In May 2021, the African Union Commission’s Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security (AUC-PAPS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) which intends to further strengthen the cooperation between both parties in promoting electoral integrity and free, fair, transparent, democratic and credible elections, as well as the prevention of electoral conflicts, human rights and women political participation, in line with their respective mandates.
Following this signature, both parties worked together to draft the “Pro-Electoral Integrity Project”, a technical assistance project as a concrete outcome and, more importantly, as a means for the implementation of the MoU.
A first Italian MFA contribution fed into this positive dynamic through funds from Phase III of the project called INNOV-ELECTIONS. Officially launched on 15 December 2020 as part of the announcement by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of its "Partnership with Africa" policy document, the Innov-Elections project was developed in collaboration with the Sant' Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa (SSSA) and implemented with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
Innov-Elections project is built around four main areas:
1. Optimize the COVID-19 confinement by enhancing the potential of electoral stakeholders;
2. Boost youth and women’s roles and participation in the management of elections;
3. Enhance electoral stakeholders’ leadership, conflict and quality management capacities;
4. Contribute to the digitalization of electoral processes.
Divided into three main phases, Innov-Elections targets African countries that are the priority countries of the Italian Government Cooperation, several regional organisations, and the African Union; the latter of which has exclusively been the target of the third phase. In the latest stage of the Innov-Elections, the activities requested by the AUC and foreseen in the project document were: training on the ECES methodology “Peace Mediation in Electoral Processes”, a series of coaching sessions, training for regional election observers and three studies or seminars on three countries namely: Libya, Somalia and Chad. When it came to implementation, the agreed activities had to undergo a review based on the updated and urgent priorities expressed by the AUC, their own assessment and in agreement with ECES. This is how a series of initially planned activities were changed and replaced by a set of new ones, considered more relevant against the changing and moving electoral context in the continent. Therefore, also with the Italian financial support, the organization has got the opportunity to implement the four first important activities as part of the Pro Electoral Integrity Project, including:
- A TV debate at the European Parliament TV Platform in the context of the Afrika-Europa broadcast. The topic of the transmission was: “Prospects for cooperation between the EU and the AU in the field of election observation and electoral assistance, focusing on strengthening election integrity, human rights and inclusive political participation in 2022-2023 and beyond”.
- The High-Level Conference on EU-AU Electoral cooperation in Africa (Brussels, 16 Feb. 2022) with the participation of representatives from the EU (DG INTPA, EEAS and European Parliament) and AU Commission, European Peace Building Liaison Office (EPLO) and other institutions and emphasized the need to further strengthen the electoral processes in Africa as a solid contribution to its peace, stability and prosperity; Conference proceedings were produced and distributed to participants, speakers and placed on web and social networks of ECES. Italian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Marina Sereni participated in a series of events on the sidelines of the Summit, held during the "Europe Africa Week": Ministerial of the Initiative for the Horn of Africa; an event organized by the ECES Foundation, “Strengthening the Capacities of Electoral Stakeholders in Africa”; event organized by the Commission, "Meet the leaders".
- The validation of the AU Methodological Guide on Electoral Assistance (Dakar, 28 Mar. - 1 Apr. 2022) is an important milestone towards enhancing the professionalization and capacity building of the AU in delivering electoral support to its Member States.
- The revival of the African Association of Electoral Authorities (Accra, 12-13 May 2022) after a period of suspension due to the pandemic. The Association is seen as a strong and relevant partner of the AU to engage with African Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) and build common views on how to face electoral challenges in the Continent considering the membership from 45 countries that have already adhered and with NEBE Ethiopia that has recently requested ECES to facilitate the access to this network and support via the African Union. The meeting in Accra helped define the Association’s strategic priorities and a concrete plan of action for the years to come and ECES was requested to continue the support by the AU and by the AAEA. It was decided that the next Annual Assembly will be organized in Maputo, Mozambique, in November 2022 together with the Annual Forum of the African Union on electoral matters most likely dedicated to the Digitalization of electoral processes and challenges and opportunities of the use of ICTs in elections.
The responsiveness of ECES and the satisfaction expressed by the AUC, as well as the existing and identified needs for support to the AUC PAPS’ Democracy and Electoral Assistance Unit (DEAU), highlighted priority activities and related funds as part of the overarching Pro Electoral Integrity Project.