SADC Electoral Advisory Council

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC) was formed to transform election observation, the conduct of democratic elections and the prevention of electoral related conflicts in the SADC Region.

Established in August 2005 in terms of Article 9(2) of the SADC Treaty by the SADC Summit held in Gaborone, Botswana, SEAC’s broad mandate is to advise SADC on matters pertaining to elections, democracy and good governance. 

The overall objective of SEAC is to contribute to the prevention of electoral related conflict in the SADC Region through the design and implementation of a conflict prevention strategy focused on each stage of the electoral cycle that outlines the specific contribution of SEAC.

The proposal to establish SEAC resulted from a stakeholder workshop convened by the SADC Secretariat in Lesotho in 2004. Stakeholders recommended that SADC form a mechanism that would not only guarantee the implementation of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections but also strengthen the capacities of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) and facilitate the work of the SADC Electoral Observation Missions (SEOMs). 

Following a comprehensive assessment of the workshop recommendations, the Ministerial Committee of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (MCO) recommended to the Heads of State Summit, the formation of SEAC. After SEAC’s formation in 2005, the MCO adopted the SEAC Structures, Rules and Procedures in March 2009. SEAC was officially established in August 2010 at Maputo, Mozambique and inaugurated on 13 April 2011 in Gaborone, Botswana. 

According to the SEAC Structures, Rules and Procedures, the main objective of SEAC shall be to advise SADC, through the MCO, on issues pertaining to elections and the enhancement of democracy and good governance. In addition to its main objective, the specific objectives of SEAC are: 

  • To urge and encourage SADC Member States to adhere to SADC Principles and Guideline Governing Democratic Elections; 
  • To encourage SADC Member States to adhere to international best practices whenever they are holding elections; 
  • To advise SADC Member States on strategies and issues to enhance and consolidate capacity of EMBs in the SADC Region; and 
  • To encourage SADC Member States to uphold and respect the independence and autonomy of Electoral Management Bodies. 

Embedded in SEAC’s scope of work is the specific task for this body to facilitate the development of a strategy that will address conflicts in the pre- and post-election periods. The development of this strategy for the prevention of electoral related conflict is driven by SADC’s commitment to promote democratic values, credible, free, fair and transparent elections in peaceful and stable political environments. 

In the Introduction and Background to the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, in Article 1.9 (b) the emergence of Long-Term Observation (LTO) is noted as “... a more professional and comprehensive approach of assessing electoral performance which provided further prospects of complementing existing mechanisms ranged at ensuring regional stability – such as early warning systems, conflict prevention and conflict mediation initiatives”. 

The SEAC Strategy will be implemented alongside LTO missions to facilitate the implementation of complementary initiatives, including multi-stakeholder conflict analysis and dialogue processes. 

The SADC Principles and Guidelines, in Article 7.3.1 (a) and (e), on SEAC’s Role during the Post-Election Period, task SEAC to “advise the MCO on the development of mediation strategies to address any post-election conflicts, as necessary” and “encourage the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) of the respective Member State holding elections to convene post-election dialogue forums with stakeholders”. 

The conflict prevention strategy includes facilitating and adding value to preventive diplomacy efforts, inclusive of multi-stakeholder dialogue facilitation, trust and confidence building measures, and building and supporting the establishment of institutionalised national mediation efforts. 

SEAC Strategy for Prevention of Electoral Related Conflicts

The SEAC Strategy for the Prevention of Electoral Related Conflicts aims to enhance the capacity of SEAC to advise SADC through the MCO on the resolution and prevention of electoral related conflicts. 

The strategy is tailored to enable SEAC to play an active advisory role on electoral and democracy matters and to carry out actions that will complement and add value to existing SADC mediation strategies. 

The development of this strategy is prompted by the SEAC Structure, Rules and Procedures (1.2.2), the Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the clarity these Guidelines provide on the role of SEAC. 

The Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections outline the core objective of SEAC as providing advice to SADC and its electoral institutions on all matters pertaining to electoral processes and the enhancement of democracy and good governance in the SADC Region. 

