From the 19th to 23rd May we walked across daily from the Cresta Hotel, where we ate lunch, to the Fairgrounds Mall next door. This helped get the lunch digesting, as well as gives us valuable outside time to soak up the wintery sun, after spending all day inside the conference venue. The module we ran was Introduction to Election Administration and targeted “inexperienced” staff at the Botswana Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The roughly 22 participants were drawn from head office and district offices scattered around the country, with one participant having to travel in excess of 1000 km from the border town of Kisani, on the edge of Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Almost all participants had been with the IEC for less than two years and very few of them had seen a by-election or general election in their area, except as voters. During the start of the course, much attention was given to the principles of good governance and free and fair elections. This elicited thorough debate amongst participants and a code of good practice was compiled out of the course to tackle internal and external issues.
With a big debate taking place in the public sphere around the electoral system and the dominance of a single party, the area of electoral systems was also something that enjoyed prominence. After the second day of discussion, some participants still professed difficulty in coming to grips with electoral systems that were foreign to their experience, especially the calculation of quotas under the PR-systems. Others again, who had been ardent critics of their own FPTP-system, were returning to be its biggest defenders. The passionate to-and-fro debates significantly improved participants’ own abilities and understanding. Many professed complete ignorance prior to the content being discussed and enriched after the many debates.
The course was facilitated by Rushdi Nackerdien and Dominic Khame. Dominic gained his full accreditation during the course and is the first Botswana citizen to do so. It is hoped that further courses will be run for other staff, including those at a more senior level. Staff, who attended the course, left as ambassadors not only of BRIDGE, but also passionate about their work, keen to test their newfound knowledge and skills against their more experienced colleagues, as well as act as true professional election administrators able to lead and engage in dinner-table discussion with friends and family.