Election violence, early warning and deterrence: Lessons for The Gambia


By Almameh S Manga
LLM Human Rights and
Criminal Justice (Candidate)
University of Aberdeen
Scotland, United Kingdom

I note with great concern the recent uproar between party surrogates of the different political parties in Jollof and I must say, it’s becoming more obvious that a solution is needed now than ever before to prevent such ugly events from taking centre stage in the future. At this juncture before going further, it is important to remind ourselves what elections are all about. It is not in dispute that election-related violence presents a sensitive security and development challenge around the world and notably on the African continent.



According to SEAD ALIHODZ?IC ‘Outbreaks of election-related violence can be devastating, but experience has shown that they can be prevented. The need for improved efficiency of electoral violence early warning and prevention is increasingly argued. Good practices – developed nationally, regionally and globally – offer useful understanding of the phenomenon and of what can be done to improve prevention and mitigation’. This according to Sead, leads to human anguish and death, destroys local communities and infrastructure, creates economic destitution and troubles peoples’ trust in democratic processes and institutions. It depletes if any, the trust people have on democracy and in most situations leads to anarchy in the country. The recent election related upheavals in Kenya and other places around the world had led to increased calls for researchers to focus more on creating structures for prevention and lessening of such challenges.

Consequently, a plethora of literature has been written extensively. The conclusion therefore, as regards above, is for stakeholders to see the bigger picture as against their personal interests. The concept of effective prevention must be utilised and a broader context of early warning mechanisms be explored significantly.

The nation, an online newspaper in Nigeria described election violence as barbaric and defies logic that is associated with democracy and constitutional order and it is therefore crucial that all stakeholders bear in mind that their role in stemming such happenings is paramount in the interest of democracy and geopolitics. Election violence is ugly and rattles the socio-economic fabrics of a society. In short, there is no winner whilst everyone becomes a looser making its elimination an absolute need from our body politic. The exercise of franchise otherwise voting is a constitutional right which must be exercised in an environment of law and order. Section 39(1) of the Constitution of The Gambia states and I quote ‘Every citizen of The Gambia being eighteen years or older and be registered and of sound mind shall have the right to vote for the purpose of elections of a President and members of the National Assembly, and shall be entitled to be registered as a voter in a National Assembly constituency for that purpose’. In furtherance therefore, the Independent Electoral Commission is charged with such responsibilities as regards conducting elections that are free and fair in line with Part 1 & 2 of Chapter V of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.

Therefore, we must understand that elections are about people and service to the people and that is why Abraham Lincoln when he said that democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is glaringly apparent that such has always been the belief of the common man and woman in the street for the longest period. It is not a ‘Dembaacrazy’ as Njie Manneh, the WhattsApp firebrand, would put it neither is it a process of guns, stones, buckets and tempers rising as we have seen in recent times.


Can we pause momentarily and reflect on the unfortunate electoral related incidences in Kenya leading to investigations by the International Criminal Court? Perhaps it is noteworthy to remind ourselves again that we need to eschew violence out of the equation and to do this, the IEC must be meticulous in the business of conducting elections and promote an itch free process that will seek to consolidate our democratic gains thus avoiding a situation of ‘Dembaacrazy’ as my friend Njie Manneh puts it. To do this, the idea of promoting and nurturing democratic institutions should be brought to bear. The constitutional provisions earlier mentioned entails that the unfettered right of people to choose who leads them is significant and must be respect at all times. This means people need to factor that violence is not necessary and when we keep condoning violence, we only give the impression that we are not civilised.


