Dr. Jabulani Dhliwayo
August 5, 2013
Zimbabwean elections have come and gone but the electoral process that retained the incumbent, President Robert Mugabe, was more controversial than ever before. But most of the issues causing the controversy in the Zimbabwean poll were well known long before the elections were conducted. These issues could have been addressed many years before the poll, but one of our weaknesses in Africa is that we sometimes attempt to solve all the issues associated with elections a few months before the poll.
Zimbabweans now have five years before their next poll and it is now that they should start addressing everything that went wrong with this year’s election.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this year’s Zimbabwean poll was the alleged lack of integrity in the voters roll. An early voter’s roll released in June was said to have too many anomalies, including 116, 000 people over the age of 100, 78 constituencies with more registered voters than adult residents and two million unregistered voters under the age of 30.
The roll was to be cleaned up and made available to all contesting parties in both hard and soft copies before the elections. According to Reuters, the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) claimed that two days after the poll they had not been allowed to see the electronic version of the final voters roll because “it would open up a Pandora's Box”.
Some very disturbing purported leaked extracts from the Zimbabwe voters roll
were circulated on the Internet showing duplicates in the voters roll. Obviously, something went seriously wrong with the voters roll. Either massive fraud to manipulate the voters roll was committed or there was colossal failure in the voter registration system and process. The fact that an electronic version of the roll was not made available to the main contesters opens up lots of room for speculation.
There have been a number of calls on ICT Africa and by many Zimbabweans to implement robust and transparent voter registration technology and processes. Needless to say, the calls fell on deaf ears as the Zimbabwean government opted to use the Israeli company, Nikuv International Projects (NIP) for voter registration and management of the voters roll. NIP boasts of being an international company but their portfolio of International clients only include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Botswana and Angola.
The Zimbabwean election is not the first in which NIP technologies and processes have questionable outcome and controversy. The company was hired to prepare the Zambian voters roll in 1995, prior to the 1996 parliamentary and presidential elections. The roll was so chaotic - resulting in many people being placed in the wrong polling stations, incorrect names and registered voters being omitted in the voters’ roll. To their credit, the Zambian opposition parties rejected the NIP voters roll, resulting in a new and acceptable voters roll. NIP is also on the record in Lesotho for bribery charges, to the tune of $3.4 Million – no wonder they don’t include Lesotho on their list of “International” clients.
Of all the credible vendors with modern and transparent voter registration and management technologies in the world, it is rather curious why African governments would be interested in a vendor that has a record of colossal failure and suspicion of fraud.
As discussed in previous articles on electronic voting systems
, biometric voter registration can have a profound impact on the integrity of the voters rolls. The technology is inexpensive to deploy, it is proven and has already been deployed in other African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone.
In one implementation, registrant finger-prints are scanned, digitised and stored with other details such as address, date of birth, national registration number and other details. Such systems will delete old records that do not have finger prints associated with them, and therefore eliminating the anomalous case of large numbers of centurions and ghosts in the voters role. It will also eliminate any duplicate records by searching and deleting any records with matching finger prints. Such a system will preclude the possibility of some registrar general entering random records in the voters role, as alleged in the Zimbabwean election.
If the opposition parties in Zimbabwe are serious about redressing alleged fraud in the electoral process, they should be pressuring the African Union and SADC to force the implementation of transparent voter registration technologies and processes now. Waiting for the conclusion of the 2018 harmonised parliamentary and presidential elections to cry foul does not serve any useful purpose.