Zambian citizens observed polls via Twitter, SMS, Internet and telephone
Published on Wed, 2011-09-21 11:04
The electoral campaign and the polls held on Tuesday in Zambia counted on unusual but effective observers: the citizens themselves could report irregularities via Twitter, SMS, Internet and telephone thanks to BantuWatch. That’s the name of an initiative headed by the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Saccord), with the technical support of the Dutch Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos) and the Social Development Network (Sodnet, focal point of Social Watch in Kenya).
BantuWatch is an Ushahidi-based technology platform that allows citizens and civil society organizations to use phones or the internet to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate speech, vote buying, polling clerk bias and voting misinformation. If the reports are relevant, they are sent to the electoral or security authorities.
Similar platforms to monitor electoral processes have been successfully used in Tanzania (2010), Uganda and Kenya (2011). These experiences are helping to build a vibrant online learning platform that can be accessed by civil society organizations that may be seeking information and guidance on ICT tools for election processes anywhere in the world.
The system was simple, as read on the BantuWatch website: “Protect your vote in this year’s election by reporting electoral offences to BantuWatch – send an SMS to 3018 or report online on www.bantuwatch.org. Your reports will be online next to those of formal observers. Become part of a national monitoring exercise. In every step of the process you remain anonymous. You can make a difference - Watch and Report!”
In other words, any concerned citizen could text a report to a local telephone number using a mobile phone. The grievances could also be sent online (via e-mail, Twitter -- with the hashtags #BantuWatch and #Zambialections --, on the network website or on its Facebook page). Then, trained observers based in the nine provinces of Zambia verified the irregularities before denouncing them to the authorities.
"This is a simple enough thing to do, and it does not require complicated technical expertise. All a person needs is access to either a mobile phone or the Internet, which are platforms many people already use every day," said Lee Habasonda, executive director of Saccord, to IPS news agency.
At one point, the BantuWatch site was blocked because the traffic had exceeded the bandwidth limit, but hours later it became available again.
A final count of the polls should be announced by the end of this week, officials said. Zambian people voted for a president, members of Parliament and local government representatives for the next five years.
The Ushahidi platform, tested by Sodnet and other civil society organizations last year during Kenya’s constitutional referendum, is able to accept SMS text messages from the “crowd” or any person with a cell phone or computer to record events happening at any location instantly. It allows people to call in reports by voice or via email and Twitter.