By rukiya makuma
On Friday Feb. 11, history was made in terms of elections for a political office in Uganda. One of the most successful innovations was the first ever live debate broadcast on television, radio and live-streamed on the internet.
The hotly contested Kampala Mayor race was the guinea pig for what many hope will be taken up at Presidential level next time around. Online, hundreds of people posted about the debate on Facebook, with a particularly heated discussion over NRM candidate Peter Sematimba’s academic qualifications.
On Twitter the Daily Monitor and The Independent both ‘live-tweeted’ the event, meaning correspondents were sending minute-by-minute updates from inside the debate hall.
People were also able to submit questions to the moderator during the Q+A section of the debate on Facebook and Twitter, allowing a truly interactive experience. Initial reactions both online and outside the debate hall showed the event was popular with viewers.
Beyond the debate, officials running aspects of the election had an unprecedented online presence.
The Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, ran a busy Facebook page. Registered under Uganda Police, was updated many times daily.
A post on Feb. 14 read: “Four days to the polling day, we thank the public for your continued support and partnership as far as security matters are concerned. Stay calm and peaceful during the electoral process” read one of the posts on Feb. 14.
My friend’s request was accepted in a matter of three hours.
Candidates Yoweri Museveni, Kizza Besigye, Norbert Mao were on Facebook, albeit by proxy in some cases. They also had personal and party websites. The candidates’ Facebook pages and websites were busy with new, constant updates.
Operating under a shroud of suspicion, the Electoral Commission opted for the tested tool for transparency – the internet. Forget the cumbersome previous elections, the EC introduced biometric registration, complete with photo and fingerprint, to catch fraudsters, posted polling details via SMS to voters, and released the complete voter register online at http://www.ec.or.ug or http://188.8.131.52/nvr/. www.nvr.or.ug.
Maria Muyama who lives in Namataba zone in Wakiso district worked for the EC during voter registration. She contrasted her experience with what she endured in 2006 to get her details as a registered voter.
“At times you would go and the book had been misplaced or you would be told that so and so kept the book, the stories were unending,” she says,” this time when people came to verify, we just asked for their names, and we gave them their details just at a click.”
Most of the innovations in the election period have been pushed by the opposition.
It was for this reason that the EC launched an electronic results tallying, transmission and dissemination system. It covered the way results are communicated from District Returning Officers to the National Tallying Centre.
Pontius Namugera, an IT expert from EC, told a workshop in Kampala at the unveiling of the web-based programme that it was more transparent, secure and auditable. The EC Deputy chairman Joseph Biribonwa said the system was developed after complaints were raised during the last general elections about tampering with the results during transmission from the polling stations to the districts and to the national tallying centre.
New IT solutions were used for documenting and reporting on the progress of the election period as well as reporting candidates’ platforms and programmes.
The Democracy Monitoring Group use IT tools to provide the public with systematic, timely information on the electoral processes. The group also released two reports on the elections and their website www.ugandawatch2011.org has information they received from their observers and from the general public.