The Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the African Union Commission (AUC), in collaboration with the Association of African Electoral Authorities (AAEA) and IEBC held the 6th Annual Continental Forum of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) in Nairobi from 28th to 29th November, 2019. At the Association's General Assembly, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati was named the incoming President of the General Assembly of AAEA. The Chairman takes over from Professor Kalisa Mbanda, the chairperson of the National Electoral Commission of Rwanda.
AAEA is a regional network of election Management bodies dedicated to the professionalization of election administration through information exchange and regional networking. The Forum is part of AUC-DPA's mandate to advance democratic and participatory governance in Africa and was convened under the overall theme "Enhancing Participation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Refugees in Elections in Africa: Towards More Inclusive Electoral Processes."
The 6th Annual Continental Forum of EMBs was preceded by a General Assembly of the AAEA on 27 November 2019. The General Assembly of the AAEA together with the EMBs Forum explored trends, policy directives and practical measures for promoting meaningful participation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Refugees in electoral processes.
The focus of the 6th Annual Continental EMBs Forum resonated with the AU 2019 theme of: "The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally IDPs and Refugees: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa" that was declared at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. The overarching objective of this year's theme for the African Union, also known as Project 2019, is to promote measures aimed at addressing root causes and achieving sustainable solutions to forced displacement in Africa.
According to the United Nations, about 21.5 million Africans - almost a third of the global estimate - are forcibly displaced, including 6.3 million refugees and asylum seekers, 712, 000 stateless persons, and 14.5 million IDPs. African countries constitute seven out of ten of the world's most neglected displacement crisis. In the last two years alone, the continent has recorded over five million new and increasingly protracted cases of displacements. It is in recognition of the urgency of the displacement crisis in Africa, perhaps more than anything else, the vicious cycle of continuing instability and deepening the misery of IDPs and Refugees on the continent, that this year's thematic focus gains particular relevance as a compass for concerted efforts towards a peaceful, democratic, secure and developed Africa.
Hidden in the IDP and refugee crisis in Africa is the frequently unengaged and under-evaluated crisis of political disenfranchisement. Roughly 65% of the IDPs and Refugees in Africa are also eligible voters and potential candidates. This imposes new layers of complexity to the conduct of inclusive elections, which if not carefully managed, might further exacerbate the political disenfranchisement, exclusion, and marginalization of an already aggrieved cohort of people. It also wields enormous and profound implications for democracy and political rights.
In his closing remarks, Hon. Justin B. N. Muturi, E.G.H, M.P Speaker of the National Assembly told participants that, "the participation of IDPs and refugees in elections is a human right enshrined in numerous international and regional instruments." Saying that conditions must be established which would allow IDPs to return voluntarily in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. He also thanked and commended all participants for making the Forum a success.
IEBC Chairman and incoming President of the General Assembly of AAEA, Wafula Chebukati in his remarks to the Assembly, urged EMBs to share experiences and strive to achieve inclusivity of displaced populations in elections and adopt recommendations aimed at enhancing the participation of refugees & IDPs in the electoral process. He added that, "Our legal framework as a country recognizes international instruments, including those that uphold and protect the rights of displaced persons, as sources of our domestic laws."
The EMBs Forum and General Assembly of the AAEA resolved to implement a more responsive and effective election management that promotes inclusive electoral participation of IDPs and refugees in Africa.