Democracy Works Foundation-Eswatini (DWF-eSwatini), hosted a two-day Peer to Peer Learning Exchange in collaboration with the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF–SADC).
The exchange themed “Managing Elections in Contemporary Times: Challenges and Opportunities” focused on the following areas; sharing lessons on managing elections under the covid pandemic, enhancing socially inclusive electoral processes, specifically women, youth, and People Living with Disabilities (PWDs), sharing lessons on managing electoral processes in the wake of increasing independent candidates’ participation and institutionalising a culture of learning from the past, in managing future elections.
The event involved the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), which was the host elections and management body (EMB), and selected EMBs from Southern Africa; the National Electoral Commission of Angola, (CNE), the Botswana Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), the South African Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)., and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in their capacity as the Vice-Chair of the ECF-SADC. Other attendees included representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Human Rights, and Integrity Commission as well as senior experts of DWF’s Inclusive Policy Development and Dialogue Programme (IPDD&P) on Electoral Reforms.
The event was conceptualized to offer the EMBs an opportunity to reflect on the dynamic contexts in which they execute their mandates. This was important, particularly after the advent of health emergencies, the rise of independent candidates in countries with political parties, and the lessons Eswatini has for countries in the region. In addition, it was important to discuss how elections and electoral processes can better accommodate women, youth, and people with disabilities. The event was consequently meant to create a space for sharing ideas, experiences, and lessons for the various EMBs.
This learning exchange was graced by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Honourable Pholile Dlamini-Shakantu, who is a former Commissioner of the EBC as well as the Ambassador of the United States to the Kingdom of Eswatini, Her Excellency Jeane Maloney. Dr. Augustine Magolowondo, DWF’s Chief of Party, in his welcome remarks, described the theme of the event as timely, given the changing context in which EMBs operate. He then went on to provide insights on the work of DWF in Eswatini, particularly the work on electoral reforms. Dr. Augustine also stated that DWF aspires for a long-term relationship with its partners in Eswatini and beyond. “A partnership that promotes electoral reform and social inclusion on matters of electoral reform”.
Commissioner Qhubani Moyo, the Deputy Chairperson of ECF-SADC echoed Dr Magolowondo’s sentiments, in his remarks, describing the meeting as timely, taking into consideration the uncertain times EMBs are working under. He expressed hope that the meeting would allow for sharing of ideas so that democracy is not compromised by the events that threaten the holding of elections. He congratulated DWF for being able to bring to one table important voices in the elections value chain.
Her Excellency Jeane Maloney applauded the participants for making it to the meeting. “It is always important for the EBC and other EMBs to promote dialogue on issues of elections and electoral management”. She said the learning exchange was to improve the political participation of the target groups; women, youth, and persons with disabilities. She too reiterated that inclusiveness was an important concept, speaking to the heart of dignity, which is a human right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – leading to an equal society and that the learning exchange must speak to how the space for meaningful political participation of the marginalized groups can be opened. Finally, she expressed hope that the relationships built through, the learning exchange, would be meaningful and lasting.
The Honorable Minister of Justice, Ms. Pholile Dlamini-Shakantu said this meeting provided the EBC with an opportunity to share their story with the region. She said individual merit, as a basis for election or appointment, has been around in Eswatini for a very long time, even though it has been regarded by many detractors as undemocratic. To this, she said the country was partly to blame because it has not shared its story. She acknowledged that even in the kingdom, achieving inclusiveness in elections was a challenge.
The subsequent sessions focused on unpacking the challenges in election management such as the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and recommendations on making elections more inclusive and the rising phenomenon of independent candidates, as opposed to political party aligned representatives, seen in some SADC countries. In this regard, Eswatini explained its approach to individual or independent candidates under the Tinkhundla System of Governance.
The exchange provided value for all participants, attending physically or virtually. The meeting was very participatory and ended on a high note with the EMBs in attendance attesting to having benefitted immensely from the engagements. This learning exchange was made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).