The PALOP countries and Timor-Leste share an historical background, linguistic and cultural familiarities. Nevertheless, we can hardly say that the PALOP and Timor-Leste constitute a geographical homogenous block. Besides the geographical discontinuity, while some of these countries are among the least developing countries, others are within middle income countries; some are among the biggest countries in the African continent while others are among the smallest in the world. In fact, they are quite dissimilar in population size, geographical dimension and location, GDP and HDI.
The ACP Portuguese Speaking Countries (PALOP and Timor Leste) although dissimilar among themselves on geographical and demographical terms, share a strong identity based on history, culture and also on a common institutional heritage. As a consequence and notwithstanding the fact that independence of all the PALOP dates now of more than 30 years, similar characteristics and patterns of performance can be found among them. The common factors regard at least the following relevant aspects of political and societal nature: structure and organizational culture of central public Administration, legal system and Justice Administration, careers and qualifications of Civil Servants, management practices of public finances.
With regards to democratic governance, the ACP Portuguese Speaking Countries can be aggregated in two main groups. One group presenting positive trends for civic participation (voice and accountability) and the political context (Political stability and absence of violence) as well as the already mentioned political institutions, democratic practices and processes (Rule of Law, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and control of corruption); and the other group facing more challenges and regressing in the same domains. Notwithstanding the overall analysis of the democratic governance dimensions, most of these countries, with the exception of Cape Verde and Mozambique, present decreasing trends in most governance dimensions measured by these indicators. In these countries, from 1996 to 2010, the quality of democratic governance appears to have decreased significantly – in Timor-Leste the period covers 2000-2010.
The Pro PALOP-TL, closed in December 2013, was project design to provide electoral assistance to these countries, with responses tailored to the above referred contexts, throughout the electoral cycles 2010-2013. The project targeted essentially capacity development via peer learning and south-south exchanges in the different electoral domains, going from voters’ registration to electoral complains and replicating the different electoral cycle steps.
The key stakeholders of the project included a wide variety of governance institutions (e.g. EMBs, Parliaments, Judiciary) and civil society organizations (e.g. domestic electoral observation groups, women’s groups, media). The final beneficiaries of the project included all citizens of the PALOP and Timor-Leste who benefit from enhanced democratic governance and accountability, and from opportunities of civic engagement in the electoral process.
Institutional capacities of the stakeholders are dissimilar among the different beneficiary countries, but also and more important, they may vary considerably within each one of those countries: cleavages can be found between rural and urban contexts. Gender unbalance trends can also be registered at different degrees in all of these countries, namely in terms of institutional capacity: human resources are almost exclusively centred in the capitals and main urban centres with low representation of women at all levels. The ability to manage funds and procure goods and services (almost every procurement activities are carried out at a central level), accounting systems (weak accounting systems specially at local level), accountability and corporate governance (board and other institutional governing structures of public institutions in general do not reflect gender balance and are not in line with international standards in terms of accountability towards stakeholders) are some of the sectors where more weaknesses can be found.
Rather than being an obstacle or risk to the project implementation, this background presented an opportunity and supported the project’s strategy based in south-south exchange of experiences among PALOP and Timor-Leste electoral actors, institutions, practitioners as the main asset to achieve the expected results.
With regards to project capacity development programme, the project’s main training methodology was BRIDGE and it was designed with the advice of two senior BRIDGE expert facilitators, Deryck Fritz and Fernanda Lopes. Peer learning and South-South exchanges were promoted throughout the 4-year project training programme, using BRIDGE workshops and accreditation process as the main tool for capacity development. This means that these exchanges were not an end, but a mean to achieve better results in developing electoral national/local capacities.
It is a challenge to develop capacities effectively and Pro PALOP-TL definitively achieved this aim. It is hard to measure change, impact and transformation in capacity development while capacity development is about change, impact and transformation. Change of practices, impact in people’s lives, transformation of institutions and systems.
A number of projects worldwide train and semi-accredit BRIDGE workshop facilitators in the field of electoral assistance. Unfortunately, a considerable number of electoral practitioners trained to become BRIDGE facilitators stay semi-accredited and never become an accredited facilitator able to train others. Nevertheless, these semi-accredited facilitators are recipients and beneficiaries of a lot of BRIDGE training modules during their careers. It is important to change these baselines in order to have real impact on individuals and this is what Pro PALOP-TL tried to do in these 3 years.
In fact, in 2012, out of 1650 registered semi-accredited BRIDGE workshop facilitators (able to run workshops only if monitored by a more experienced and fully-accredited workshop facilitators), 784 are from Africa region (47.5% of the global average) and 103 of them use Portuguese as main language (13.1% of regional average and 6.2% of global average). Pro PALOP-TL Training the Facilitator (TtF) workshops fully accredited at the time around 80 out of those 103 Portuguese speaking workshop facilitators capable to run workshops with little or no supervision in an autonomous way. On the other hand, during the same period, out of the 63 registered BRIDGE Accrediting Facilitators, 15 use Portuguese as main language (23.8% of the total average), only 2 are registered in Africa and all of them were accredited through Pro PALOP-TL activities (13.3% of Portuguese speaking accrediting facilitators and 3.1% of the global average). Two additional accrediting facilitators were recently accredited in Africa region by Pro PALOP-TL increasing the project’s average.
These are important achievements in a context where accrediting and expert facilitators (more autonomous and more specialized levels) from the Africa Region are an exception. There are about four Portuguese Speaking BRIDGE accrediting Facilitators in Africa Region with serious potential to become expert facilitators and three of them were accredited by the Pro PALOP-TL. This is real impact and change in electoral practitioners’ careers and in their respective institutions – creating dynamics of transformation that trigger more sustainable turnover processes in the institutions allowing the emergence of new generations of trained senior managers
To close this virtuous cycle, between 20 and 30 November 2013, the National Elections Commission of Cape Verde and the project organized a TtF for 21 participants from Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. The workshop was organized in Cape Verde and targeted participants from political parties, civil society and media actors dealing with electoral matters, electoral management bodies and parliament officials.
Facilitators Elba Pires (Cape Verde NEC), José Malam Jassi (UNDP Guinea Bissau), Serafina Alves (Cape Verde NEC), supervised by accrediting facilitator Ricardo Godinho Gomes (UNDP Cape Verde and Manager of Pro PALOP-TL) facilitated a TtF workshop very dynamic and rich in experiences. Participants from different cultural, institutional and national contexts exchange experiences during 10 days. Political party members from Cape Verde were had the opportunity to exchange with NEC officials from Guinea Bissau on matters related with electoral complains; media actors from Cape Verde were able to share their experience in media and elections matters; civil society actors from both countries were able to challenge EMB positions on relations with the media, etc. Cross-fertilization was an extraordinary asset to enhance the facilitation principles and tools delivered by the facilitators. The learning experience and environment resulting from this final Pro PALOP-TL TtF is most definitively a good practice in electoral assistance.