The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) joins the rest of the African continent in celebrating the 57th anniversary of Africa Day which comes at a time when Africa and the rest of the world are grappling with containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has had far reaching implications including, creating the dilemma about balancing between the protection of people’s health against the need to safeguard hitherto recorded gains with respect to democracy. There is a real danger of democratic stalling or even backsliding if the measures adopted to contain the pandemic are applied in bad faith. This would be extremely unfortunate with the human and natural resource endowments we have, the progress of Africa requires development-oriented and democratic governance systems.
Annual Africa Day’s Celebrations can be traced back the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now African Union on 25 May 1963 in Ethiopia. The aim of Africa Day is to reflect changes, celebrate freedom of African countries and restoration of dignity of African people, as well as the quest for continental unity and political and economic emancipation of its people.
In recognition of the importance of democracy, African governments adopted the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG). Article 2 (3) of the ACDEG underscores the importance of ‘regular free and fair elections to institutionalize legitimate authority of representative government as well as democratic change of governments’. ACDEG also seeks to ‘promote best practices in the management of elections for purposes of political stability and good governance’ and to ensure ‘effective participation of citizens in democratic and development processes and in governance of public affairs’. Regionally, Zimbabwe is guided by the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, revised in 2015, and the country’s Constitution has elaborate provisions on electoral issues that are largely consistent with the continental and regional frameworks.
ZESN notes with concern that despite the existing frameworks, Zimbabwe is yet to ratify ACDEG and there are outstanding issues in terms of malpractices in the political environment in which elections are conducted, deficiencies in electoral laws, and inadequacies in elections administration. In particular, today the participation of citizens in democratic development and governance of public affairs, including through electoral processes is under threat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because the country is on an indefinite lockdown with restrictions such as maintaining social and physical distancing; limits on numbers of people who can gather; restricted movement of people; and suspension of elections, in place.
The Network calls on all relevant stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Alignment of Legislation to the Constitution, Parliament, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and CSOs among others to find ways of ensuring the safe continuation of electoral processes in Zimbabwe. ZESN believes that whereas it is important to protect the health of the people, democratic consolidation should not be forgone. To this end, the Network urges stakeholders to learn from other countries where electoral processes have continued and appropriate what would be feasible in the context of Zimbabwe in compliance with collectively determined preventative measures to avoid the transmission of corona virus.
ZESN urges all citizens to continue observing lockdown instructions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)