Why Access to Information is Essential for Democratic Elections in Africa

Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn

Though Africa has developed several normative frameworks and legal instruments defining democratic elections, the wider dissemination of relevant information during the electoral process remains a challenge, putting the credibility of the process into question.

For elections to be free, fair and credible, voters must have access to information at all stages of the electoral process. Access to information enables voters to be educated and informed about political processes so that they can have a basis upon which to vote for political office holders and to hold public officials responsible for their acts or oversights in the implementation of their actions.

Access to information is necessary for the realisation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression that are provided in the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, subsequent human rights instruments, and many domestic constitutions.

The importance of access to information in the electoral process and for democratic governance is documented in the African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance, and other sub-regional treaties and standards. Without access to reliable information about a wide range of issues prior to, during and after elections, it is difficult for citizens to eloquently exercise their right to vote in a manner envisioned by Article 13 of the African Charter. Access to information is further guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Banjul Charter) as an important component of democracy, as it promotes participation in public issues.

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