The multiparty political system in the sub region has a number of challenges, many of which are not unique to a particular country. Against this background the Africa Regional Programme (ARP), known as ESARP in 2008, sought to support inter-party cooperation and to strengthen the institutional development of political parties in the region within the framework of NIMD’s multi-annual programme goals.
By sharing best practices and lessons learned, or by addressing difficulties together, the regional programme hopes to help political parties in East and Southern Africa learn from each other, and learn together.
Parties in the region increasingly address common challenges jointly
During the period under review, representatives of political parties had the opportunity through the round tables, regional conference and exchange visits to meet and reflect on some of their common challenges and explore ways in which these challenges can best be addressed. At the preparatory meeting of the 2008 ESARP conference, political party representatives’ brain stormed on and identified the conference theme that reflected one of the major challenges facing political parties in the region, namely: internal functioning and management of political parties. The two country visits that were undertaken by CMD-M and TCD also focused on issues that remain areas of concern in the region.
While CMD-M’s visit to Kenya focused on the role of CMDs in electoral processes and conflict management, TCD’s visit to South Africa dwelt on improving management of elections so as they conform to basic democratic norms.
Towards the end of the year, representatives of political parties in the region met in the Hague where they reviewed the ESARP programme activities of the year 2008 and also planned for the ESARP conference of 2009 whose theme, ‘voice and accountability’ will offer these political parties the possibilities to explore ways in which they (political parties) can strengthen mechanisms of voice and accountability within their own institutions.
Enhanced cooperation between and among political parties
In 2008, ESARP continued its efforts to improve regional cooperation, networking and the sharing of experiences between and among political parties in the region. This was achieved in three ways: organisation of a regional conference, facilitation of exchange programmes and the holding of an ESARP end of year review meeting. Held under the theme: ‘Internal functioning and management of political parties’, the 2008 regional conference was devoted to the introspection and examination by political parties of their own internal processes and practices against the basic tenets of democracy. In this context, the conference, among other things, critically reflected, examined and shared experiences on the strengthening of internal party democracy, models of (public) funding of political parties, building and management of pre-and post elections coalitions and floor crossing.
Regional exchange visits
Two countries undertook study tours to sister programme countries. The Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) undertook a four day study visit to South Africa (27-31 July 2008) to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the set-up and functioning of the South African Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) so as to enrich their (Tanzanian) reform debate with regard to management and administration of democratic elections in that country. The theme of the study visit was “Elections’ Management Bodies and the Deepening of Democracy”. Among some of the lessons, the TCD delegation noted with appreciation the independence of the IEC both in law and practice and committed themselves to work towards securing the independence of their own National Elections Committee by among other things, advocating for a specific law under which the electoral management body is to be established and ensuring transparency in the appointment of election commissioners by introducing a public recruitment system for instance.
The Tanzanian delegation also had an in-depth appreciation of the South African proportional representation (PR) electoral system which they (TCD delegation) considered as the kind of system that if introduced in Tanzania, could go along way in addressing the call for increased women participation in politics and also ensuring that ‘small parties’ could secure parliamentary representation. TCD has since disseminated a report containing these key lessons and recommendations and it is expected that at the TCD Board Meeting which is due in April 2009, the report will be formally adopted and will then be submitted to the Ministry of Justice as TCD’s contribution to the electoral legal reform initiative that is underway in Tanzania.
The CMD-M undertook a study tour to Kenya on 21-25th September 2008 to appreciate how CMD-K vigorously and proactively played (and continues to do so) an active role in the Kenyan electoral process particularly in respect of facilitating dialogue and conflict management. This visit has proved very instrumental as Malawi prepares for what seems to be a potentially conflict laden general elections in May 2009.
Member country Round Table
The end of year ESARP Round Table was held on 1-2 December 2008 in The Hague. Participants were drawn from all ESARP member countries (Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). In addition, and in the light of the possibilities of enlarging the regional programme to be continent wide, CMD-Mali from West Africa also participated in this meeting. The ESARP Round Table, among other things reviewed the 2008 ESARP activities and discussed the 2009 regional conference that is to take place in Kenya in June this year. To this effect, members resolved that the said conference should focus on strengthening mechanisms for voice and accountability within political parties. Consistent with its basic idea of acting as a regional knowledge centre, the regional programme’s round table concluded with a discussion of preliminary results of the comparative study on the role of CMDs in electoral processes- the case studies of CMD-K and CMD-M.
Institutional capacity of parties strengthened
Some of the programme activities undertaken under the first programme specific objective such as themes addressed during the regional conference and exposures that exchange visits offered did have some positive ripple effects on making available to political parties in the region comparable data and information on key themes that are related to their (political parties’) institutional development. The ESARP website (www.nimd-esarp.org) which was going through review and redesigning was launched in December 2008. It is expected that when fully functional, it will facilitate knowledge sharing between and among partner countries by, among other ways, acting as a repository of data and information on important/relevant developments in the region as well as offering an interactive online forum. Of course, its effectiveness will also depend on the efforts that partner programme countries including political parties will make in improving their own IT (information technology) facilities.
Political parties implement progressive institutional reforms agendas
Through the Round Tables, regional conferences and exchange programmes, political parties in the region had access to comparative data and information which are instrumental in their own (political parties’) reform programmes. For instance, as already noted, CMD-M’s elections related activities have partly been informed by their study visit to Kenya. Similarly, TCD has enriched its legal reform agenda especially with respect to electoral reforms, thanks to its insightful visit to South Africa.
Study on comparative role of CMDs
Also noteworthy is ESARP’s facilitation and the implementation of the comparative study whose overall goal was to identify and share key experiences and lessons being accumulated by the CMDs as evolving actors in the field of elections with the hope of informing future programming of the work of NIMD in general and the CMDs in particular in as far as the involvement in electoral related activities is concerned. This study involved Malawi and Kenya. From the preliminary results, it can be noted that in both Kenya and Malawi, the CMDs are steadily gaining the confidence of not only the political parties but also other key stakeholders such as donors.
While the majority of actors in the international development community regard direct support to political parties as a very ‘sensitive’ issue, they are increasingly finding CMDs as the ideal ‘instrument’ of reaching out to this otherwise overlooked dimension in the democratisation aid balance sheet. Elections being what they are, particularly in Africa, the study also shows that CMDs are a very unique forum through which political parties can jointly engage with other electoral stakeholders, particularly electoral management bodies, on matters of mutual (political parties’) concern.
CMDs are also assuming a very unique niche in the democratisation process as they act as an honest broker in facilitating inter-party dialogue. At the same time, these elections, when they are disputed present a dilemma to CMDs, especially their secretariats in terms of finding optimal ways of reconciling expectations of the society at large and those expectations of their political parties which in conflict situations may often take a very partisan, and therefore, narrow line (not consistent with the common good at times).