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Zimbabwe not ready for Biometric Electoral System

By Elijah Mangwengwende

Biometric systems are intended to ensure a clean register, eliminating “ghost” voters and multiple voting, and so deliver a credible election and reduce the likelihood of violence. Noble technology but it doesn’t mean it’s applicable everywhere.

Elijah Mangwengwende
Elijah Mangwengwende

Google dependent national policy makers are very dangerous, relying on google instead of technical expertise and personal analysis will always lead to unsuccessful projects or it feeds into the conveyor belt of corruption, enriching those who award themselves dubious contracts knowing very well the folly of pursuing ghost projects like electoral biometric system at the expense of everyone.

Anyone supporting it, is either a contractor or an indirect beneficiary of the existing corrupt system. It is a noble idea on paper but is it something feasible considering the current situation? We can’t be that gullible honestly. It is just over a year left before 2018 elections. If at all they push for it I will be convinced that the only reason is self-enrichment not delivering credible elections.

Results of electronic vote systems which have been used in the past in most African countries have not been very encouraging. Recent cases including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and other countries with viable economies, they tried but failed dismally due to obvious reasons, i.e. corruption and poor infrastructure.

Zimbabwe scenario: Mission Impossible

Lack of adequate resources for the implementation of such systems in remote rural areas which haven’t got power supplies, poor staff training, unpredictable weather changes,insufficient qualified engineers to implement and maintain the systems all pointed to paper ballots to still being the better option.

In the last general election Biti the then finance minister struggled to raise the resources to fund the paper ballot election and the economy was performing much better than how it is currently.

Where in hell will Chinamasa obtain the funds – with just about eighteen months before the next election – to source, test run and implement an even more expensive electronic voter system when currently the government hasn’t even got the funds to pay election monitors during the recent by elections.

Costs Involved

This is a government failing to pay civil servants and ZEC even complaining that they haven’t got enough money to start voter registration. This is just a joke of the century, maybe the bond Notes will be our saviour.

On google you find out that in established democracies, elections cost an average of $1 to $3 per head, But the problem is introducing biometrics into the electoral system coupled with the poor infrastructure will sends the bill skyrocketing, an example was Kenya’s 2013 election, with a final bill of over $200 million, the polls cost $20 per voter, and in Cote d’Ivoire, the last election was $44 per voter due to poor infrastructure and logistics needed for temporary setups. So where are we going to get that amount of money in a dead economy?

Are they going to install solar panels at all schools in rural areas in 18 months’ time? Where are we going to get the money to accelerate that project?

Technology Required

Electronic fingerprint and card readers, which are intended to verify voters’ identities before being allowed to cast their ballot need consistent electrical supply, how is it possible when ZESA only supplies mainly urban areas, what about in rural areas where many of the classrooms that may be used as polling stations lacked electricity, and even if pre-charged laptops deployed as part of the biometric kits, something confirmed by a certain lady at ZEC when I phoned to enquire,  what happensif they ran out of battery power just an hour after polling began? Or each election officer will carry 6 fully charged laptops? That will be lunatic.

Biometric kits find it much easier to read the fingerprints of voters when their hands are clean.For many rural areas, water is scarce, they have to dig their garden or cook lunch for the children before coming out to vote.

Even in the cities, chances are high that breakfast that morning was prepared on a charcoal or firewood stove since ZESA ventured into firewood usage promotion for some time now and Harare city council only supplying water to well-connected government officials’ residences.

So it follows that hands will be dirty or oily as they join the queue – and the whole furore of failed kits could be as simple as that. And in that sense, it is actually good that voters come to the polling station with oily handsits proof they are honest hardworking folk.

The outcome will be that folklore about Tsuro na Gudo’s party where Tsuro asked Gudo to go and wash his hands at the river knowing very well Gudo uses his hands to walk, the party finished when Gudo was still walking up and down or they will provide washing water or cleaning chemicals to those approved by Chiefs and headmans. Opposition members will be asked to go and wash at the river.

Dishonest and Partisan Zimbabwe Electoral Commission

Wasting scarce resources is not a solution to electoral fraud. Honest is the only answer needed. I don’t see how the system will improve the tallying or collating of votes,it will be actually easy to fiddle with results considering that we don’t have enough manpower and resources to implement a reliable and effective system between now and 2018.

With previous electoral fraud perpetrated by ZEC, the corruption will start by procurement of fake kits from China, or from Israel where the machines can only record ZANU PF votes and eliminate opposition votes. Not only that ZANU PF hawks will fight to buy the solar panels and biometric kits at inflated prices, whether the kits will be delivered or used is another story, what is sure is that they will award each other contracts as usual knowing very well the system won’t be helpful and not feasible to implement.

In short the biometric system is not a solution in Zimbabwe to avoid electoral fraud, it’s actually vulnerable and easy to manipulate, the opposition parties pushing hard for the technology will be disappointed when Rita or Tobaiwa announce final results even when the Biometric systems failed across the country and I know how are they going to do it.

 

Elijah Mangwengwende is MDC-T activist and disenfranchised voter who once spent 12 hours in queue waiting to vote at Harare High School.

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