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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Cell powered free elections ?

CNN on the increasing role of cell phones in encouraging democratisation in Africa, through improving transparency during elections. Excerpt:

.....According to experts, cellphones are particularly important for Africa due to a lack of some other technologies. Visiting African political expert at Indiana University, Sheldon Gellar, said cellphones were much more accessible than the internet in most parts of Africa, and therefore had greater potential to influence transparency.

"Internet provides groups in society with means to communicate, organize and obtain good information which is not controlled by government -- but, only a tiny percentage of African populations have access to internet."

Just this month CNN reported dramatic increases in cell phone usage in African nations. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, there are just 10,000 fixed telephones but cellphone subscribers have soared to more than a million in the last five years.

Gellar told CNN the key benefit of cell phones was that they allowed independent media, especially radio, to provide accurate coverage of elections and make it more difficult for ruling parties to cheat and get away with it.

"During the 2006 local government elections in Senegal, Radio Sud used reporters and correspondents with cell phones to call in what they saw. I remember hearing one reporter describing how a local party boss was illegally taking a ballot box on his truck from the polling station. This was reported live as it was happening."

Civilians and independent election observers outside the media have also taken advantage of cell phones to monitor elections. Bob LaGamma, executive director of Council for a Community of Democracies, said the 2007 Nigerian election was another example of technology being used effectively. LaGamma described a technique of "parallel reporting", whereby independent observers spread news of local vote counts and any irregularities. This technique was also used in the Zimbabwe elections this year, which he said caused Robert Mugabe to delay announcement of election results.

"Parallel reporting was important in Zimbabwe. It kept them from coming straight out and reporting a false result. All of this technology is very important and gives a powerful new tool that cuts the ability for cheating," LaGamma said.....

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