Tech hitches cause anxiety in Kenyan general elections

Mobile digital transmission of results hit with delays

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

"Google provided technology and tools that the IEBC is using on their official website to ensure Kenyans have crucial information they need; the services on vote.iebc.or.ke and api.iebc.or.ke are hosted on Google App Engine and powered by technology we provided; we were not involved with results collection, transmission, tallying or storage," said Dorothy Ooko, Google communications and public affairs manager for East and Francophone Africa. "We only published (via the API) and visualized (via the map) the results from the IEBC."

By providing data via the API, Google allowed the media and developers to build services that could provide the information that people were craving. One of the reasons that Kenya was plunged into post-election violence in its earlier elections was lack of information and manipulation of available data by media organization, depending on who they were supporting. This led to chaos and violence.

"Consolidation of the poll results as a single source of results was a huge plus; unlike last general elections in 2007, where all media houses had divergent results, this time round they are all pulling from the same API, which is commendable to avoid tension and suspicion," Kamau added.

The increase of affordable connectivity also means that more people are accessing results online. The candidates had also set up websites and apps that made the voters familiar with getting results online, while the media houses shared data and videos online.

In its defence, Safaricom responded to questions whether it was responsible for the delays by laying out the terms of its contract with IEBC, which included the supply of 17,900 Nokia 1680 handsets and data connectivity.

"The software used on the mobile devices assigned to presiding officers at polling stations is a proprietary software of IFES, a supplier to the IEBC; the storage and presentation of the results is also done by IEBC in collaboration with Google," said Nzioka Waita, Safaricom corporate communications director.

Waita added that the Safaricom network is merely providing the SIM cards and connectivity for the transmission of results data from mobile devices to the IEBC server over its VPN and that the network had 99.9 percent availability.

One of the issues that has emerged is that the decision to procure the software was made late. The Request for Proposal was made on Dec. 21 last year and the deadline was Jan. 4, which means that the IFES and the IEBC had two months to evaluate the proposals, make payments, implement, test the software internally and externally with partners, train the election officials and be ready for polling on Monday.

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