Though the African continent has consolidated wide-ranging political reforms over recent decades, election-related crisis demonstrates the constant struggles that characterize the journey towards realization of democratic ideals. In less than three months’ time, Kenya will hold its general election. Based on past episodes, electoral moments tend to be tremendously emotive and uncertain.
Indeed, previous electoral misadventures have rendered profound consequences to our nation. The controversial outcome of the 2007 general election which left more than a thousand people dead and several others displaced, tragically bears the truth that public confidence in an electoral system is of utmost rank in any modern democratic society.The clamor for a fair, transparent and credible electoral process continues to intensify. Regrettably, public confidence in vital Kenyan public institutions continues to wane.
Information communication technology (ICT) has been cited as a potent tool towards restoring the credibility, reliability and integrity within institutions. Arguably, effective integration of ICT is critical towards ensuring success of the August 2017 general election.
Whereas traditional media such as radio and the television have consistently played significant roles in elections and democracy, ICT technologies have radically transformed the information arena.The ability to communicate to the masses in real time, to seamlessly connect citizens to each other has many implications to democracy and elections in particular.
To transcend deficiencies of the past, the Constitution of Kenya under Article 86 vouches for an election system that is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent. ICT possesses requisite capabilities which can be exploited to mitigate electoral fraud, document irregularities and to hold election officials accountable. As far as laying down the legislative framework for use of ICT in elections is concerned, Parliament has been steadfast. Prominent efforts in this dimension include the amendments to the Elections Act and the approval of the Elections (Technology) Regulations.
Properly effected these legal provisions could significantlyserve to eliminate the systemic or institutional loopholes which harbor historical electoral malpractices.This could inspirepublic confidence, thus stem possibilities of widespread discontent that ordinarily triggers an agitation for mass action and street warfare.
The starting point in eliminating uncertainties and risks around the electoral technology in use is the disclosure that no system is entirely immune to operational complexities. Even the best system can be beset by functional problems. Nevertheless, even in problematic situations, meticulous planning has made it possible to deploy technology in a flawless manner.
Electoral breakthrough lies not in the technology tools applied but in the cumulative impact of mechanisms engaged to appropriately blend all the elements within the electoral chain. Of concern is whether IEBC has conducted an exhaustive requirement analysis to determine the specific technology needs that would ensure the integrity of the election process. It’s incumbent upon IEBCto clear aspersions that have been cast with regard to how the agency executed the electoral technology procurement process.
Securing a service level agreement that guarantees utmost reliability is imperative. Precise benchmarks for a comprehensive testing of election technology must be established. Quality assurance checks to affirm system stability, security, data integrity, accuracy and completeness of records are inevitable if the system is to duly meet its objectives. In view of the complexity of the electoral exercise and the time constraints, there is a need for a sound operations continuity plan that details the fallback procedures should the system malfunction or some of its components fail to work as intended.
Besides, IEBC will need to sensitise the public about the electoral technology in use and also implement a comprehensive capacity building for the election personnel. In this manner, user-related challenges that would diminish the benefits of the technology will be eliminated
Finally, inordinate delays in election result transmission fairly contribute to political tension and inflame citizens passions, with disastrous consequences. To avert this, it will be necessary to make advance arrangements with telecommunication service providers to guarantee the full-scale availability of network signal throughout the election period.
The writer is a policy and strategy analyst based in Nairobi