The SEAC Strategy for the Prevention of Electoral Related Conflict is specifically developed for the context of SADC. The strategy will complement and inform existing mediation and conflict resolution efforts in the SADC Region. 

Informing and complementing the mediation efforts of the Panel of Elders and the Mediation Reference Group (MRG) is central to the intentions of the strategy. Working closely with the MRG and EMBs in the Region, including the Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF). SEAC will enhance existing electoral related mediation efforts and build on capacities that enable the accompaniment of long-term mediation processes and the implementation of mediation outcomes. 

In line with Article 1.2.3 of the SEAC Structures, Rules and Procedures SEAC will establish a resource hub for electoral conflict related knowledge, information sharing and analysis, and work with the SADC Regional Early Warning Centre (REWC) to share information and provide an evidence base for recommendations to the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (The Organ), working through the MCO. 

In line with the Responsibilities and Roles of SEAC in Electoral Processes outlined in Article 7.2 of the Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, the strategy focuses on the role of SEAC during the pre-election and post-election period. Additional existing SEAC mechanisms, including pre-election assessments, Goodwill Missions (GMs), post-election reviews and follow-ups will provide dialogue opportunities for the implementation of the strategy throughout the electoral cycle as well as generate information and analysis that will be used by SEAC in its advisory role to the Organ through the MCO. 

Electoral related conflict and election violence has its roots in structural and systemic elements that extend beyond the events that are directly related to an election. Elections are not the root cause of conflict but they can trigger violence. The process of competing for political power often exacerbates existing underlying tensions and triggers the escalation of these tensions into violence. 

A strategy that addresses electoral related conflict recognises that the electoral cycle is continuous. Post-election processes and contributions that build peace and a culture of democracy require long-term engagement. Long term peacebuilding and conflict prevention goes beyond responding to rapidly escalating tensions and violence. 

The Strategy for the Prevention of Electoral Related Conflict supports the introduction of dialogue and national mediation efforts at all phases of the electoral cycle, with multiple stakeholders and at multiple levels. 

The establishment of SEAC falls under an international, continental and regional normative framework that informs and guides the mandate and boundaries of the SEAC. These include the SADC Treaty (1992), the Consolidated SADC Treaty (2015), the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (2001 (amended 2009)), and the Harmonised Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (SIPO II) (2010). 

Nesting the SEAC Strategy for the Prevention of Electoral Related Conflict within the frameworks of these established treaties and protocols will assist in ensuring its adherence, relevance and complementarity to existing agreements and intentions. 

The scope of work undertaken by SEAC in preventing pre-and-post election conflict is intended to complement and strengthen the Mediation, Conflict Prevention and Preventive Diplomacy Structure of the Organ, which comprises of the Mediation Reference Group (MRG) and the Panel of Elders and the Mediation Support Unit (MSU). 

The Organ and the SADC Summit are directly tasked with addressing Member State shortcomings in relation to the Principles and Guidelines, making electoral related conflict and adherence to the Principles and Guidelines central to the defence and security agenda of the region. This adds weight to the role SEAC is expected to play. 

The recognition of the imperative of LTO Missions aimed at complementing Short Term Observer (STO) Missions and addressing gaps identified in the effectiveness of SEOMs to date, are indicative of a more holistic conceptualisation of the electoral cycle and the potential for conflict dynamics to escalate at any stage of this cycle. 

The expansion and diversification of the make-up of Electoral Observer Missions, includes an emphasis on the participation of non-state actors such as experts, academics, civil society members and legislators, as well as a specific emphasis on the importance of gender equality and the need for a gender balance, guided by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (2008), particularly Articles 12 and 13 of the Protocol. 

The SEAC Strategy for the Prevention of Electoral Related Conflict is a pragmatic, integrated and complementary strategy focused on carrying out pre- and post-election assessment, analysis and review processes and the engagement of electoral stakeholders in dialogue processes that generate an information evidence base of electoral conflict dynamics and an assessment of the effectiveness of the electoral system. 

