What a week its been in Kenya! The only thing that has mattered for the past 6 days or so has been the drawn out elections that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commisson (IEBC) has been conducting. At the heart of the many delays has been the multiple levels of failure where technology was used in the elections is concerned. It all started with electronic registers on Monday that could not be used due to problems, forcing the use of manual paper-based systems. There was the problem of mobile phones not being able to synchronize to relay election results to the IEBC headquarters. There was also the problem of rejected votes being overstated by a factor of 8 due to a “bug” in the central database. There was also the fact that the main IEBC web site crashed earlier this week as reported on this blog. The list of technology issues just seems to go on and on. At the end of the day, what should have been a short and sweet election process lasting no more than 3 days or so has taken almost a whole week with the final results expected to be announced at 11.00 am today by the IEBC. What went wrong?
The truth is, as the famous adage known as Murphy’s Law states, “what can go wrong will go wrong” when it comes to technology. In Kenya’s elections, fingers were pointed everywhere to try and pinpoint the blame on someone. For instance, when accussed that the problem could have been with the reliability and coverage of their mobile network, Safaricom laid out the facts showing that their network has been operating in an optimal manner. There was Next Technologies who issued a press statement in one of the Newspapers distancing themselves from the whole fiasco. Yes, fingers were pointed everywhere but the bottom-line seems to be that the IEBC themselves seem to have been ill prepared to conduct the election using technology at the core. Yes, Murphy’s Law was indeed in play.
At this juncture, Kenya is trying to position itself as a major global technology hub, especially with initiatives such as Konza City and the fact that Kenya is seen as a global leader in mobile applications due to the massive success of Safaricom’s M-Pesa. In many ways, technology is a key part of Kenya’s vision 2030 and increasingly everywhere you turn you cannot help but enounter the arrival of what is being commonly referred to as Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah”. This is the dream, the hope, the future that Kenya hopes to realize. Therefore, the whole technology snafu in the elections this week will not augur well in building confidence in Kenya’s technology capabilities even though its not really representative of a nascent and fast growing technology industry in the country.
In concluding, it goes without saying that technology was without a doubt the biggest casualty this week during the elections. It’s really unfortunate that IEBC had to resort to paper-based and manual procedures that severely delayed the process. Sadly, people will blame technology saying that “it does not work” when actually the real problem is in how it was executed from start to finish. It was really “mission critical” for the IEBC to ensure their technology was up to par through lots of testing in various scenarios many months prior to the elections. However, considering that most of the technology was only acquired and integrated a couple of months ago, it seemed it was doomed to fail from the get go. The truth is that its not really rocket science when done right with thorough planning and logistical roll-out – technology does work when done right, even in the face of Murphy’s Law.