Access to democracy in Côte d'Ivoire
Korhogo, Côte d'Ivoire, 12 March 2009.... In post-conflict Côte d'Ivoire, the democratic process means a lot of work preparing for the upcoming elections. In the UN Mission Electoral Team, 124 of 175 staff are UNV volunteers, and their work is critical to the future governance of the country.
"One of the challenges," explains Dutch national Myrthe de Kock, "is that the entire target population has to be re-registered. Population registers were lost or destroyed and many people lost their papers during the crisis. Right now we are in the middle of an identification process, a vital stage in the path to elections."
As a UNV volunteer Electoral Adviser, Ms. De Kock's assignment is to assist and advise the local electoral authorities on the electoral process, and provide the electoral division of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI - Opération des Nations Unies en Côte d'Ivoire) with pertinent information and recommendations.
She works in a team comprising eight UNV volunteer Electoral Advisors from many different countries and one ONUCI staff team leader. Together the team covers the four subdivisions of the Boundiali department, an area with a population of about 90,000. Sensitization is also key, and the Electoral Advisers inform the population about what the identification process entails, and when and where it takes place.
All of this means getting out and about. "I go to the field about two to three times per week," she explains. "The aim of visiting the collection centres is to provide logistical support to Ivorian partner institutions, but also to observe for ONUCI how this process is developing, if it's advancing, what things are going well, what things are posing a challenge and so on."
Despite the many hours on the road, and the office work that follows, Ms. De Kock finds these field visits the best part of her assignment. "We go to the tiniest villages in the middle of nowhere, and meet the local people there," she remarks.
She also says that local volunteers often have a part to play, providing collection centre agents with food and accommodation and organizing logistical aspects such as transporting materials and finding fuel for generators.
Myrthe de Kock and her UNV volunteer colleagues make up just one of the teams enabling the democratic process in Côte d'Ivoire. The young Dutchwoman believes that together they are making a difference to Côte d'Ivoire's longer-term peace and development.
"I also believe that free and fair elections and a strong democracy are important conditions to empower local society. A well functioning democracy guarantees their right to participate fully in society and in the governance of their country," she concludes.