Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has partnered with the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and the Gambia Press Union to implement a project that seeks to improve transparency and accountability in electoral processes in Africa through the promotion of access to information.
The project which is dubbed “Enhancing Transparency and Accountability in Electoral Processes in Africa has been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). It was officially launched virtually on 22 September 2020, with stakeholders from the three countries where the project will be implemented, namely Zambia, Uganda and the Gambia in attendance.
Speaking during the launch, PSAf Executive Director, Mr. Vusumuzi Sifile said the three media development and press freedom advocacy organisations had come together to implement the project because a lot of problems in African elections were rooted in limited access to information.
“As Panos Institute Southern Africa we are pleased to be a part of this consortium that seeks to promote increased access to information to contribute to improved transparency and accountability ion electoral processes in Africa. This project is in line with our organisation’s mission of amplifying voices of the poor and marginalised. Elections are an important aspect of citizens’ participation in democratic processes, yet in most cases the management of the process is shrouded in lack of transparency and accountability,” said Mr. Sifile.
The project is responding to the fact that in spite of African Union and national frameworks on access to information, many citizens in Africa do not get the information they need in order to have informed and meaningful participation in electoral processes. This results in low voter turnout, high numbers of spoilt ballots, and disputed outcomes of elections.
Mr. Sifile added that “access to information is an important ingredient for effective citizen participation in democratic processes, including elections”.
“Information is at the centre of all aspects of elections. Where information is not adequately shared, there is a high risk of unscrupulous people churning out fake news, fuelling misinformation and disinformation, which often raises alarm and triggers conflict. Through this project, we will bring together various stakeholders, including the electoral management bodies, government agencies, political actors, civil society organisations, and law enforcers, among other key stakeholders who have a role to play,” said Mr. Sifile.
The project will support the establishment and implementation of a legal framework for access to information and elections in the context of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) guidelines on access to information and elections in Africa, is expected to analyse reports on access to information and elections in Uganda, Zambia and Gambia.
“When citizens do not get adequate information, they cannot make informed choices and meaningfully participate in electoral processes,” added Mr. Sifile. “This results in low voter turnout, high numbers of spoilt ballots, and disputed outcomes of elections. We are confident that through this project, we will facilitate access to and use of information by various stakeholders. Most of the problems that have characterised elections have to do with limited access to information. This includes citizens’ limited access to information on certain processes and channels. In some cases, electoral management bodies and other electoral actors also fail to take the necessary action or to respond on time because of lack of information on situations requiring their intervention.”
The project will further promote citizens’ access to information in electoral processes in Uganda, Zambia and The Gambia, and also support their use of that information to effectively participate in the electoral process. This is expected to contribute to enhanced disclosure and responsiveness of election management bodies and political parties of Uganda, Zambia and The Gambia.
Among other activities, the project will conduct a review of the relevant international and regional human rights instruments, laws, policies and guidelines to analyse the legal framework and human rights safeguards in place and reforms on access to information in elections. The project also has a plan in place for engaging relevant stakeholders on access to information and elections in the named countries. This will the implementing partners to ensure that transparency and accountability is enhanced in the electoral processes in Africa and in turn help citizens access to and use of public information in elections in the context of the African Union (AU) treaties and standards.