams of two tried to push a ball so that one side (or the other) was facing up. They only had rolled up pieces of paper, which bent easily, so it was frustrating. Some people resorted to pushing the ball with their hands, which was prohibited. Then in the second part of the activity, the teams worked together to guide the ball to a goal. The participants drew parallels with the election process - if elections are just about one political party or the other trying to get their side to win, the result is chaos and no forward progress, unlike when people cooperate. People also drew a comparison between cheating in the game, and political corruption.
Some observers also participated in a pilot scheme of citizen reporters, who could text messages into a Call-in Centre.
The observers were joined by people from other countries, and together they observed the elections from the enrolment of voters right through to the counting of the ballots after election day. There were five separate elections for different levels of government, and all five were observed.
As a result of this successful programme, Quaker organizations in Kenya trained 1000 citizen reporters in hot-spot violent communities during the 2013 election cycle. These were connected to a Call-in Centre. Communities were organised into “watch-dog groups,” analogous to Burundi’s Democracy and Peace Groups. The Call-in Centre and its citizen reporters were able to respond to any information of intimidation, violence, election irregularities, bribery, harassment, and other illegal behaviours. They had the capacity to communicate, when necessary, with members of a particular watch-dog group, with election, security, and government officials, as well with the larger Quaker international policy organisations. Due in part to these preparations, the elections passed off very peacefully, espieically by comparison with the violence of 2007.