The High-Level Working Group Meeting on “Mitigating Disruptive Applications of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) On Electoral Process In Africa” was held at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta Nigeria from December 18-19, 2018. The objectives of the meeting were:
• To review electoral systems in Africa especially inputs, processes and output/outcomes.
• To examine the strengths and weaknesses in the use of ICT in electoral systems in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
• To illustrate how ICT can be used to ease the electoral process rather than inhibit it.
• To document good practices in e-voting across the world and extract lessons for Africa.
• To propose models of successful deployment of ICT in electoral systems in Africa for the sustenance of democracy in the region
• To examine how to improve standards and policies for elections observations in Africa.
The meeting was attended by 38 participants from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Africa and United States of America. Participants included His Excellences, President John Mahama of Ghana, President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone, Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya and Vice President Saluos Chilima from Malawi. Other stakeholders included the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Centre for Human Security of the Olusegun Obasanjo Library, Professor Akin Mabogunje, former Chairman of Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of Electoral Commission of South Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula. The Open Society Foundations were represented by Dr. Muthoni Wanyeki and Amir Osman while the Brenthurst Foundations were represented by Dr. Greg Mills and Ray Hartley. Vice-Chancellors and IT experts were also participants at the meeting. The meeting was chaired by His Excellency, Olusegun Obasanjo who was also the Convener.
After two days of deliberations on “Mitigating Disruptive Applications of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on the Electoral Process in Africa”, the high-level Working Group chaired by H.E. President Olusegun Obasanjo made up of eminent persons who had played active roles, participating in, implementing and observing the election process in Africa including former Heads of State and Government, chairpersons of election management bodies, Information Technology (IT) experts and civil society organisations and members of the academia, participants:
• noted the increasingly important role that ICT plays in the election process in Africa and elsewhere in the world, especially in improving the efficiency of the process;
• further noted that the adoption of technology has gone a long way to improve the election management process thereby drastically reducing incendiary incidents such as ballot stuffing, result sheet mutilation, over voting, alteration of result sheets and hijacking of ballot boxes. Elections’ management system based on technology can cut costs, increase voter turnout, make voting more convenient and accessible, ensure elections are honest, and reassure voters that their voices were heard. The development of e-collation support platform has also significantly reduced the incidence of result manipulation at collation centres;
• observed that in spite of its advantages, ICT use in the election process can be a dangerous monster in the process of elections in Africa and elsewhere contributing to instability and bad governance. Examples of disruptive applications of ICT include malicious use of social media to disseminate false information to create confusion, tension and panic; malfunctioning of gadgets that were supposed to serve as instruments of electronic voting; hacking of election databases and the high cost of purchasing and maintaining electronic machines;
• noted that hate speeches and fake news are becoming increasing features of the election process induced largely by ICT use;
• noted the high cost of conducting elections in many parts of Africa. There is equally a growing concern that use of technology in elections is becoming an avenue for corruption that makes Africa’s elections some of the most expensive in the world.
• noted challenges to ICT use including accessibility to and understanding of ICT by the substantially illiterate populations in Africa; and
• lamented the deep-rooted ethnic and socio-cultural prejudices of electorates in many African countries which impede and impugn the integrity of the electoral process and possibly interfere with ICT use in the election process.
To mitigate disruptive applications of ICT in the electoral process in Africa, participants recommended as follows:
1. In deciding technologies to use or introduce for the election process, African countries should take into consideration the socio-cultural, political and infrastructural contexts in which ICT will be deployed; the costs and the benefits of use of technology on the integrity of the electoral process; nature and type of technology required; and sustainability and security of the chosen technology.
2. Procurement and deployment of election-related technology must be timely, transparent and inclusive to ensure a buy–in from all stakeholders, ensure value for money and allow for testing and inspection.
3. Election Management Bodies (EMBs) should overcome the challenge of delay in the final collation of results by fully implementing the use of electronic collation within the necessary time and legal frameworks to ensure early and comprehensive release of results. This will minimise the risk of manipulation into the system and tampering with the results.
