Kenya: ICT underpins a more transparent vote on the constitution

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The technological revolution in Kenya's electoral process became abundantly clear as the final numbers came in from Wednesday's referendum. Analysts said the digital shift contributed to making the referendum a more transparent affair, with citizens emerging as a vital tool in ensuring the process remained free and fair. 

The biggest beneficiary from the transformation is likely to be the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), that effectively received the mandate to fully digitise the elections process. "We have learned that the use of technology has greatly enhanced the process and sped up the gathering of results," said Isaak Hassan, IIEC Chairman. 

More than 27,000 GPRS-enabled mobile phones were used to send results from polling stations to the main tallying centre at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi. "Using mobile phones, SMS and some software we got results securely checked into a central server, tallied and instantly relayed to the public ... this is eGovernance without the usual big budgets and failure that often accompanies ICT projects," said industry analyst John Walubengo, on an online forum. 

The IIEC has indicated that it intends to spend $400 million on a step-by-step program that will eventually result in Kenyans using electronic voting in about 20,000 polling centres around the country, by 2012. 

As part of its reforms, the IIEC - which was set up to replace the Electoral Commission of Kenya after disputed presidential elections in 2007 - has outlined a raft of initiatives it would undertake in order to reform the electoral process and the management of elections in order to institutionalize free and fair elections. 

Two of its immediate objectives were to conduct a fresh registration of voters and the create of a new voters' register as well as development a modern system for collection, collation, transmission, and tallying of electoral data. 

Both objectives were largely completed in time for Wednesday's referendum, and will be improved upon as the country gears up for its next elections process. 

"We are exploring some of the best practices globally and locally. In future, a voter should be able to walk into a polling station and place the finger print on a machine and all his or her details are conjured up instantly. With improved connectivity country-wide, this is not a wild dream," said Andrew Limo of the IIEC. 

But much of the gains from the use of technology were experience in the social media sphere, where citizen led initiatives promoting peaceful voting and provided near instant updates on events. 

On Uchaguzi.co.ke, (uchaguzi is decision in Swahili), minute-by-minute updates of the process were sent by users with mobile phones from around the country. Uchaguzi is a spin-off of Ushahidi, a Kenyan born platform developed in the after-math of the disputed 2007 elections that has evolved to become a key tool for countries in crisis. 

By Thursday morning, over 1,500 reports from around the country indicated that the reception to the results had been largely peaceful, with over 70 per cent of all reports verified by official sources. "There's a lot of tension in Ndeffo, Kihingo and Mauche. The two major communities are sending warnings against one another. Thanks," said one negative report. Events reported included acts of violence, looting, hate speech incidents as well as peace initiatives. 

Citizens, media houses and observers turned to social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to provide updates, with Nation Media's web presence noting a spike in traffic over the last two days. According to internet analysts Alexa, Daily Nation status was upgraded from a 'medium' to 'high impact' website in its search analytics.

On Twitter, the tag #kenyadecides - which gathers all updates on the referendum - emerged as one of the most popular topics trending on the website globally.