Honourable Justice Barnabas Nyamadzabo, President of the ECF-SADC and Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Botswana
Mr. Mosotho Moepya, Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa
Dr Elsie Nghikembua, ECF-SADC Executive Committee Chair, and Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Namibia
Chairpersons of Electoral Management bodies across the SADC region
Ladies and Gentlemen
We thank you for the invitation to be part of, and to address this august occasion, convened to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC countries (ECF-SADC).
As we gather here, we are reminded that this forum was first established during a pivotal era in our shared history as the peoples of the region - a time when the very fabric of our nations was undergoing profound political transformation.
The 25 anniversary of the ECF, is an opportunity to reflect upon the changes, challenges, and progress of electoral democracy and governance sy in Southern African countries since the 1990s.
Over the past three decades, our region has witnessed significant epochs of transformation that have shaped our political landscapes and systems of governance in our various nations.
As most of us will remember, the 1990s marked a turning point for many Southern African countries as we embarked on the path of democratic governance. It is a period that saw the winds of change sweeping across the region, leading to the dismantling of oppressive regimes and the establishment of national electoral systems. Since then, the peoples of the region have continued to recognized the importance of democracy in promoting social justice, human rights, and economic development.
The birth of democracy in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, and across several SADC countries marked a monumental shift from single-party dominance to the embrace of multi-party electoral democracies.
Our Electoral Management Bodies emerged as stalwarts, entrusted with the monumental task of orchestrating free, fair, and transparent elections - a cornerstone of our burgeoning democratic societies.
Through the formation of the ECF-SADC, experiences were exchanged, training programs were offered, and collaborative efforts were made to fortify and deepen the roots of democracy in the SADC region.
Today we celebrate a quarter-century of the ECF's unwavering dedication, we stand at a crossroads. We face new challenges, chief among them being the imperative to safeguard against the erosion of electoral democracy - a plight witnessed in certain parts of West Africa.
The ECF-SADC stands as strong watchdog to regional democracy, charged with the responsibility of devising strategies and programs to actively shield electoral integrity and the gains we have made so far, across our region.
It is also through this Forum that Election Management Bodies are able to strengthen one another and learn from each other. The objectives of the Forum include amongst others to :
Encourage the establishment of independent and impartial Electoral Commissions in the region
Encourage the development of electoral laws that adhere to regionally and internationally accepted principles of election management.
Facilitate access to and sharing of experiences, expertise, research and technological information between and among Member Commissions
Since the establishment of this Forum, the region has seen numerous democratic transitions, with regular elections becoming the norm in almost of countries of the region. Most of the nations of the region have witnessed peaceful transfers of power, allowing citizens to exercise their right to choose their leaders freely.
However, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges that Southern African countries have faced and continue to face in their journey towards effective governance. One significant challenge is the issue of political corruption, which has plagued several nations in the region. Corruption undermines the credibility of electoral processes, erodes public trust, and hampers socio-economic progress. It is imperative that governments and civil society organizations work together to combat corruption through transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.
Another challenge faced by Southern African countries is the consolidation of democratic institutions. While many countries have established electoral frameworks, it is equally important to strengthen these institutions to ensure their independence, effectiveness, and resilience. Judicial systems, electoral commissions, and civil society organizations must be empowered to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process and protect citizens' rights.
Furthermore, the region has experienced socio-economic disparities that have posed a challenge to the democratic governance agenda. High unemployment rates, poverty, and inequality have strained governments' capacity to deliver essential public services and fulfill citizens' expectations. In order to address these challenges, leaders must prioritize inclusive economic development, job creation, and social welfare programs that promote equal opportunities for all.
Amidst these challenges, Southern African countries have also made notable progress in their pursuit of effective democratic governance. The role of women in politics has improved significantly, with more women occupying leadership positions and participating in electoral processes. This progress is a testament to the region's commitment to gender equality and the recognition of women's invaluable contributions to governance.
Moreover, advancements in technology have facilitated the transparency and efficiency of electoral processes. The use of biometric voter registration systems, electronic results transmission, and voter education campaigns has enhanced the credibility of elections and increased public confidence. Embracing digital platforms for citizen engagement and feedback mechanisms has also fostered greater participation and inclusivity.
It is also important that this Forum extends its support to other regions in reclaiming and revitalizing democratic governance. Accordingly, we encourage ECF-SADC to work together with other regional bodies to reverse the erosion of democracy. These bodies include ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, Association of African Electoral Authorities, The East African Community, the Arab EMB Network and A-WEB.
The legislatures across the region and the continent – the true representatives of our people – must continue to hold hands and work with ECF-SADC and other similar regional bodies, because our vision transcends borders and encapsulates the collective aspirations of an Africa where the echoes of gunfire are replaced by the chorus of democratic discourse. It's an Africa where democracy not only thrives but serves as a bedrock for progress—a continent where the lives and economies of our people flourish.
Realizing this vision will require a concerted effort from each one of us. We must foster collaboration, innovate strategies, and champion initiatives that uphold the sanctity of electoral processes. By doing so, we pave the way for an Africa that embodies the aspirations of its people - a continent where democracy is not just a word but a lived reality.
As we embark on the next phase of our journey, the next 25 years of ECF-SADC, let us reaffirm our commitment to this noble cause. Let us strive to build an Africa where democracy stands tall, empowering generations to come and shaping a future where prosperity and dignity are the birth rights of every African citizen.
May I also take this opportunity to express our gratitude to our stalwarts whose visionary and pioneering initiatives led to the establishment of this Forum 25 years ago. Their efforts were not in vain as they have resulted in strong and sustainable democracy in the region. In particular, I refer to:
Dr Brigalia Bam of South Africa
The late Justice Lewis Makame of Tanzania
Dr Victor Tonchi of Namibia
Adv Sekara Mafisa of Lesotho
Hendrick Gappy of Seychelles
Abdul Rahman of Mauritius
Justice Antonio Caetano De Sousa of Angola
Justice B. Bwalya of Zambia
Justice J.Z. Mosojane of Botswana
Justice Barnabas Kalaile of Malawi
Leonardo Simbine of Mozambique
Hassan Said Mzee of Zanzibar
Justice George Chiweshe of Zimbabwe
Mr Robert Thwala of Swaziland
I understand that one of the activities associated with this event is to honour these stalwarts for their outstanding work.
South Africa and the rest of the Southern African Development Community recognises their effort.
Finally, we wish our visitors, the host and all those participating in this event a fruitful and productive event.
I thank you.