Mr Albert Kofi Owusu, the General Manager of the Ghana News Agency (GNA), has emphasised the importance of information and communications in election management.
“There is no representative democracy without well informed citizens. In a democratic state, elections largely depend on the information available to voters on the technical, institutional, and logistic issues linked to the electoral process,” he stated.
Mr Owusu said this on Thursday at an ongoing five-day training workshop for Commonwealth Election Professionals (CEP) in Accra.
The CEP Africa regional training seeks to provide a platform for professional development, knowledge sharing and peer support to electoral administrators in the Commonwealth.
The training is under the theme: “Delivering credible and inclusive elections in the era of COVID-19: Building public trust and confidence throughout the electoral cycle,” and attracted 18 participants from 15 Africa Election Management Bodies (EMBs), including Ghana, Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, and South Africa.
The GNA General Manager, underscored the importance of a clear communications strategy in elections, which addressed the information needs of both voters and contestants.
“The public needs credible, accurate election information such as where, when and how to vote. Or how to be certain that they are eligible to vote. They are also very interested, even more than anything else in the counting of the votes and the declaration of results,” he said.
Mr Owusu said to achieve the above, EMBs needed to ensure a free flow of information throughout the election cycle.
“This can only be possible when election officials are willing to use every tool available to deliver such information to the public via the numerous avenues available.
“Speaking as a media practitioner with considerable experience covering elections in Ghana and elsewhere, I will say that Ghana’s Electoral Commission’s information and communication management in the 2020 Elections, is a case study for an African election success story,” he said, noting that the Commission almost used all communication tools in reaching out to the voting public.
Mr Owusu said another important element was adequate resourcing of EMBs to engage the citizenry for their full participation in the electoral processes for successful outcomes.
“Although there are several other stakeholders that must work together to achieve successful elections, the ultimate responsibility rests on the EMB to ensure that every eligible citizen participates in the electoral process,” he stated.
Madam Lindiwe Maleleka, Political Officer, Commonwealth Secretariat, said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was not only a public health emergency but also an economic, social, political and environmental crisis.
She noted that COVID-19 posed a serious risk to democratic culture, practices and processes, as countries across and beyond the Commonwealth grappled with the need to safeguard the democratic rights and freedoms of citizens without endangering their health and safety.
To that end, the training event, she noted, would serve as a valuable forum for the exchange of experiences in delivering electoral processes in those exceptionally challenging times, and – crucially – the sharing of emerging good practice.
“Seven of the Election Management Bodies represented here in Accra have held local and/or national level elections since the outbreak of the global pandemic in 2020. A further six Election Management Bodies are due to deliver elections either later this year or in 2022. I recommend you use this opportunity to listen and learn from each other,” she said.
Mr Abdi Bashir, an Election Coordinator in Kenya, told the GNA that lessons at the forum would improve electoral processes in Kenya’s polls next year.
“We are conducting our elections next year and this is a platform to improve our process based on the Ghana experiences, “he said.
Madam Saida Hilal Mohammed, an Election Officer of National Electoral Commission, Tanzania, said, “We have grabbed a lot of new knowledge in undertaking elections. The workshop has given us opportunities to share experiences; we have shared experiences in our countries, learned good practices by colleagues…”
“I am taking these issues to the authorities in Tanzania to help in the informed decisions of the Tanzanian electoral system going forward,” she added.
Madam Diana Mola, Regional Outreach Officer, Independent Electoral Commission, South Africa, lauded Ghana for successfully using biometric processes in the 2020 general election.