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digital voting know-how and social media is usually a pressure for good – and dangerous

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It’s a bumper 12 months for elections on the continent: by the tip of 2024, 20 international locations must have gone to the polls to vote in nationwide elections. A handful of others are additionally scheduled to conduct local-level elections. As is the case elsewhere on this planet, digital applied sciences have come to play a key function in African elections and political life extra broadly – generally, however not all the time, in optimistic methods.

Maxwell Maseko researches digital governance and media. He not too long ago revealed a e book chapter analyzing the potential threats and advantages to democracy that digital applied sciences pose in African international locations. He explains what he discovered.

Can African international locations use digital know-how to strengthen democracy?

Lately, extra individuals in African international locations have been in a position to entry the web than ever earlier than. This progress has been pushed by improved telecommunication infrastructure and the rising adoption of cell units.

On the similar time there’s been a worrying democratic decline in some international locations and areas, most markedly north Africa. That is marked by a rise in army regimes, an increase in violent conflicts and rising public dissatisfaction with political programs.

In the present day social media platforms like X (previously often called Twitter), WhatsApp and Fb are usually used for debate, and to mobilise residents and organise protests.

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Examples embrace the 2010 Arab Spring in north African and Center Jap international locations and South Africa’s #FeesMustFall protests starting in 2015.

Throughout Zambia’s “bush protests” in 2020 a reported 500,000 individuals tuned in on-line to social media platforms to hearken to their leaders criticise alleged authorities corruption.

That’s only one instance of how digital know-how can strengthen democracy by permitting residents to get entangled. Others embrace bettering well being and training providers and strengthening tax and income assortment strategies.

What sort of digital applied sciences can be utilized? And the way?

Many African international locations have weak election administration programs. Residents are rightly nervous about human interference in electoral processes, in addition to a scarcity of transparency and oversight.

A examine of India and a few international locations within the Americas and Europe means that digital applied sciences can be utilized to revive the credibility and integrity of elections.

This strategy is already being taken in some international locations on the continent – principally these like Kenya and South Africa, that are thought-about stronger democracies than their friends.

In its 2021 native authorities elections, South Africa piloted the usage of Voter Administration Gadgets to switch scanners. The machines had been used to confirm voters and handle the problem of double voting.

There have been, nonetheless, some hiccups in observe. Web connection points had been reported on voting day. That left about 100,000 individuals unable to solid their vote. Regardless of this mishap – and up to date considerations raised by members of parliament in regards to the machines’ effectivity – the units are anticipated for use once more within the 2024 nationwide elections on 29 Could.

Social media platforms are additionally properly utilized by South Africa’s Impartial Electoral Fee and varied political events to advertise voter training and registration, political campaigning, and debate on key nationwide points. It is a good strategy to attempt to attain the nation’s greater than 45 million energetic web customers out of a inhabitants of over 60 million.

Kenya additionally views the adoption of know-how as an necessary step in bettering accountability, transparency and citizen participation in democratic processes beforehand tainted by controversy and distrust. In the present day Kenyans use social media platforms like X, Fb and Instagram to voice opinions about varied points. Politicians additionally use these platforms to marketing campaign and mobilise supporters.

Its Built-in Electoral Administration System contains know-how for biometric voter registration and digital voter identification.

Learn extra:
The function of media in a Kenyan election: what you must know

Digital voting (e-voting), nonetheless, is a great distance from being a actuality in African international locations. Based on the World Financial Discussion board, the advantages of e-voting embrace extra environment friendly elections and a quicker vote rely.

Elsewhere, Brazil, India, the US and Estonia have piloted e-voting.

In 2014, Namibia grew to become the primary African nation to undertake digital voting machines. Although the system was susceptible to technical glitches, the machines had been used once more in Namibia’s 2019 presidential elections.

What about authorities misuse?

Consistent with the democratic decline in some international locations and areas that I discussed earlier, we’ve seen a lot of governments throttling their residents’ web entry to forestall individuals from organising, mobilising and even discussing their grievances with their leaders.

Ethiopia, as an illustration, has for the reason that early 2000s shut down the web and on quite a few events censored on-line materials. Its authorities additionally makes use of the web as a surveillance device. Ethiopia’s Heart for Development of Rights and Democracy says web entry stays unequal and costly.

Within the Democratic Republic of Congo, there have been a number of web shutdowns earlier than the presidential elections in December 2018. However even when the web is functioning, it’s not very accessible. In a rustic of over 70 million individuals, solely 22.9% had been related in the beginning of 2023. This is because of restricted infrastructure and excessive entry prices.

What wants to vary?

African leaders have to keep in mind that an election isn’t all the time an indication of a wholesome democracy, though it provides residents an opportunity to decide on and consider their leaders. A optimistic perspective in direction of know-how will go a way in direction of strengthening democracy.

Perspective, after all, gained’t be enough. Authorities should create social, political and financial situations which are conducive to making sure digital advantages attain everybody. This can require political will, expert artisans with a basic understanding of fundamental know-how, correct data and communications know-how infrastructure, inexpensive information and laws.

That entry and know-how should then be put to work to introduce fashionable balloting strategies.


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