13 March 2013

Africa: Obasanjo Canvasses Ban On Non-African Election Observers

Photo: Myriam Asmani /MONUC
Election observers in action. Democratic Republic of Congo.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has suggested that non-African election observer missions should be banned from monitoring polls in the continent.

Mr. Obasanjo who made the assertion while giving a keynote address at the 7th Annual symposium of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) on Wednesday in Johannesburg. He said Western observers were sometimes biased and that their position sometimes seemed to undermine the sovereignty of African countries.

"We must reflect on the role of non-African observation mission or the so called international observers. It is an appellation that continues to trouble me.

"How much more international can an election observers mission to Ghana be, when you have a mission made up of nationals from ten African countries," Mr. Obasanjo asked.

He said at the onset of election observation in Africa, non-African missions were critical of the idea.

"These missions provided a platform for sharing internationally accepted electoral best practices. However, the role of these non-African missions have not been without controversy especially in polarised elections.

"There have been times when they have been accused of taking sides or deploying missions only in countries in which they have a stake," Mr. Obasanjo said.

He said the value of having non-African observers had been questioned.

"In some instances, the conduct of these non-African observers have less than wholesome to the extent that they have in some instances been accused of undermining the sovereignty of the countries.

"Much as I do not want to throw the baby with the birth water, I believe that election observation in Africa has matured to a point and still continues to mature to an extent that it should be strictly and wholly an African affair," the former Nigerian President said.

Mr. Obasanjo, however, commended the concluded general election in Kenya.

"Permit me to add my warm congratulation to the great people of Kenya for the successful conduct of their general election.

"Indeed they have reassured the world that African countries are capable of strengthen their political and democratic institutions regardless of past ugly incidents if the people are willing to commit themselves to the idea of democracy," he said.

He said the contribution of EISA in area of election, democracy and governance in Africa could be ground breaking and highly commendable.

Mr. Obasanjo's idea seems to be line with thoughts recently expressed by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe over the upcoming referendum on the new constitution of Zimbabwe coming up on March 16.

Since the dawn of multi-party democracy in Africa, many Western countries have taken interest to observe African elections to ensure they meet international standards.

Pansy Tlakula, the South African Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), agreed with Mr. Obasanjo by conceding that foreign observers were problematic.

"Some of them are donors who provide funds for the management of elections. Thereafter they send observer missions to observe the election in that particular country.

"We need to have this conversation on whether Africa really needs non-African observer missions," she said.

The symposium is to assess two decades of election observation in Africa.

Mr. Obasanjo as Nigerian President supervised two of the most controversial and internationally decried election in the country's history.

The Nigerian general elections of 2007 were considered so flawed that even the eventual winner of the presidential election, late President Umaru Yar'Adua, who was from the same party as Mr. Obasanjo, admitted that the elections were flawed.

Mr. Obasanjo had, as head of the West African monitors of the Ghanaian election, asked that the power of the media to comprehensively cover elections be checked.


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