Early warning and prevention
Early warning is an idea used in situations where danger of material devastation, human anguish and death exist. History provides plentiful examples of how early warning methodologies have shaped the course of history and advanced the quality of human life. Lighthouses, radars, medical diagnostics tools and weather forecasting are some well-known early warning concepts. Violent conflicts continue to shoot up, often resulting in incredible death tolls, human suffering and annihilation of local communities, infrastructure and economies. Death, suffering and destruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, which culminated in the Srebrenica genocide, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the election-related violence in Kenya in 2007–08 are barren examples. Implementing organisations have a superior chance to follow up early warning signs through conflict and violence prevention measures planned to save lives at the level of local communities. Early warning mechanisms are usually calculated to facilitate information ‘crowd sourcing’ by ensuring a broader citizenry to broadcast information about germane incidents and outbreaks of violence. Meier says and I quote, ‘such information is used by ‘those who are caught in violence themselves to take appropriate actions in order to save their own lives and properties’


Prevention by non-state actors
I am not too sure if this currently exists in The Gambia but it is generally accepted that domestic and international CSOs are implementing programmes that aspire to address conflicts during the ‘brewing’ stage. For example, monitoring and reporting on electoral violence can be the main strategies and thus organising community-based prevention and mitigation actions Research has shown that monitoring is a well established tool for conflict prevention across the globe. According to Sead, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, through its Electoral Violence Education and Resolution project, collaborates with CSOs to document incidents of violence, including details of victims and perpetrators. It is agreed that monitoring and documenting incidences which constitutes criminal offences may play an important role in minimising the sense of impunity among the perpetrators of such crimes. The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa which promotes the reinforcement of political party liaison committees and community-based prevention and mitigation capacities can be helpful in this regard. Community-based prevention plays a significant role in that, it brings to fore information about election-related upheavals or tension. It involves training of community mediators who of course, I must emphasis ought to be people of impeccable characters. For instance in Nepal, a similar approach is promoted in by the Department of Peace Operations of the Peace Action and has registered tremendous gains so far.


With the increasing prominence of infrastructures for peace as standing capabilities for peace building and conflict prevention and evolving early warning methodologies, which increasingly operate at the local level and under local ownership, there is a need to rethink the conventional approaches to the prevention of election-related violence along the following lines: the Independent Electoral Commission and other organisations with the constitutional or other legal mandates towards a peaceful election, must fashion new mechanisms to ensure competence and operational independence. They must include the ability to enhance their capacity to understand the factors that put in to election related violence, analyse risks throughout the electoral cycle, and take judicious prevention and mitigation processes. The adequacy of expertise and capital should be put in place from the very infant stages of the electoral processes. Infrastructure for conflict analysis and early warning and response needs to be continually strengthened to ensure that challenges relating to structural factors of election-related violence are addressed in the long term and not only through a single electoral cycle.

Continuous dialogue amongst stakeholders including political leaders must be intensified by way of continuous discourse and coordination which should include policy makers, domestic and international election observers, security sector agencies, peace building practitioners, civil society and business communities need to be promoted as vital building blocks for the prevention and mitigation of election-related violence; . Better access to new information and communication technologies is required in ensuring quality of collection, transmission, analysis and staging of the early warning data. On the other hand, early warning methodologies and apparatuses can be fashioned with suppleness to fit diverse national and electoral contexts, to plea to a collection of ‘A Checklist for Efficient Early Warning and Prevention of Electoral Violence’. This may include the establishment of structures to enable institutional capabilities for the prevention of electoral violence.

A critical element in ensuring an election free period is by assembling relevant expertise that is aligned at the rear of a national strategy for the prevention and mitigation of election-related violence. It must also be noted with strong emphasis that early warning methodologies and tools ought to be entrenched in structures that will secure the broadest probable custody of an early warning system. The coordination of prevention and mitigation measures also needs to come to fore thus ensuring that responses are not only timely and but devoid of deficiencies. This is important in light of the need to deal with incidental and root causes of violence of every nature. In streamlining the cobwebs of the above analysis, it is imperative to state that structures created during elections be maintained even after the execution of the results. Curbing electoral violence is a continuous engagement with a view of providing a permanent solution. The catastrophes associated with electoral violence have always been bloody and the Gambia considering our size population and territorial wise may not be able to survive the adversity that comes along with electoral violence.