13 April 2018

Africa: Electoral Commissions Commit to Optimising Benefits of Technology in Africa

Election Management Bodies (EMBs) in Western and Southern African regions have pledged to leverage technological innovations to improve the credibility of electoral processes and enhance the sanctity of the ballot and integrity of electoral outcomes.

"In doing so, EMBs should view the application of technological innovations in the electoral process as a facilitator, rather than a 'magic bullet' for the delivery of credible elections by adopting simple, appropriate, cost-effective and sustainable technologies," participants at the Abuja International Conference on the use of Technology in Elections said in a 10-point Communiqué at the end of the conference on Wednesday.

They further recommended that "the deployment of such technological equipment and applications should be secured in law, protected against intrusion and accompanied by appropriate training of electoral officials and effective civic and voter education to engender trust, confidence and ownership by all stakeholders."

More than 150 participants attended the three-day conference, jointly organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Nigeria and the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC-RESAO) in collaboration with the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern Africa Development Countries (ECF/SADC), with support from the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES).

The EMBs acknowledged the "numerous challenges associated with the adoption, deployment and usage of electoral technology, including the deficit of infrastructure and expertise, cost, choice and effectiveness of technology, as well as the twin issues of communication platforms and the security of sensitive election data in a world characterised by cyber warfare and election interference through the use of technology on a global scale by State and non-State actors."

The Communiqué noted that "sustaining the usage of technology in elections is an expensive undertaking," adding "This requires the mobilisation of adequate resources, which sometimes may be beyond the capacity of the state to bear as a sovereign responsibility."

"Therefore, the Private Sector, which requires a stable and peaceful political and socio-economic environment to operate and thrive, should contribute to meeting the cost of elections," it said.

The EMBs also pledged their commitment to strengthen capacity development and training of electoral officials to promote efficiency, effectiveness and performance in the use of electoral technology for the delivery of free, fair, credible, transparent and peaceful elections and provision of better electoral services to the people.

"Efforts should be made towards the establishment of an African Technical Institute to drive home-grown research and innovation in electoral technology," the Communiqué said, adding that EMBs would deploy appropriate technology to pool election resources, materials and experts for common use across both regions, based on the principle of mutual assistance, burden sharing and comparative advantage.

The EMBs further pledged to use technology to provide access to information and promote political inclusivity and full participation and representation of women, youth, People Living with Disabilities and all other marginalised groups, including IDPs and the Diaspora in political process."

They promised to strengthen collaboration and to use the Abuja Conference as a turning point in a collective effort to deepen the deployment of technology for credible elections and building of stable democracies in Africa.

In his welcome address to the opening of the three-day International Conference on Monday, Prof. Mahmood Yabubu, President of ECONEC governing board and INEC Chair, noted that in spite of its numerous challenges "technology has come to stay and its benefits are immense."

Keynote speaker Wafula Chebukati, Chair of Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission dilated on the country's recent electoral experience, especially the use of technology, stressing that "technology in election is as good as those behind it."

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