Zimbabwe Watch – Elections and technology

Zimbabwe has embraced ICT innovations in its electoral processes. Authorities have deployed digital solutions for voters roll inspection after the country also introduced biometric voter registration for elections expected later in 2018.

Opposition political parties in Zimbabwe have previously complained that the ruling Zanu PF party was manipulating the manual electoral process. It is expected that innovative solutions such as the biometric voter registration and this week’s utilisation of digital platform to verify voters’ details on the voters’ roll will help deal with alleged electoral fraud.

Electronic voter verification

The process was however tainted by a hoax social media message that discredited the electronic voters data verification process. The message, which circulated widely on Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter said the electronic verification platform where voters check their data using their mobile phones was faulty, with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) dismissing the message.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
Journalists are taken through a polling simulation exercise at the just ended media training workshop in Kariba. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission

ZEC has also for the first time used bulk messaging platforms to text information about polling stations, names, identity and wards to registered voters. Those whose details were not correct had to visit voter registration and inspection centers.

“Great innovation at ZEC, check your registration status online, by test *265#,” the UNDP’s director for Zimbabwe, Georges van Montfort, said this week. Verification is also being undertaken through the website.

Digitalization

Apart from the electronic, mobile and innovative voter registration inspection platforms that Zimbabwe is now utilising, the Southern Afrikan country is also hoping to diversify broadcasting in the country through digitalisation. The process has been made easier by telecom companies in the country who have been licenced to offer video on demand and webcasting services.

Zimbabwe only has one television station, over which opposition parties complain that they do not get fair coverage. Now the country wants to speed up digitisation of its broadcasting sector which will give rise to additional television stations.

Although stalled digitalization has been a problem for the broadcasting sector, the financial services sector in Zimbabwe is already widely digitalized owing to cash shortages in the country. However, Judith Tyson, research director for the Overseas Development Research Institute said this week that the government needs to build the trust of the public in the financial sector.

“There’s a big confidence problem to overcome and that’s a very long-term thing to turn around, especially in Zimbabwe where business and confidence is so low,” Tyson said.

“It’s a long path when you have that long history of problems. The financial sector itself is in shocking trouble… the government have not been able to make payments and have not been able to get credit,” she added.

The banks on their part have done well, signing up agreements with mobile money platforms to integrate systems and allow for seamless access of funds across platforms. Kenyan headquartered software company, Software Group, reached an agreement with Zimbabwean finance services company, Metbank to digitise its operations.

This will enable the bank to raise its reach in areas that currently do not have branches. It will also allow for the closer integration of internet and mobile banking platforms on Metbank’s systems.

“Currently, Metbank serves around 70 000 customers from large corporations, small to medium enterprises, as well as individuals. They are one of the fastest growing institutions in Zimbabwe and we аre happy to support them in their digitization journey and help enhance the bank’s operations,” said Russell Taylor, chief commercial officer for Software Group.

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