The SEAC 2016-2020 Strategic Plan allows for a combination of short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives in the implementation of the Conflict Prevention Strategy. The medium-term intention to prevent electoral related conflict from becoming violent is a stepping-stone towards the establishment of a regional culture of democratic elections. 

Pre-Election Conflict Prevention Strategy Components 

  • Produce a pre-election Conflict Prevention Analysis that includes information generated by the REWC; 
  • Carry out an inclusive stakeholder analysis in each Member State preparing for an election, to identify relevant institutions and key stakeholders, specifically women and youth, to participate in the post-election review and pre-assessment dialogue processes;
  • Work with the EMBs to reflect on the current practice of establishing a code of electoral conduct in each Member State, including an assessment of established procedures for addressing complaints and resolving disputes;
  • Work with EMBs to convene a dialogue forum for media associations and the public broadcaster to discuss elections, conflict sensitive reporting on electoral related matters and the establishment of a media code of conduct on election reporting; 
  • Encourage and support EMBs and civil society stakeholders to carry out trainings with media editors and journalists on journalism that promotes peace and conflict sensitive reporting in relation to elections;
  • Map existing credible and legitimate national and sub-national mediation and peace building initiatives and existing dispute resolution mechanisms in each Member State;
  • Facilitate a dialogue process of electoral stakeholders, as part of the pre-assessment missions, to build consensus and agreement on acceptable practice throughout the electoral cycle, including agreement on respecting the outcomes of elections and commitment to utilising agreed accessible and credible procedures for addressing complaints and disputes;
  • Aggregate the information and analysis generated by the pre-election conflict prevention assessment and review process and advise SADC through the MCO, on appropriate action in line with the findings of these processes 

Conflict Prevention Strategy Components throughout the Electoral Cycle 

  • Advise and collaborate with electoral conflict related stakeholders across existing and planned SEAC and SADC electoral related activities to integrate conflict prevention and dialogue facilitation skills, conflict analysis and electoral conflict knowledge; 
  • Produce research products and collate information, including the analysis and reports generated through SEAC activities, that can be utilised by an electoral conflict information resource hub, established in support of SEAC and SADC interventions on electoral conflict related matters; 
  • Assess, document, advise and facilitate the exchange of lessons learnt on key emerging issues such as the effective management of coalition governments and the role of security forces in a democratic society to enhance electoral integrity, democracy and good governance; 
  • Reflect on and assess the role of key stakeholders, including political parties and the media, in exacerbating or mitigating the escalation of electoral related conflict and make recommendations to SADC through the MCO;
  • Map emerging trends in the region in respect of social and demographic factors to determine the extent to which they affect the electoral process and electoral related conflict;
  • Assess the modalities for adopting the use of technology in elections to determine the impact of technology on electoral integrity and the effect of communications technology on electoral related conflict; 
  • Facilitate skills training processes on conflict prevention and the facilitation of multi stakeholder dialogue with the ESU, SEAC, and the SEOMs;
  • Build relationships and share information with electoral related conflict stakeholders at Regional and National levels and connect complementary mediation, conflict prevention and peace building efforts 

Post-Election Conflict Prevention Strategy Components 

  • Aggregate the information and analysis generated by the multi-stakeholder post-election review process and the post-election Conflict Prevention Analysis and advise SADC through the MCO, on appropriate action;
  • Update the Stakeholder Analysis of relevant institutions and key electoral stakeholders in the post-election review and dialogue processes;
  • Facilitate a dialogue process of electoral stakeholders, as part of the post-election review of the electoral process;
  • Reflect on the efficacy of the electoral system in line with the responsibilities of Member States holding elections outlined in Article 5 of the Revised Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, including reflection on the efficacy of any existing dispute resolution or conflict management infrastructures;
  • Produce a post-election Conflict Prevention Analysis that includes information that may have been generated by the SEOM, by other international and domestic observer missions, the dialogue process and the REWC;
  • Work with all electoral stakeholders and encourage the EMBs to develop a national capacity building programme to nurture and support identified mediation, conflict prevention and peace building initiatives and peace infrastructures, including indigenous conflict management knowledge systems in preparation for the next election in the cycle.