The recent election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has led to a fall-out among the Americans over his campaign policies. On the other hand there has been a massive fall-out between the American Government and the Russian Federation over accusations by the United States intelligence agencies that Russian President, Vladimir Putin orchestrated Trump’s victory through hacking the computer systems of Trump’s rival in the Presidential election, Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party. Russia is also accused of hacking the computer systems of other election bodies in the United States.
The outgoing US President Barack Hussein Obama escalated the fight with Russia by imposing punitive measures against Russia, which included the expulsion of thirty-five (35) Russian diplomats from the US. It is important to note that President Obama supported Clinton during the campaign period. It was apparent to anyone who followed the election campaign that Clinton was the favorite of the American establishment right from the Obama administration, the mainstream American media as well as other industry leaders. It was judged that Clinton was an establishment figure who was embedded to the extent that her Presidency would not “rock the boat”. This was in direct contrast to the Trump Presidency. Trump was considered an outsider who could not be trusted.
Of interest to this article is the allegations of computer hacking allegedly perpetrated by Russia to tilt the vote in favor of Trump. How it is possible that Russia, portrayed by the Western media as spent force, could manipulate the electoral systems of “mighty” and “democratic” America to the point of determining its Presidential election remains subject to further investigation and conjecture.
The issue of computer manipulation of electoral processes becomes a real issue to the Zimbabwean context in the sense that the Government and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) have been subjected to a sustained onslaught by local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Western Governments through their local embassies to adopt the Biometric Voting System (BVS).
The BVS is a voting system which relies on the use of an individual’s biometric features for identification and authentification. The BVS system will scan the individual voter’s iris in the eye or their fingerprint for validation if the individual presenting themselves for voting at a polling station is indeed the real registered voter. It is envisaged that this system will deal with the issue of ghost voters. Needless to say, ZANU-PF has perennially been accused of being a beneficiary of ghost voters. The expectation therefore is that use of the BVS will deny ZANU-PF the chance to cheat.
The BVS is reportedly operational in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Ghana, among a host of other African countries. The system is reportedly fast, accurate, reliable and helps to maintain integrity and credibility of the electoral processes through reducing mistrust and other irregularities. It is also expensive to set-up, train the system users and provide all other accessories for its efficient use.
Assuming that Russia could indeed manipulate the electoral systems of the US to the point of deciding its Presidential election, how safe are smaller and technologically trailing countries like Zimbabwe from such electoral malpractices ? The CSOs in Zimbabwe have embraced the envisaged use of the BVS. ZEC has confirmed that it will use the system during the 2018 elections. In fact the BVS has already been piloted during bye-elections that were held in Marondera and Nkulumane in September and December 2015, respectively.
ZEC has confirmed that funding for the introduction of the BVS will be provided by “development partners” under coordination by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Among the “development partners” are organizations such as the United Kingdom Agency for International Development (UKAID), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (ESISA), among others. The above organizations’ home Governments and funders are known for their hostility towards ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwe Government. How then safe will local electoral processes be in view of the fact that the BVS is computer driven ?.
Commenting on the outrage by US politicians over the alleged Russian hacking, the New York Times newspaper edition of 17 December 2016 exposed the threat to smaller nations by commenting that “There is not much new in tempering with elections……..except for the technical sophistication of the tools. For all the outrage voiced by Democrats and the Republicans about the Russian action, it is worth remembering that trying to manipulate elections is a well-horned American art form”.
These are the types of Governments expected to provide funding for the BVS in Zimbabwe. Is ZEC not creating a conducive environment for electoral theft through the BVS? Is it not possible that the BVS will fail in areas where support for ZANU-PF is concentrated, leading to high numbers of turned away voters?
Is it coincidental that the very powerful nations who are on record for their anti-ZANU-PF stance are the very countries willing to provide funding for the make-or-break 2018 elections ? Zimbabwe is struggling to fund its own internal processes due to sanctions imposed by these very countries who are then stampeding to fund local processes.
ZEC is advised to take heed of the old saying that “if you sup with devil, you must use a long spoon”. In spite of the challenges facing the economy, Treasury should fund our own elections. This strengthens our control of the processes, eliminates the possibility of manipulation, and above all enhances our pride as a sovereign nation.