Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), whose mission is that of the promotion of democratic elections in Zimbabwe, has a track record of fielding short term observers to support the electoral process. Among its focus areas ZESN works with its member organizations to ensure a high level of electoral preparedness in a bid to ensure the credibility of elections in Zimbabwe. In light of this the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) held a customized BRIDGE training from 26 to 29 November, 2012 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This three day training whose objective was to train trainers to enable them to train short term observers expected to observe the upcoming referendum and general election. 30 participants comprising of ZESN taskforce members drawn from all provinces of the country were trained.
The workshop came against the backdrop of an impending referendum and general election in Zimbabwe. Following the much-disputed elections in 2008 the three main Zimbabwean political parties negotiated a Global Political Agreement (GPA) and formed a government of national unity( GNU). The GPA created consensus on the need to build institutions that support and consolidate democracy in Zimbabwe, including legislative reforms that restore the rule of law, promote and protect human rights, media freedom and many other democratic aspirations.
The facilitators were led by ZESN Director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava an Accredited Bridge Facilitator and two other regional workshop facilitators, Harris Potani and Patience Zonge. The course covered understanding the importance of electoral observers; roles and responsibilities and what is observed. Strategies for facilitating a constructive relationship with electoral stakeholders were also addressed. Focus was also on the use of reporting forms and checklists for observation. In this regard participants familiarized and compared with other international instruments the ZESN general observation manual which included the observer checklist, the observer form and the incident form with a view of improving it.
The trainers will in turn train ZESN observers and so the agenda was tailor made to cover skills on observation as well as how to equip them to be trainers. Various techniques on how to ensure effective facilitation during the election were also imparted during the training. The participants were equipped with various essential presenation and facilitation skills. The participants were enlightened on the roles and responsibilities of a facilitator- amongst the keynote issues were the observers’ tips on the Dos and DONTs whenever conducting their duties. Given that over the years elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by violence and threats to observers the participants were also trained on safety tips and civilian crisis management issues.
Electoral laws and other pieces of legislation were also discussed during the three day intensive workshop with simulations of real life experiences being done in order to provide participants with a picture of what they are expected to do during that period.
Participants remarked that they found the sessions particularly useful and informative. Areas that stood out for them was the realization of the differences between an observer mission, a monitoring mission and an assessment mission as well as short term observation as opposed to long term observation. Participants admitted to having used these terms interchangeably. Participants commended the various facilitation techniques used throughout the day and felt that these were used well in getting them to actively participate in all the sessions. Participants also commented that they would have appreciated more local examples to clarify some of the issues and concepts discussed. In an interview one of the participants, Nkululeko Khoza from Matabeleland South said the workshop was interesting and educative. “I am now an informed and a better person after I was taught of the roles and responsibilities of an observer as well as nightmares and challenges which I might come across when executing my duties”
In conclusion, the ZESN Director also said that they have developed a good working relationship with Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) and would continue to cultivate the relationship as ZESN seeks to promote the enhancement of a conducive electoral environment in Zimbabwe.