Information Communication Technologies And Elections In Africa

voting machinesWe’ve come a long way from the days when people met at a common place to deliberate on issues affecting the community and elected their leaders by a mere show of hands.

This was the era of direct democracy, a practice common in ancient Athens, the world’s first democracy. Here, people physically gathered in one place and practiced direct democracy.

Today, this type of deliberation and election of leaders, be it at the village or national level, cannot be practiced.

A transition from this form of government to a system where each community elected officials to represent their interest through some form of suffrage based on a defined criteria was born. This gave birth to a system of indirect or representative democracy.  Africa has witnessed various variants of this system of democracy, from patriarchal democratic gerontocracies to monarchical rule in centralized societies, through military dictatorship and representative governments.

The idea of a government where supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or their elected representative under a free electoral system is cherished by nations the world over. This is what Abraham Lincoln referred to as government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, a true democratic government. The people being represented elect officials to represent their interest in government. The primary mechanism by which this is done is through election. Under normal circumstances, the candidate who gets the majority vote gets elected.

One common aspiration by most African countries is to establish a democratic system of government based on common values shared by people though out the world community irrespective of cultural, political, social and economic differences. Thus, the creation of a democracy that is appropriate to African conditions is one of the challenges facing Africa in the 21st Century.

Historically, voting has been through the ballot box. However, with the advent of the information revolution, the notion of election and voting has changed. Information technology is now being used to transform the election process in several different ways, in political advocacy, in campaigns, in political fundraising, in citizen participation, in political debates, in newsgroups discussion, in conducting opinion polls, in the enhancement of the democratic process, and in voting.

Political parties are using the Internet to access huge databases of potential voters. With the availability of such data, it is easy for such individuals and groups to be targets of political fundraising.

The Internet has been one of the mechanisms adopted by parties to reach a large constituent. With the proliferation of mailing lists on the Internet, it is now easier to reach people at very minimal costs.

In both the 2008 and the 2016 United States presidential election Barack Obama used the Internet for political advocacy and earned the accolade “the first Internet president.” He successfully used YouTube, the online video site to display several campaign clips; it served as the primary platform for preaching  his message of Change. On  Facebook, the social networking site, he reached large constituents who gave small donations to support his online fundraising efforts.  It is estimated that he had 2.4 million online “friends”, compared to John McCain’s 623,000 in the 2008 presidential election. And, 3.1 million people donated over $600 million online towards his campaign in 2008. This is an unprecedented and historic online outreach and  fundraising record that helped propelled him to be the first elected black president of the United States of  America.

Today, a number of developing countries are at various stages in the deployment of ICT in monitoring their election. For example, countries such as Brazil and Chile have successfully deployed voting machines to aid in the election process.  These are countries where the majority of the people live on less than a dollar a day. The deployment of the voting machine has resulted in fast voting and the counting of votes. It reduces disputes in results declaration since representatives of political parties can check the machine and be satisfied with its performance before the actual election. Also, the use of voting machines reduces the job of Returning Officers.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently launched the dot-ORG project in Rwanda. The primary goal of the project is to assist in transforming Rwanda’s election management system. Among others, the project will a) modernize and purge the voter list database;  b) establish a computer network that will link all the offices of the electoral commission and; c) assist in producing voter cards (for active and emerging voters). This project has the potential to strengthening Rwanda’s electoral system and e-government initiative.

The first step in the successful deployment of ICT in elections in Africa is for African governments to strive to achieve e-government. E-Government brings the government closer to the people. When the people are closer to the government, it is easier for them to move to the next level by experimenting with e-election, a variant of e-government. Today, Africa is a long way from achieving both. But, the technological preconditions needed for the effective transformation along this path  exist in Africa. The widespread availability of the Internet in almost all African countries, the increasing number of cyber cafes, and the availability of personal computers at most work places make it technologically possible for the continent to move in the direction of electronic election.

The success of deploying ICT in elections in Africa will depend to a large extent on the e-readiness of citizens. This is the readiness of a nation’s citizens to participate as proactive agents in the development of their countries.

Creative deployment of ICT in the election process will definitely help curb rigging and get more people involved in the electoral process.

ICT WORLD with  Dr. Osei K. Darkwa

 

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