Original article from: The Guardian
As Mozambique prepares to go to the polls for Wednesday’s presidential election, the ruling party Frelimo faces its first real political challenge since the country gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.
President Armando Guebuza must step down after his maximum two terms in office, and the campaign mounted by Renamo – Frelimo’s long-standing political rival – has resulted in a race to succeed him that has become too tight to call.
It has also been a race fraught with irregularities, which are being increasingly exposed by a small army of citizen journalists across the country.
Here are a few snapshots from various election campaigns in Mozambique, all from the last two months:
- In Macomia, in northern Cabo Delgado province, a government Toyota Land Cruiser – covered in posters of the ruling party, Frelimo – is used to distribute campaign material. This is illegal. Click! A reporter takes a picture and Instagrams it to the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) in Maputo.
- In Machava, Matola, near Maputo, a police station is plastered with Frelimo posters. Neighbours alert the election reporter. He checks, clicks, sends, and CIP posts it in its online election newsletter.
- On 24 September 2014, in Chibuto, Gaza province, Frelimo supporters attack the caravan of the opposition Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) presidential candidate Daviz Simango with stones and bottles while the police watch. Citizen reporters documented the hour-long battle and later checked if any arrests had been made. None were made.
These stories have been published on the CIP website faster than any other news outlet. Media pickup is immediate. The Constitutional Council and electoral authorities read it. In many ways, the electoral reporting project sets the media agenda.
With 150 reporters, at least one in each of Mozambique’s 143 electoral districts, CIP’s on-the-ground coverage maps out flash points and trends. The reporting has exposed misuses of state bureaucracy and resources to promote the ruling party.
The project, led by CIP researcherJoseph Hanlon, started during the 2013 municipal elections, in collaboration with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
From that day in 2013, it has proved its value. For example, long before the electoral commission received official complaints, correspondents across the country reported that many of the printers sent to polling stations were not working. In response, the commission quickly told the South African supplier to solve the problem.
And when the official vote count in Gurue in the north appeared suspiciously different from the parallel counting of the electoral observatory, the opposition complained, and the CIP’s election bulletin circulated both tallies. This boosted both the complaint’s credibility, and led the Constitutional Council to order a new poll, which the opposition party, MDM, eventually won.
Although many of the reporters work for local papers and community radio stations, and have some experience of collecting information, many lack formal journalistic training.
Mozambican media outlets, although lively, are often aligned to political parties or act a platform for the publisher’s views. Independent journalism, based on facts and research, not on opinion, is scarce. In 2013, CIP and EISA trained its reporters in electoral law and the basic rules of journalism – accuracy, confirmation, and facts.
Equipped with a user-friendly manual written by Hanlon, their reporters learned to spot irregularities, to identify sources (although CIP may protect their identity), check facts and ignore rumour.
Hanlon sums it up: “We hammer into the heads of all our journalists that allegations must be backed up. Perhaps the hardest for Mozambican journalists is the rule of information, not rhetoric. Let the facts speak for themselves. And don’t just report the problems, report normality and success.”
Encouraging free and fair elections
Back in Maputo, the CIP team scrutinises the information before publishing it, earning trust amongst its many readers.
In rural Mozambique, where there is little media presence, government employees and police chiefs often run their districts like fiefdoms. In 2013, for example, an administrator – on a whim and without a court order – instructed police to padlock the local community radio station because it had reported on local corruption. Assuming that “Maputo will never know and people here are docile”, the electoral reporting project is sending a message to local authorities they are being watched, and that the nation will know about irregularities. This year, reporters noted fewer government cars being used openly by Frelimo than in 2013.
The election in 2013 was tight. Renamo boycotted it, MDM received 40% of the total vote, won two cities in the first round (Beira and Quelimane) and two after flawed counts and new elections (Nampula and Gurue). In Maputo and Matola, usually Frelimo strongholds, MDM won over 42% of the vote.
However, 2014 is a different game: this year, Renamo is participating, which splits the opposition and could make results even more contested.
The CIPs reporting project is part of a broader effort by civil society to ensure free and fair elections, and disrupt the apathy creeping into the country’s voting population since the first democratic polls in 1994. Less than half of eligible voters voted in 2013.
Those that do should at least know their vote is not being tampered with, and that the election has been fair. In a country with few safeguards in place, active citizen reporting is proving to be one of the most effective ways to guarantee this.
Original article can be found on: The Guardian