Elections to choose representatives and leaders are one way in which people can have their voices heard. A democratic system helps enable different views to be debated within a parliament, rather than opponents using force to bring about the outcome they want.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, there has been serious violence both before and after elections. Often riots and clashes happened when the election process was considered to have been unfair by those who had voted for the losing parties. There were often accusations of electoral fraud and rumours which caused reactions in people gathered to hear the results.
Several Tearfund partners have been involved in work seeking to prevent violence around election time. Most of their work has been focused on pre-election promotion of peace, working with church leaders, political activists and voters to create a positive and safe atmosphere. Work in Kenya by Reverend Domnic Misolo saw results in the largely peaceful elections of 2013. At the time of writing, elections are yet to take place in Zimbabwe but Blessing Makwara shares how churches are working together to prepare for their country’s upcoming ballot.
Case study – Zimbabwe
The 2008 elections in Zimbabwe were followed by disturbances which were both unexpected and bloody.
The Church was criticised for not doing enough to protect vulnerable people. The violence triggered widespread fear, trauma, withdrawal and collective depression. It also left resentment, frustration and thirst for retribution among parts of the population. Unless there is justice for those caught in violence, anger and a desire for revenge could create the conditions for future explosion. The present transitional period under the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe presents opportunities to the Church to play a key role in speaking out for peace, justice, healing and reconciliation as well as facilitating the rehabilitation of the country.
The Ecumenical Peace Observation Initiative in Zimbabwe (EPOIZ) focuses on the centrality of education, cultural change, and spirituality in all genuine attempts to make peace a reality in daily life. EPOIZ is a project of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), a platform that brings together four umbrella church bodies: the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the Union for the Development of the Apostolic Church in Zimbabwe, Africa (UDACIZA). The churches will also be strengthened by the support of longstanding international partners within the Ecumenical Zimbabwe Network (EZN) and regional and global ecumenical networks.
The main goal of the initiative is to promote and protect an enduring culture of peace in Zimbabwe and facilitate national healing and reconciliation. Specifically, as members of EPOIZ, churches will commit to speaking out together and working together on monitoring and responding to violence and human rights abuses.
Through EPOIZ, the Church will employ the following strategies and actions aimed at peace-making, peace-building and peace-keeping:
- Promoting dialogue and strategic engagements with key stakeholders
- Awareness raising and education rallies and gatherings
- Monitoring the actions, processes and statements from the political parties, media and government relating to long-term peace
- Pastoral and solidarity visits to areas affected by violence and engagement with the police and local leadership there
- Promoting peaceful participation of people in electoral processes
- Engaging the key regional and international community to promote peace in Zimbabwe
Our prayer is that by doing these and the many other activities that we have committed to, we will see a reduction of violence before, during and after elections, building the basis of a new culture of peace and justice. The Church is the only institution in Zimbabwe that brings together people from all walks of life, acts as the conscience of the nation and is still regarded highly by society as both a peacemaker and a moral authority.
By Blessing Makwara, Senior Program Officer, at the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ)
Case study – Kenya
Kenya as a nation is a multi-ethnic society with over 41 tribes. The political situation is complex, with many tribal interests, favouritism and widespread corruption causing tension. Around election time this has often turned into violence.
After the 2007/8 general elections there were a number of allegations of serious vote rigging and corruption. Many people disputed the result. About 1,300 people were killed in the inter-ethnic violence which followed and over 500,000 people were displaced. Rapes, looting and arson attacks were also witnessed. It was a dark time for Kenya.
Our organisation, Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education (EFOGE) is a registered non-governmental organisation in Kenya, working for gender justice and equality in Africa. Inspired by others doing similar work elsewhere, I decided we should try to make a difference ourselves. What most inspired me was the thought of one day having a peaceful and democratic election in Kenya, guaranteeing longer-term peace.
As I work regularly with local community and church leaders, I know that they are well placed to influence and educate communities about peaceful elections and coexistence. Encouraged by others, I shared my thoughts with the Rt. Rev. Johannes Angela, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bondo. In partnership, we managed to conduct a successful one-week training course on civic education and leadership. We hosted over 160 church and community leaders, as well as a number of political contenders, to discuss peaceful elections. We covered specific topics such as leadership and the Kenyan general elections, democracy and the rule of law, devolution of power and the new constitution etc.
This work had its challenges. I needed courage to talk about peaceful elections, as our lives were sometimes at risk. People did not always understand what we were trying to do. Some thought we wanted to convince people not to vote for a particular candidate, but really we were talking about accepting the results and moving forward as one nation and people. We explained to people that we all needed to trust the legal framework of the new constitution. Others thought we would prevent freedom of expression if the elections were disputed. It was a challenge to raise funds for the training but the Bishop of Bondo and the World Council of Churches provided for us.
Generally we witnessed a very peaceful election in our region, with leaders urging young people not to take sides and not to provoke people’s emotions by spreading rumours of cheating and vote rigging. Even though the result given was not pleasing to the majority in my area and a petition was submitted to the Supreme Court contesting the results, there was patience as people trusted the legal process. Cases of cheating and rigging were reported but people remained peaceful and let the court give its verdict. The final ruling was not popular but the majority of people accepted the court verdict.
I advise others to get involved in this kind of work because I believe that church leaders have a vital role to play in bringing peace and preaching democracy in a country like mine.
By Rev Domnic Misolo , founder of EFOGE and part of the Tearfund Inspired Individuals programme www.inspiredindividuals.org