Peaceful, transparent and credible elections: A key event for the Democratic Republic of Congo


Angolan UNITA presidential candidate Isaias Samakuva campaignImagen: ISS Today

In recent months, political tensions and insecurity have increased in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to demonstrations against the continuousness of Joseph Kabila in power. And although the political attention, both national and international, continues to focus on confidence-building measures and on the advances toward the electoral process on December 23, credibility in the authorities and in the electoral process continues to deteriorate.

Note: This blog always is in favor of the implementation of technology aimed at improving elections, but such a crucial endeavor must follow certain rules and be done correctly from the start. Experience teaches us that when such a project starts from a slanted or rigged selection or tender, results are never satisfactory.

Issues such as having electoral registration data manipulated, excuses of alleged difficulties in registering the Congolese living abroad, and the hiring –with no previous bidding-  of voting machines from South Korean Miru System Ltd, a company without any significant and verifiable experience, are some of the concerns that the main opposition leaders have recently denounced, casting doubts over carrying out a transparent electoral process, which has been twice postponed since 2016, and was again postponed in 2017.

In February Nikki Haley, the US ambassador before the United Nations, declared: “Introducing an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk”, referring to the introduction of voting machines from the South Korean company Miru, which have not been used in previous elections in other countries. In addition, the company is under investigation by its own country’s authorities for alleged cases of bribery through the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB). According to several notes in countries where A-WEB operates, this association disguises the sale of voting machines provided by Miru under supposed training and consulting services to electoral commissions.

In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the National Election Commission of South Korea (NEC) itself expressed concern over the use of Miru’s voting machines during the December presidential elections. In a statement to the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante , CENI), NEC voiced serious concerns about the introduction (of these machines), stating that the unstable political situation and a vulnerable environment, which includes a high illiteracy rate, a weak electrical infrastructure, and deplorable road conditions, can lead to machine malfunctions.

As a result, the political opposition of the Democratic Republic of Congo has requested South Korea and the USA the suspension of the contract that links the Independent National Electoral Commission of the DRC with Miru System, and the blocking of its bank accounts.

The DRC is one of the most volatile and complex regions of Africa, however, achieving peace and balance could contribute to the stability and development of the African continent, says Said Djinniten, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the region. of Central Africa. The government representatives of countries such as the USA, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea have also expressed their concerns in recognizing that carrying out peaceful, transparent and credible elections in the DRC represents a key point in the direction of the African continent.

That is why CENI, the DRC electoral commission, must work adroitly to ensure that both voting and counting are carried out smoothly. The implementation of technology could (and should) among other things improve voter registration, allow citizens to vote from abroad, facilitate the voting process, swiftly provide reliable preliminary results, and allow multiple audits that furnish tranquility and confidence to citizens. Let’s hope that the accusations and the fears about Miru are more about the mistakes for their hiring (in several countries already) and not about the performance of their technology.

 

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Nigeria stumbles in biometrics implementation


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Fingerprint scanners failed, prolonging Nigerian elections.

The decision to automate some of the phases of an electoral process does not allow for improvisation or shortcuts. However, there are nations that fail in the adoption of technology because of their eagerness to hasten the modernization of their systems or due to their privileging interests different from those of the citizens and their political rights. A correct implementation, though, would undoubtedly bring enormous benefits.

This failure is the situation that Nigeria is currently facing. Last year, a process of biometric identification—the capture of automatic fingerprint and facial imagery—began in order to eliminate electoral crimes such as identity theft and double voting. However, during the March 28 elections, technical issues delayed the process, forcing an extension of the electoral event.

According to reports from the media, the biometric identification system adopted by Nigeria showed poor performance, as a general problem appeared in the scanners bought by the National Independent Electoral Commission for the automatic verification of voter identity. This intensified the tension that political violence has been generating in the country.

The process dynamics contemplated that each citizen, provided with a device known as the Permanent Voter Card (PVC), which stored their biometric information, should validate this document by verifying their fingerprint. However, instead of fulfilling this task in seconds, as originally planned, the machines took an average 15 minutes per voter, forcing the elections to last two days.

The strong congestion at the polling centers was acknowledged by president Goodluck Jonathan, who was manually registered for voting after three failed attempts to validate his voter card. The president encouraged citizens to “bear with” the situation.

The faults in Nigeria could have been avoided by establishing a technology implementation schedule that included tests in order to detect and correct problems, and also by ensuring a training process for technicians and voters, as has been the case in some nations that are now setting an example in electoral biometric identification: Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.

After the Nigerian elections, the process leaves a lesson to be learned: although the nation advanced by modernizing its electoral register, its implementation of biometric technology was flawed. Therefore, it is still facing the obligation to optimize its systems in order to provide better guarantees to a country strongly afflicted by political problems.

Nigeria takes a winning bet on biometric identification


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Nigeria will use a new biometric electoral register Photo:http://www.washingtonpost.com

Africa has had to overcome enormous social, economic, and political difficulties to be able to stand before the world as a region where citizens’ rights are respected. Although this is an ongoing task—Africa comprises 54 countries— there are nations such as Nigeria, which are working to strengthen democracy by trying to improve the quality of their elections.

One of the resources employed by Nigerians in order to make electoral processes transparent is the shielding of an element that is key to every election: the electoral register. The formula employed is based on biometric technology, which makes it possible to automatically verify the identity of a voter by capturing a physical feature, such as the face or a fingerprint.

In order to implement this, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) has created what is known as the Permanent Voter Card, so that the 68,833,476 citizens called to vote on March 28 for president, 360 deputies and 109 senators, as well as for governors and state legislators, can be sure that their identities will not be stolen, and that there won’t be double votes.

According to the NIEC, each Nigerian voter carrying the card that stores biometric information from fingerprints and face imagery will be able to exert their right to vote once this document is scanned by a reader and their fingerprint is captured to verify their identity, comparing the data saved in the card with those collected at the moment of voting.

Following the example from other nations that use biometric identification (like Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil), the use of this technology in Africa has been on the rise, and Nigeria will join the twenty countries in the continent that have carried out elections using a biometric electoral register.

The expansion of this tool is due to the fact that identity theft has altered electoral results in several nations, eroding the citizens’ trust in the system, and forcing authorities to seek the best practices to safeguard suffrage.

Nigeria has been facing threats from political violence during the last few weeks. However, electoral technology—biometrics, in this case—can help the country to fulfill its fourth general elections since gaining its independence in 1999, with no setbacks. With the use of biometrics, the country has made a winning bet.