Tuesday, October 11, 2011

‘Bantu Watch’ helps Zambia turn ICT into a mass vote monitoring tool


By Brenda Zulu

Zambians voting or monitoring the September 20 elections had a
pleasant surprise in store for them when Bantu Watch, a joint platform of Civil Society
and (social) media representatives in Zambia, was unveiled showing the use of the SMS
(Short Message Service) as a tool for monitoring and reporting electoral
malpractices.

HIVOS, Coordinator ICT election Watch, Sanne van den Berg, said she
was pleased with the way Zambians sent in quality reports although she
said the numbers of SMSs was low in terms of numbers. She explained
that this was due to technical difficulties with Airtel messages.

She was also happy that by monitoring the SMSs and tweets sent to
Bantu Watch from both monitors and the general public, there were an
incredible high number of actionable reports of which SACCORD acted
upon.

Meanwhile, SODNET’s Program Associate Innovations and Knowledge
Management, John Kipchumbah, said his participation in Bantu Watch has
been an amazing experience that shows what the power of the people can
do.

“Their vigilance and their commitment to protecting their vote has
been very visible,” he said.
“I had the privilege of viewing the citizens’ voices streaming into
the platform, the level of commitment, the passion, shows that people
do know what they want and increasingly they are using channels
presented to them to get action on their issues. I take home a very
clear message that what we as individuals do can or will make a very
big difference by making that decision to care for what affects us and
others among us and that we have the power to make a difference,” said
Kipchumbah.

He added that the platform under the guidance of committed individuals
in both the Southern Africa Centre for Constructive Resolution of
Disputes (SACCORD) and the Africa Interactive Media representatives
has a very huge potential to be a citizens channel to give feedback on
specific issues on governance, development and economic grown for
young people presenting connections at different level.

Verifying SMSs and twitter reports on the Bantu Watch platform Lukonga
Lindunda, a Tech Enthusiast, said being part of the Bantu Watch team
has been a learning experience for him and the Tech minds who have
been motivated to map this year’s elections.

“On Election Day there was an increase in reports and we really had to
work under pressure to verify the reports from Zambians sending SMSs
on electoral malpractices. The Ihub shows that many reports were from
Lusaka and the Copperbelt provinces,” said Lindunda.

He explained that the people verifying the Bantu Watch Ihub were Tech
minds who were graduates from Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and
Commerce, University of Zambian (UNZA) and NIPA.

We have been interested in what Ushahidi was all about and discovered
that it was an open source tool with roots in Kenya. When we got to
play with Ushahidi we discovered that we could use it for other things
and soon after elections we will be trying to use it for something
else.

He added that they also monitored tweets under the hushtag #BantuWatch .
BantuWatch is a joint initiative of civil society and (social) media
representatives in Zambia under leadership of SACCORD. Hivos and
SODNET provided technical support to the project.

BantuWatch is an Ushahidi-based technology platform that allows citizens and civil
society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process.
It provides a way for citizens and civil society to use phones or the
internet to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate
speech, vote buying, polling clerk bias and voting misinformation.

Reports from citizens were collected and visualized online together
with those of trained observers from civil society partners. Incidents
that needed to be responded to were channelled to the electoral or
security authorities after trained persons from civil society verified
citizen messages with contacts on the ground.
The compiled data of all submitted reports was used for reporting to the media and interested parties – at any point in the process. At the end of the election exercise, the data becomes part of a report with recommendations for future improvements to the election process.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The work was awsome and a great project, keep it up. Bantu watch was a hot thing during that time i remember..Albert Chinjenge

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