ECOWAS Commission President H.E. Marcel M. de Souza on Monday 27 March, 2017 in Cotonou charged participants of an International Workshop reviewing ten years of ECOWAS Electoral Assistance in West Africa, to come up with a Cotonou Declaration for the improvement of the quality of electoral assistance to its member States.
Declaring open the three-day workshop and the 5th biennial General Assembly meeting of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) at the commercial capital of Benin Republic, the ECOWAS chief said the Declaration should derive from a dispassionate assessment with a view to strengthening the electoral systems of member States as well as improving the integrity and reports of electoral observation missions deployed by the Commission.
He reminded the attendees that although ECOWAS’ primary objective was economic integration, the regional organisation has had to recalibrate its agenda in line with emerging socio-political challenges, including electoral contestations in the continuing efforts to balance economic development with the pursuit of democracy, good governance, peace and security in the region.
The President explained that in response to global trends and the commitment of ECOWAS leaders to strengthening democracy in the region, the Commission in 2006 set up its Electoral Assistance Division (EAD), which drew its mandate from the organisation’s Supplementary Protocols on Democracy and Good Governance, Conflict Prevention Framework and the regional Guide on Election Observation.
As the Commission celebrates 10 years of electoral assistance and promotion of democracy in West Africa, he expressed the Commission’s felicitation to ECONEC which was set up in 2008 for its contribution. The president also expressed the Commission’s gratitude to development partners especially the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), the European Union (EU), and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for supporting
ECOWAS in the electoral assistance and other areas of its intervention.
In his welcome remarks, Chair of the Benin Republic Electoral Commission Emmanuel Tiando said his country was pleased to host the international conference, pursuant to its commitment to democracy and good governance and the ECOWAS roadmap.
He called for the strengthening of capacity of EMBs to make them more effective in delivering their mandate.
In his goodwill message, the German Ambassador to Benin Republic Walter Von den pledged his country’s continued support to ECOWAS through GIZ, including in electoral assistance and promoting peace and security in the region. He cited the Commission’s active engagement and support for member States holding elections as “one of its greatest achievements.”
Speaking in a similar vein, the OSIWA representative Mathias Hounkpe, commended ECOWAS for its strides at deepening democracy in the region. He noted that of the 10 presidential elections held in recent years in West Africa, seven of the losing candidates called their opponents to congratulate them on their victories. The OSIWAS official cited The Gambia, as one of the latest remarkable efforts by ECOWAS at safeguarding democracy in the region.
Speaking earlier, the acting President of ECONEC Gen. Siaka Sangare, said the workshop was an opportunity to improve standards in pursuit of electoral integrity and entrenching democratic practice in the region. He said the review of 10 years of electoral assistance should address the issue of follow-up and implementation of the recommendations of ECOWAS election observation missions.
Gen. Sangare thanks development partners, especially OSIWA for their support to ECONEC and called for sustained support to enable the Network to deliver on its mandate.
Mr. Francis Oke, Head of the ECOWAS Electoral Assistance Division and Secretary General of ECONEC, outlined the agenda of the conference and the 5thbiennial General Assembly of ECONEC, which is expected to elect and new Board and agree a work plan.
Attendees of the Cotonou meeting include heads of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) in the region, election experts, members of the ECOWAS Parliament, and staff of the Commission’s Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department led by Commissioner Halima Ahmed.
Others are development partners such as the International Foundation for Electoral Support (IFES), the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), the West African Network for Peace building (WANEP) as well as staff of the ECONEC Secretariat.