Zimbabwe’s recent elections that happened on July 30th were supposed to signify a new beginning after the long era of Robert Mugabe. Spirits were lifted high and excitement was everywhere as President Emmerson Mnangagwa who briefly took over after the military forced Mugabe to quit promised Zimbabweans a free and fair election that even allowed Western observers to heavily scrutinize the whole process; a process that was banned during the past three elections. However, on the 3rd of August when Mnangagwa was declared the winner, the whole peaceful situation took a drastic turn that left six people dead over the results unrest in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.
So, what went wrong?
The main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance party blatantly stated that the results were rigged and observer groups also noted flaws in the whole electoral process. The official results showed Mnangagwa winning by 50.8% of the total votes and Chamisa securing 44.3%. However, Chinamasa’s opposition states that there were insufficient controls over the ballot papers and there was bias from the electoral commission. After the votes were in, the opposition party stated that the unofficial counts showed that they had won the elections. This was shown in a tweet that was later deleted by Nelson Chamisa.
According to Chamisa, the commission’s tallies were not verified and more people appeared to have voted than the initial voting roll. Moreover, a fifth of the result forms that were supposed to be displayed outside the 10,985 voting stations could not be accessed.
Nelson Chamisa still maintains that his party won the elections, and that the party has substantial proof regarding this. He also stated that he has a strategy which he is yet to implement in order to prove this, so let’s just wait and see.
As we are waiting though, it is vital to discuss solutions that could have stopped this from happening in Zimbabwe and other African countries such as Kenya.
It is no secret that some African countries take the title of “Most flawed and crooked elections”. This is mainly because of the centralised electoral systems that lead to lack of transparency and security. In general, electoral commissions alter and manipulate results in favor of a certain candidate and party. Recently, this happened in Kenyan elections of 2017 where the Supreme Court nullified the election results due to possible hacking. Moreover, the electoral commission did not verify the results before announcing them to the public. The Electoral Commission prematurely announced the results before all the votes were tallied from all constitutions. Furthermore, they refused the court’s order of opening its computer servers. On top of this, the court discovered that some poll stations could not send presidential results because some votes lacked security features such as watermarks and unauthorized people also tried accessing the voting system. That’s actually quite a lot of problems for one election.
So, what could have potentially stopped this?
You guessed it right, blockchain-powered elections. As much as this concept is still very new, there has been teams such as the African Blockchain Initiative that have proven the feasibility of Blockchain-powered elections.
How? You may ask!
The African Blockchain Initiative (ABI) is an edtech company focusing on blockchain and cryptocurrency education. This company was formed by a group of students at the African Leadership Academy and has made waves regarding the adoption of blockchain in elections.
On April 15th, 2018, ABI provided a blockchain voting system to the African Leadership Academy for their student government elections. The system was created by Cyril Michino, Amine Soufaih, Gibson Munene and Gerry Migwi; all students from the African Leadership Academy. Normally, all the power would be centralised in the Electoral Student Council as they would have to oversee the whole process. They would know who specific individuals voted for, which defeated the purpose of “Your vote is your secret”.
So, how did this drastically change?
The school already had an existing technological system that made voting easier for students. However, ABI improved this system by building a blockchain solution around it. Since the system was centralized, they changed it to decentralized ledgers. Their technology was based on an ethereum smart contract. They used Solidity to code a Smart contract that was governed by rules that enabled students to vote. The new system ensured that the voting data was encrypted and only released after the elections. Moreover, it ensured voter confidential and restricted central party access.
The system ran automatically and was also automated to open elections at 6am and close at 7pm. At immediately 7pm, the system released the results to the whole ALA community simultaneously. The system is tamper-proof as when a student votes, the vote is automatically recorded and cannot be changed. This ensured transparency in the ALA elections as the power was in the students hands instead of being centralised. Moreover, no one was in charge of the system, ensuring security and trust.
Why is blockchain so important in African elections?
The success of ABI at such a small scale, shows that there is hope for blockchain being used at a country level as well. If this could be implemented at a larger scale, problems raised by African elections could potentially be tackled. There wouldn’t be complaints regarding the rigging of the elections and also, there wouldn’t be the need to verify the elections using human resources.
Is ABI working towards saving Africa?
ABI aims to get universities across Africa to use this electoral system. In future, these students hope to reach national elections level with this. It would be very interesting to see the uptake of this technology in different African countries, where the election systems are clearly broken. Question is, would governments even allow for this technology to be used, judging from the fact that the Zimbabwean government has been denying the presence of external observers for the last three elections. Moreover, is Africa technologically ready to implement such a solution? Nonetheless, this group of young students from the African Leadership Academy has made sure to prove the real power and implementation of blockchain in elections. Their system shows hope for multitudes of broken election systems that lead to nation instabilities. It’s just up to the continent and our governments to work on taking this up.