South Africans will be going to the polls on 22 April 2009 to elect a new parliament and president. General elections are held every 5 years. The first fully multi-racial democratic election was held in 1994, the second in 1999, and then in 2004, in all of which the ANC won an overwhelming majority.
Thousands of election observers will descend on the Rainbow Nation for an election, which is considered the most crucial and important since 1994. In the first place the candidate of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, enters the campaign as corruption allegations against him are dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority earlier this month. The fallout from his winning the ANC presidency against former President Thabo Mbeki led the ouster of the latter by the party, and the creation of the rival party, Congress of the People (COPE) which is expected to pose a stiff challenge to ANC. At the economic front, South Africa faces uncertainties due to global financial crisis and credit crunch, while crime levels are still considered among the highest in the world. It is against this backdrop that the elections are being considered the most important so far.
Given the above, the role of election observers therefore becomes quite important to ensure that the rules are respected, there is fair play and free from intolerance and violence. The West Africa Network for Peace (WANEP) will be leading a team of its observers from the various national networks which form the branches of the organization in the countries of the sub-region. WANEP's participation comes within the framework of the Partnership between the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). The Nairobi Peace Initiative -Africa (NPI) together with ACCORD and WANEP have come together to form the African Alliance for Peace (AFAP). The Pan-African observer mission aims to observe and record levels of political intolerance and violence in the province of KwaZulu-Natal over the period of 18-24 April.
The WANEP Mission is being led by its Executive Director, Mr. Emmanuel Bombande and the observers are drawn from the national networks across West Africa. From the Gambia, the National Network Coordinator Ms. Pamela Cole is part of the mission presently observing in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal to observe the election throughout the period. Ms. Cole received training on elections observation and had observed elections in a number of countries.
It could be recalled that WANEP-Gambia spearheaded the creation of the first ever civil society coalition on elections which comprises more than 20 civil society organizations in the Gambia in 2006. Coordinated by WANEP, the Coalition with support from UNDP and the American Embassy has since provided standard training for over 120 domestic election observers and 60 campaign monitors across the country. The coalition monitored and observed the 2006 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections, as well as the 2007 Presidential Elections in Senegal.
WANEP-Gambia envisages that the participation of Ms. Cole in this major election will gain her immense experience which would be useful in strengthening the capacity of domestic observers and the quality of training.
WANEP, based in Accra, Ghana, is a sub-regional non-profit organization whose mandate is to enable and facilitate the development of mechanisms for cooperation among civil society peace building practitioners and organizations in the region as a means to promote responses to violent conflicts. WANEP also aims to provide the structure through which these practitioners and institutions will regularly exchange experiences and information on issues of peace building, conflict prevention and transformation, social, religious and political reconciliation, and promoting West Africa's socio-cultural values as resources for peace building. WANEP is a network with over 450 member organisations. It has a Consultative Status with the United Nations, and it is the West Africa regional initiator for the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts.