Author: Joseph Geng Akech
Assistant Professor of Law, University of Juba, and independent researcher in human rights & constitutional designs
Early this year, Yach Garang, political science PhD student at the University of Juba authored a blog piece asking ‘will South Sudan be ready for its first democratic elections come 2023?’ According to him, certain benchmarks are critical for South Sudan’s democratic election readiness. These include security stabilisation, enactment of electoral laws, adoption of a new constitution and conduct of population census. While I agree with his ‘benchmarks’, I contend that South Sudan may not be ready for elections, but it is imperative to note that democracy cannot wait for a perfect environment.
This piece, therefore, is addressing those to whom the democratic future of the country remains a priority.
Author: Tariro Sekeramayi
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
South Africa’s local government elections, to elect the municipal tier of government, are constitutionally mandated through section 159 of the Constitution of South Africa to take place every five years. These elections were scheduled to take place towards the end of 2021 and have been the subject of great deliberation in the nation. Conducting elections during a pandemic has been the subject of much debate on the continent and worldwide, with certain countries choosing to continue with elections amid the pandemic and others choosing to postpone their elections amid concerns of the risks involved. Nations on the continent that have held elections during the pandemic include Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire. Given the extent of the risks of holding elections during the pandemic and mixed calls on whether to postpone or continue with elections in the nation, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa ordered an inquiry commission to determine the nation’s capacity to hold free, fair elections during the initially scheduled period in October.
Authors: Enguday Meskele Ashine & Omotunde Enigbokan
Ethiopia held its national election on 21 June 2021. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) participated in the national election by casting their votes at their place of displacement for their respective constituency of origin through absentee ballot procedure. In certain areas, the government of Ethiopia took special measures such as providing logistic and security safeguard in order to enable IDPs to cast their vote.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) played a pivotal role in ensuring that IDPs participated in the national election, through engaging civic societies that advocated for the voting rights of IDPs. Furthermore, the EHRC prepared the Human Rights Agenda for Election 2021. This Agenda ‘calls upon political parties to address human rights protection of vulnerable groups including IDPs in their manifesto.’ In addition, the Commission advocated for electoral participation of IDPs by disseminating explanatory materials on IDPs and election, by conducting election monitoring focusing on IDPs’ participation in the national election and by conducting stakeholder’s discussions highlighting the significance of IDPs’ inclusion in the national election.’
What seemed unimaginable has happened. After an uninterrupted ‘reign’ of 37 years, Robert Mugabe, the de facto emperor of Zimbabwe, has ‘resigned’ from office. There has been genuine jubilation not least among those who have been at the receiving end of Mugabe’s increasingly despotic, corrupt and dysfunctional governance – the majority of Zimbabweans. Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken office as Mugabe’s successor. It is a historic moment. Since attaining independence in 1980, Zimbabweans have only known Mugabe as their political supremo – initially as prime minister and latterly as president. The fact of Mugabe’s departure from office, alone, has raised hopes that we might be at the cusp of a compassionate, fairer, humane and democratic Second Republic. At the same time, the clouds are pregnant with contradictions, counselling us not to throw caution aside even as we pine for change. Why is this?
Author: Owiso Owiso
LLB – Nairobi, PGD Law – KSL
If the drama that was Hakainde Hichilema v Edgar Chagwa Lungu (2016/CC/0031) has any lessons for the continent, it is how not to adjudicate upon a presidential election petition. Three judges of the court effectively succeeded in making an unfortunate mockery of their bench and risking the otherwise good image Zambia’s electoral process has enjoyed for a few decades now. We should, however, not be too quick to cast aspersions on the court and the learned judges. In order to understand what transpired in the Constitutional Court of Zambia, we have to look at the relevant legal provisions guiding presidential election petitions.
Author: Solomon Joojo Cobbinah
Ghanaian Journalist and Human Rights Activist
The Uganda Police Force is perhaps the most proactive in the entire world. They actively swing into action and arrest people they suspect are hatching plans to commit a crime. However, it seems the Police largely targets politicians, who are deemed to be “threats” to President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for 30 years.
More than a month after Uganda’s February 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Election, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, flagbearer of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) continues to be under what the Police describes as “preventive arrest”. Preventive arrest is meant to stop him from leading protests against a declaration from Uganda’s Electoral Commission that President Museveni won the 2016 Presidential Election. Dr Besigye’s arrest on the Election Day restrained him from legally challenging an election he deemed fraudulent.
Right to stand for elections as an independent candidate in the African human rights system: The death of the margin of appreciation doctrine?Posted: 19 August, 2013
Although the right to stand for elections is recognised as an essential aspect of the right to political participation, international human rights law does not specifically address the right of individuals to stand for elections as independent candidates, for example, without being a member of and sponsored by a political party. In fact, the only implied reference to independent candidacy is to be found in General Comment No 25 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the organ in charge of monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to participation. The Committee observes that “[t]he right of persons to stand for election should not be limited unreasonably by requiring candidates to be members of parties or of specific parties” (paragraph 21). What constitutes an “unreasonable” limit to the right of persons to stand for election is not apparent. As a result of the lack of a clear rule, the law and practice in relation to independent candidates varies across borders. In some countries, individuals must be members of political parties to be able to stand for election. In others, they may stand for elections as independent candidates. In some others, independent candidates are allowed in relation to local elections but not in relation to parliamentary and presidential elections.
It is within this context of uncertainty that the African Court had to decide whether the ban on independent candidacy in Tanzania was compatible with the right to equality, the right to political participation, and the right to association in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Tanganyika Law Society and The Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher Mtikila v The United Republic of Tanzania, Applications 009 and 011/2011). This case is interesting in many respects. Firstly, the case presented the African Court the first opportunity to address the margin of appreciation doctrine. Secondly, the application presented a test case to evaluate the trajectory of the African Court towards the jurisprudence of other international and regional human rights organs on similar issues. Thirdly, Tanzania is not the only African country that bans independent candidacy. The decision of the Court therefore has consequences for many other African countries.
One of the most critical ways that individuals can influence governmental decision-making is through voting. Voting is a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office or for a proposed resolution of an issue. Voting generally takes place in the context of a large-scale national or regional election, however, local and small-scale community elections can be just as critical to individual participation in government.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the integral role that transparent and open elections play in ensuring the fundamental right to participatory government. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly stipulates under Article 21:
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures. (Emphasis mine)
In fact just five years after the end of the reign of the apartheid government of South Africa, the country’s constitutional court addressed one of the most profound issues facing the new democracy. The case involved a challenge to the denial of voting rights for citizens incarcerated in South African prisons and raised the fundamental issue of the meaning of democracy, one that was particularly poignant in a society in which such questions had been restricted from public debate. In his written decision for the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Justice Albie Sachs declared, “Rights may not be limited without justification and legislation dealing with the franchise must be interpreted in favor of enfranchisement rather than disenfranchisement.”
Restrictions on the operation of civil society organizations in Africa violate freedom of associationPosted: 11 June, 2012
The role of civil society cannot be underestimated in Africa. Despite the fact that several governments are suppressive, there is widespread circulation of information on human rights abuses and successes. This is attributable to the immense role that civil society plays. Without a civil society in Africa, the world would not hastily recognise the shortcomings of African leaders’ regimes.
It is undeniable that an independent and effective civil society contributes to the protection and promotion of democracy and human rights in a country. The role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) is to serve as a watchdog at the domestic level and international level. This implies that the right to freedom of association is essential for CSOs to operate effectively and efficiently.