Countries invest a lot of resources in national elections but sometimes the process is accompanied by violence, leading to the destruction of lives, property and livelihoods and perpetuating cycles of trauma.
Nigeria’s recently concluded presidential elections were regarded as relatively peaceful, but incidents of localized violence and electoral misconduct affected the credibility of the elections. More than one million people were unable to cast their votes due to violence around polling centers and millions more were disenfranchised for other reasons. After the results were announced, celebrations sparked violence in some parts of the country.
Violence around elections in countries such as Nigeria often arises from a history of corrupt elections and a deep frustration in the electoral process. These cycles of accumulated mistrust and anger influence the behavior of both voters and candidates. Elections can exacerbate existing ethno-religious tensions and divisions when politicians use the opportunity to pit citizens against each other, thereby escalating violence and instability.
The United States government works to help mitigate and prevent election-related violence in several ways. One is through the Complex Crises Fund (CCF) which enables the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department to support peacebuilding programs that address and prevent the root causes of conflict and instability, as well as psychosocial initiatives that address emerging and unforeseen crises. Last year, $30 million was obligated to the CCF but, over the years, this funding level has declined while the rate of electoral and other forms of crises around the world has increased.
In an effort to prevent electoral violence during the recent elections in Nigeria, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution calling for credible, transparent and violence-free elections. Also, U.S. government officials facilitated meetings to establish peace commitments between major presidential candidates. Notably, when early stages of such conflict are addressed, militarized responses can be minimized.
Mennonite Central Committee works to prevent electoral violence by supporting Emergency Preparedness and Response Teams (EPRT) in Nigeria. Before the elections EPRT, in partnership with the National Orientation Agency, conducted a peace education program for voters in Plateau, Nasarawa and Adamawa states that included awareness about the risks of electoral violence, and conflict prevention and resolution skills. The program helped participants explore triggers of electoral violence, and early warning and early response mechanisms, while emphasizing the participation and inclusion of all citizens in the electoral process.
As the fiscal year 2020 budget process begins, we are called as Christians to consider how we can help to encourage free and peaceful elections. Encourage your members of Congress to increase funding for peacebuilding programs and pray for voters in Nigeria and elsewhere that “violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls salvation, and your gates Praise” (Isaiah 60:18).
Charles Kwuelum is a legislative associate for international affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on March 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission from Thirdway Cafe.