|Africa has become a testing ground for technological leapfrogging. This is a process that involves skipping stages and moving rapidly to the frontiers of innovation. Technological leapfrogging in Africa has, so far, focused on economic transformation and the improvement of basic services. Drones are a good example: they’re used in the continent’s health services and in agriculture. In South Africa, robots play a crucial role in mining. Now, in a remarkable extension of technological leapfrogging, Somaliland has become the first country in the world to use iris recognition in a presidential election. This means that a breakaway republic seeking international recognition will have the world’s most sophisticated voting register.
Somaliland’s shift to such advanced voting technology emerged from a lack of trust because of problems with the 2008 elections. For instance, names were duplicated in the voter register because of pressure from local elders. These fraudulent activities and other logistical issues threatened to undermine Somaliland’s good standing in the international community. Of course, Somaliland is not the only country in Africa to experience problems with its election processes. Others, like Kenya, have also turned to technology to try and deal with their challenges. This is important. Being able to hold free, fair and credible elections is critical in democratic transitions. The lack of trust in the electoral process remains a key source of political tension and violence.
Technology can help – and Somaliland is set to become a regional powerhouse in the production and deployment of the technological know-how that underpins electronic voting. So how did Somaliland reach this point? And what lessons do its experiences hold for other countries? The first lesson, then, relates to political will. Since 1991, Somaliland has operated as an autonomous state trying to build new institutions. One of its central goals is to gain international recognition as a sovereign state. Being able to conduct free, fair, credible and just elections is central to this goal and its international image. Somaliland wants to rank highly in the indices of democratic performance – and that’s a strong driver to develop and embrace electoral practices that are in line with international standards.
The second involves problem-solving and incremental technological learning. Somaliland wanted to reduce voter duplication. It compared the efficacy of different face, finger and iris recognition technologies, and this assessment showed that iris recognition was superior. Pilot efforts then allowed for lessons in the design of the system, which helped to reduce anxiety over the consequences of possible failure during elections. It also made the process transparent; interested users could access the available datasets. This enhanced public trust. Somaliland has also wisely used international experts in biometrics. Much of the debate about the use of electronic voting systems centres on how the technology is procured.
Source: All Africa