Across the globe, citizen election observers play a critical role in ensuring electoral processes meet national and international standards. During the October 2020 general elections in Tanzania, NDI supported citizen election observation through its USAID-funded CEPPS program in both mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar – a first for the Institute.
In August 2020, ahead of these elections, NDI invited 38 Tanzanian civil society groups to participate in an Online Citizen Observer Academy -- the first of its kind in Tanzania. Participants learned about best practices in election observation management, and heard from NDI global elections experts and election observation partners throughout the region. Building on this training, NDI partnered with two of the participant groups, one on the mainland and the other in Zanzibar, to observe the general elections in October. NDI’s Zanzibar-based partner, the Organization for Women with Disabilities (abbreviated in Swahili as JUWAUZA), strives to include women and girls with disabilities in Tanzanian political processes. This was the first time JUWAUZA observed an election, and JUWAUZA is the first Zanzibari civil society organization to be supported by NDI in such an effort.
With support from NDI, JUWAUZA observed pre-election, election day and post-election activities in all 50 constituencies in Zanzibar. During the pre-election process, JUWAUZA responded to rising political tensions by issuing public statements documenting their initial observer findings. These findings included information about the challenges faced by voters with disabilities, as well as early warning signs of electoral violence. Throughout the election period, JUWAUZA observers regularly gathered data on election processes and incidents in their respective constituencies and polling stations.
They observed critical electoral events and trends related to voter education, legal frameworks, public confidence in election administration and the role of electoral electoral challenges. In particular, JUWAUZA examined the difficulties that people with disabilities face when participating in elections, such as inaccessible polling sites. JUWAUZA also partnered with two like-minded civil society groups in Zanzibar – the Pemba Island Relief Organization (PIRO) and the Zanzibar Legal Services Centre (ZLSC) – to develop an analysis of the legal and political environment surrounding the Zanzibari elections. This was a pioneering effort, since citizen observation efforts in Zanzibar are typically led by organizations based in mainland Tanzania.
JUWAUZA is now using their election observation experience to advocate for the political inclusion of women, girls and people with disabilities. In March 2021, JUWAUZA produced and released a documentary highlighting the challenges that women with disabilities faced while participating in political activities before, during and after the 2020 general elections in Zanzibar. In the documentary, JUWAUZA program participants recount their first-hand experiences and offer suggestions for improving the electoral process at both local and national levels for women, girls and persons with disabilities. Additionally, based on their election observation activities, JUWAUZA prepared specific recommendations directed at six key institutions: the Government of Zanzibar, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, political parties, security agencies, civil society and media organizations. The suggestions detailed how these institutions can help increase the political participation of women, girls and persons with disabilities.
NDI applauds JUWAUZA for not only becoming the first Zanzibari civil society organization to conduct a successful citizen election observation; but also for translating the insights gleaned from that exercise into advocacy recommendations for women, girls and persons with disabilities. JUWAUZA also recently launched its website, a sign that they will continue their work to build inclusive democratic processes as part of an NDI-supported coalition of local organizations.
NDI’s programming in Tanzania is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Author: Annie Bauer, Program Assistant, Southern and East Africa
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.