By NQOBANI NDLOVU
CIVIC society organisations (CSOs) have been urged to come up with new strategies to ensure democracy is not undermined in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic after some civil liberties were suspended under the guise of preventing the spread of the pandemic.
The issue was raised yesterday during an Electoral Support Network of Southern Africa (ESN-SA) webinar hosted by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) under the topic The COVID-19 Pandemic: An Opportunity or Challenge for CSOs Democratic Support?
Participants were in agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic had shrunk democratic space. They also noted the suspension of elections and public gatherings by some countries such as Zimbabwe.
Local by-elections initially set for December 2020 to fill posts that became vacant after MDC Alliance legislators were recalled, have not yet been held because of the suspension.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga who is also the Health and Child Care minister has not given any indication on when the suspension of elections would be lifted.
“Other human rights violations that worsened during this period (COVID-19 lockdown) included freedom of association as political gatherings were totally banned, torture, abductions and arrest of human rights defenders (for example in Zimbabwe)…” read the Zesn report which was presented during the webinar.
“However, participants also noted that these challenges provided opportunities for CSOs to adapt to the new situation and to ensure that engagement with democracy continued, particularly through the use of technology…The pandemic became an opportunity for civil society to further open up and address structural barriers.”
The ESN-SA webinar panel consisted of Samson Itodo executive director of Yiaga Africa (Nigeria), Putsetso Morapedi, executive director of Botswana Centre for Public Integrity, Augustine Tamba, and head of secretariat at the Liberia Election Observation Network and Zesn chairperson Andrew Makoni.
Participants also said COVID-19 not only threatened democracy or created a constitutional crisis, but also threatened livelihoods in Africa, thus the need for civil society to re-strategise in order to promote democracy.
“An example given is that of investing in building strategic partnerships with the business sector. It was noted that even if many African countries had the best Constitutions on paper, this alone did not guarantee democracy in reality.”