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Hate speech and disinformation inimical to free and fair election

--Says Paul Osei-Kuffour

By Naneka Hoffman 

The West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS) Ag. Network Coordinator, WADEMOS and Anglophone Coordinator Paul Osei-Kuffour say disinformation, hate speech, and misinformation are inimical to the conduct of a free and fair election. 

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, 4 September 2023 in Monrovia, Mr. Osei-Kuffour said it restricts the civic space and undermines healthy political debates and dialogues.

“We note the emergence of inflammatory and incendiary language through radio and social media as a weapon to intimidate candidates,” he said.

Mr. Osei-Kuffour explained that the regulations around post-election dispute regulation involves a three-tier structure – the chief hearing officer of the National Elections Commission (NEC), NEC’s Board of Commissioners, and the Supreme Court.

“We find the process very cumbersome and complex, especially regarding appeal and final determination of election-related disputes in the situation of a run-off for the presidential election,” Mr. Osei-Kuffour stated. 

He further said that he finds incidents of the clergy and traditional leaders openly expressing support for political parties as a threat to strengthening local mediation efforts at the grassroots and national levels to complement regional efforts in election conflict mediation.

“Trust and neutrality of the key intermediary actors, most importantly traditional leaders and clergy is critical for intervening and mediating election violence,” he said. 

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However, he explained that the availability of funds remains a tremendous challenge to the functioning of the NEC.

He added that to the extent that the activities of the NEC are hindered by money, there is an urgency for the government to release all outstanding funds owed to the NEC to enable the smooth performance of its functions.

Mr. Osei-Kuffour continued that all security and safety measures should be deployed on election day to ensure that polling precincts and the data center are transparent, accessible, and well-managed.

He mentioned that election-related violence has the tendency of suppressing voters, especially women and first-time voters. 

“The security agencies must respond to the emerging threats of violence and prosecute perpetrators of election violence as the election day draws closer,” he suggested.

Mr. Osei-Kuffour, note that the Farmington Declaration is a good will instrument that is not legally binding.

However, he suggested that those found in breach of the pledge should be sanctioned by the NEC in line with other relevant electoral laws.

The West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network election solidarity missions provide an opportunity for civil society to reflect and advise on key aspects of elections.

Over the duration of the mission, several indicators were assessed, including the readiness of the NEC and preparedness of all stakeholders for the election. 

This is in relation to voter education, voter registration, election day deployment, vote tallying and transmission regulations.

It also looks at campaign finance regulations, political participation and inclusion, election security and violence, CSOs capacity and engagement in the electoral process, political parties engagement, hate speech and disinformation, and post-election petition resolution.

The pre-election delegation was drawn from civil society organizations from Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria represented by Paul Osei-Kuffour, Anglophone Coordinator and Ag. Network Coordinator, WADEMOS and Head of Delegation, Mufuliat Fijabi.

Others were Dr. Victor Massaquoi, Media Foundation for West Africa, David Asante-Darko, Research Analyst, WADEMOS and Joseph Frimpong, Program Officer, West Africa Election Observation Network /CDD-Ghana.

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