By Eric Kaba Tah
For the first time in Cameroon, an electronic software known as Ushahidi shall be used to observe the legislative and municipal elections of September 30. The software, deployed in Yaounde shall use a simple mechanism that consist in sending SMS using cell phones and it is shall be open to observers and the public in every corner of the country where mobile phone services are available. A central unit run by a group of volunteers of from the civil society shall collate and analyse all information coming and this shall be represented on a map on a real time. In this regard, specialised observers who are in the field and the general public shall text in electoral fraud attempts or irregularities after direct observations.
Citizens are expected to report observed irregularities through text messaging or emails that shall be collected at the central processing unit that shall be based in Yaounde. The colleted data shall be put into a real time map indicating areas where electoral fraud attempts and irregularities, violence at polling stations, voter intimidation etc is taking place. This shall enable those running the systems to indicate at the appropriate levels for corrective measures to be taken. This may be informing ELECAM officials, political parties, community leaders, administrative authorities who may act on the information and all these processes are done on a real time. Anybody with an internet connection shall be able to visit the Ushahidi Cameroon website (www.cameroonelection.org) and consult the map to see what is going on around the country.
Four Organizations with the support of the European Union will coordinate and manage the process of observing the elections using Ushahidi and they include Transparency International - Cameroon (TI- C), Un Monde avenir , The GRET (and its partner Espace Lumière), and Journalistes en Afrique pour le Développement (JADE with the technical Support of social Innovation for Development ( SIDLAB ) and Anti- Corruption Organization (AC ). Jean Brice Tetka of the Anti-Corruption organization who recently visited Kenya worked with the team that deployed the Ushahidi system during the last legislative and presidential elections in Kenya that saw the election of Uhuru Kenyatta into power. He shall use the Kenyan experience to technically supervise the deployment of the Ushahidi platform during the September polls.
Although this is the first time such an initiative is carried out in Cameroon, it has been successfully used in other countries including Kenya where it was born after the 2007 presidential elections that witnessed untold violence. The computer-based platform was used by people who witnessed acts of violence and could report directly to it while data mapping representing such areas was done. This enabled the provision of clearly defined maps where violent acts occurred. Used within the context of election observation, Ushahidi is a crowd source data collection platform.
Ushahidi which is a word from the Swahili language meaning testimony is a new breed of election observation tools and shall enable Cameroonians to be able to see what is going on around the country on real time during the elections. It has some advantages because it is built to protect and keep secret the identity of those reporting to the system and field reports can be sent during all 24 hours of the day.
In a country where participation in the political process has become a very boring and burdensome task to the citizens, this mechanism shall facilitate election observation while improving on citizen participation because it suffices to have a cell phone and to observe an electoral irregularity to become an election observer. This may rekindle confidence in a decaying electoral process and give some hope to the electorate by encouraging citizen participation and improving on the credibility of the elections. The platform shall also be opened to traditional observers from other civil organisations that shall be able to report to the system. A telephone number, 51 57 34 34 has been put at the disposal of the general public to text in electoral irregularities observed.