World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Press centre / News / Ecumenical team to observe Zimbabwe elections

Ecumenical team to observe Zimbabwe elections

05 March 2002

The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) are coordinating an international team to observe the Zimbabwean presidential elections taking place 9-10 March 2002. Some members of the 86-person team are already in place to observe election preparations.

Following a decision by the Zimbabwean government not to admit election observers from European Union countries, the WCC and AACC decided to staff the ecumenical team with a majority of observers from other African countries. The team thus includes observers from Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Other international observers are from Canada and Norway. The ecumenical team will join about 4000 local observers coordinated by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.

One of the issues faced by both the local and international observers has been the status of such teams. Traditionally, election "monitors" have a higher reporting status and the power to intervene if necessary in the voting process. Observers' reporting may or may not be accepted officially, and they have no power to intervene in the actual election process. The Zimbabwe government has cast doubt on the question of whether or not local ecumenical teams will be considered as monitors, as they were in the 2000 election. The international team has clearly been accorded observer status only. "It would have been more helpful and useful to be monitors rather than observers, but we have to abide by the policy of the Zimbabwean Government," says WCC International Relations programme executive Melaku Kifle.

While the WCC and AACC in consultation with the Zimbabwe Council of Churches have been preparing for some time to send a team to cover the elections, their plans could only be confirmed late last week, when an official invitation from the Zimbabwean government was received by the WCC.

Despite the late confirmation, the WCC is pleased to be able to have a presence in Zimbabwe during this critical time. "We are going to Zimbabwe to give moral support and to be in solidarity with the churches and the people of Zimbabwe, to assess with them the whole process of the elections and to listen to the findings and concerns of the churches and the people of Zimbabwe," says Kifle.

The WCC has a tradition of monitoring and observing elections in Africa and other regions. There has been a long-standing relationship between the WCC and the people of Zimbabwe which dates back to the liberation struggle. In 1998, the WCC held its eighth assembly in Harare. In 2000, the WCC participated in the monitoring of Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections and in August of last year, the WCC general secretary went to Zimbabwe during a visit of Southern African nations.