ICT wishes as we approach 2017 elections
DAILY NATION By JOHN WALUBENGO
Wednesday January 04, 2017
So we are finally in the new year. If Father Christmas was reliable and able to deliver on his promises, what are the things I would ask for?
Top of the list would of course be that in August 2017, the electoral electronic systems would work. A lot would depend on that. Correction, everything will go up or down in Kenya depending on how we navigate through the 2017 election.
I would wish that the ICT Cabinet secretary would stop talking about Al-Shabaab terrorists coming to hack our electronic systems or blow up the communication masts that would have otherwise transmitted the election results.
He should instead tell us about alternative digital mechanisms he would suggest and support the IEBC to implement, so that when the terrorists come calling we will be ready for them.
Something close to results transmission via VSAT technology may sound a lot better than the traditional, manual way of doing things. I believe VSAT makes a very good digital backup in case the mobile network (GSM) technology fails.
The pure manual way involves moving those sacred tallying Form 34s from the polling station to the constituency station level, through the county station level and finally to the national tallying centre in Nairobi.
Those are very many movements and stops indeed. Each stop offers tempting opportunities to play around with the figures — particularly in the absence of electronic support systems.
We used this route in 2007 and got burnt. We still had to fall back to it in 2013 when the electronic systems failed, but got spared by the Supreme Court.
No prizes for guessing what would happen in August 2017, if and when we purely use this manual approach with respect to results transmission.
There may be room for conditional manual intervention in some components like voter identification, but the results transmission component should be the last candidate for manual intervention since digital alternatives exist.
Of course the manual forms remain the legal basis for declaring the winner, but in the absence of parallel electronic electoral support systems, the losers are likely to have multiple valid reasons to doubt the results.
But successful electronic voter registration, voter identification and results transmission is not the only thing I would ask for from Father Christmas.
I would ask that he move Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Prof Magoha to the IEBC.
I am reliably informed that they can rigorously streamline the place to the point where the 100 per cent voter turnouts often recorded in the perceived strongholds across the political divide may actually turn out to be false.
This would radically change the political map of Kenya and perhaps set us on the right path towards a cohesive nation.
One other wish would be that we do not experience an Internet blackout during elections. This has become quite fashionable in African countries facing elections.
SPECULATION AND RUMOURS
Internet blackouts cut off citizens from the information supply value chain and allow for speculation and rumours to kick in and fill the vacuum.
There are studies that showed that the broadcast shutdown ordered by the government during the early moments of the 2007 post-election violence were far more counter-productive than beneficial.
In some instances, citizens acted against each other based on rumours rather than fact. The media, or the fourth estate as it is sometimes called, was nowhere to confirm or deny the rumours.
Unfortunately, Kenyans are not known to be good students of history. It is increasingly becoming clear that we are likely to undergo some limited forms of Internet censorship and shutdowns before, during and after the 2017 elections.
DATA PROTECTION BILL
Can Father Christmas please spare us from such eventualities?
One final wish for Father Christmas: Can you please ensure we pass the Data Protection Bill this year?
We did pass and enact the Access to Information Act last year. However, the digital rights ecosystem requires that the Data Protection Act also be enacted to ensure that the citizen data being collected by government agencies and the private sector is not being abused.
Obvious abuse examples include getting unsolicited marketing text messages from agencies you never subscribed to. More serious examples may include illegal surveillance by the state and other data collectors.
Lets all wish for and have a wonderful 2017.