4. Enough time should be allocated to ICT-based activities such as voter verification and issuance of voter cards and printing of registers. These activities when done on the eleventh hour are prone to avoidable mistakes which might generate unnecessary tension and problems.
5. An ICT-based regional infrastructure should be established to facilitate resource sharing among African countries in procuring, deploying and operationalising ICTs during elections.
6. ICT in the election process should be introduced early to enable the electoral bodies demonstrate their capacity to follow laid-down standard operating procedures and policies for acquisition and implementation of the systems, like procurement, testing, sign-offs, audit and training.
7. It should be ensured that the infrastructures particularly power and telecommunications exist in order to guarantee effective use of ICT in the election process.
8. Use-friendly technologies and technologies that are basic for persons with relatively low level of digital literacy is relevant for many African countries at this time with progressive sophistication over time to match improvements in the digital literacy level of the electorate. We should choose technology carefully and make haste slowly.
9. There should be emphasis on homegrown technology that is rugged, robust, scalable and sustainable.
10. Elections begin with good laws hence African governments are urged to enact and apply laws that are conducive to credible elections including the use of ICT in the election process.
11. If not already in place and in order to safeguard the right to privacy, African countries should enact and apply data protection laws on all data connected with the election process.
12. EMBs and civil society organisations should set up social media monitoring groups to constantly monitor misleading information and events in respect of the election process and promptly issue corrective narratives.
13. Credible and regularly-updated national ID systems are important for the election process. If not already in place, African countries should institute such systems. The move towards regional ID systems such as that of ECOWAS should be encouraged. A continental ID system is also worthy of consideration in the long term.
14. African governments should take steps towards reducing the cost of elections learning lessons from African countries that conduct credible elections as low cost such as South Africa.
15. Greater investment is needed for technology and human capacity building that can promote civic education and political sensitisation to address the problem of ignorance and digital illiteracy.
16. Civil society organisations in Africa should set up facts-checking sites as a way of countering the negative effects of fake news.
17. The African Union should intensify advocacy for the ratification of the Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection which is meant to be the continent’s regulatory framework on cybersecurity and personal data protection.
18. There is need to establish or strengthen the minimum standards of appointing election observers. These will include knowledge of the country in which the observation is made, the socio-cultural nuances of the electorate and technical knowledge to appreciate breaches in the use of ICT for elections.
19. Observers should be appointed early and not a few days to the start of elections so that they are conversant with the process and the context before the election effectively begins.
20. Attention should be paid to unhealthy interactions of external observer missions with partisan civil society organisations and politicians otherwise the integrity of the observer mission will be jeopardised.
21. High standards of reporting by observer missions should be encouraged. Timely release of the report should be ensured.
22. There should be more focus on sub-regional electoral observer missions.
23. ICT should be central to election observation. AU, ECOWAS and other sub-regional organisations should be encouraged to embed ICT experts within its election observation mission to ensure that close examination and monitoring of these systems are undertaken by observers.
24. Careful attention should be given to the appointment of leaders of election missions to ensure that they do not present a view of partisanship which undermines the credibility of the observer mission.
25. Observers should be encouraged to react promptly to every complaint from stakeholders.
26. Invest more resources in pre-election observation missions to involve technical experts.
27. There should be continuous improvement in instruments for election observation and capacity building of observers in the use of ICTs.
28. Election observation has done some good and we should continue to improve on its capacity to enhance the credibility and the integrity of the election process in Africa.
Participants appreciate the following for the success of the meeting:
• H.E. President Olusegun Obasanjo for convening and chairing the meeting
• All participating Presidents/Prime Minister/Vice-President
• Open Society Foundations for funding support
• Past Chairpersons of Election Management Bodies (Nigeria and South Africa)
• IT experts
• Civil Society Organisations
• Other experts