Mobile phones and African elections
The folks at DigiActive, an excellent resource for tracking the spread of digital activism around the globe, have just released a brief study on the role that mobile phones have played in three recent African elections (Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Kenya), with a particular focus on their monitoring potential. The report’s conclusions are predictably optimistic, ...
The folks at DigiActive, an excellent resource for tracking the spread of digital activism around the globe, have just released a brief study
on the role that mobile phones have played in three recent African elections (Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Kenya), with a particular focus on their monitoring potential. The report’s conclusions are predictably optimistic, stressing the mobile technology’s role in encouraging citizen participation and a greater sense of ownership in the political process:
Crowdsourced information proved to be more comprehensive and more timely than reports gathered through traditional methods; it was also reasonably accurate, due to the verification processes each system had in place. Mobile monitoring is too informal to replace international monitoring missions, but the ability of cell-phone equipped observers to collect and disseminate accurate election results to the public quickly and cheaply helped ease tensions that may have otherwise lead to conflict.
One of the main reasons why mobile technology played such a crucial role in all three countries has been a somewhat relaxed attitude towards mobile technology on behalf of the incumbent governments (who, perhaps, were still unaware of the more subversive uses of text messaging exploited by technologies like FrontlineSMS). The DigiActive report sounds a cautious note here, noting that authorities could eventually catch up with the activists:
…After the Kenyan election authorities considered both shutting down mobile phone communications and requiring users to register their phones with a central database (Cellular News 2008, online). Infrastructure-related network outages caused difficulties in Sierra Leone, negating the real-time quality of mobile phone monitoring that is its greatest asset (Verclas 2007, online); a government-enforced outage would similarly prevent mobile monitors from doing their work. Furthermore, the potential exists for governments to utilize seemingly appropriate security measures as steps toward surveillance and censorship, a serious concern in countries that already lack government transparency.
Photo by D’Arcy Norman/Flickr
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.