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The big blockchain miss by IEBC – Business Daily

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati [L] with Vice Chairperson Juliana Cherera. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG
It was disturbing to watch the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners differ publicly over the results of the just concluded presidential election.
Four commissioners told a news conference shortly before IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukai declared William Ruto President-elect that they would not own the results, alleging opacity in the final stages of vote tallying at Bomas of Kenya.
Given Kenya’s turbulent history with contested election results and the narrow margins that determined the winner in this year’s contest, contradictory statements by IEBC chairman and the four commissioners undermined confidence in the electoral body.
It does not help matters that the electoral commission was allocated more than Sh40 billion to conduct this year’s election, ranking Kenya’s among the most expensive elections on the continent.
Despite these resources and lessons from three elections since biometric voter registration and voting was introduced in Kenya, the IEBC’s overall performance left a lot to be desired.
The adoption of technology in Kenya’s election has contributed some progress to building trust in a process that has in the past been the cause of bloodshed.
The introduction of biometric voter registration in the 2013 elections, for example, helped establish a cleaner and scalable database of eligible voters that allows the IEBC to easily register new voters or process transfers.
This is important given that an audit of the 2002 elections later found that the voting register contained more than one million dead voters, which skewed the voter turnout by five percent.
The steady and uninterrupted results transmission was also commendable on the part of the poll’s agency. Just 36 hours after polls had closed, all the Form 34As from more than 52,000 polling stations across the country and in the diaspora were already uploaded on the IEBC portal.
Part of the technical requirements for the service provider of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management Systems (KIEMS) kits was to ensure countrywide access through the 3G and 4G GSM networks.
The service provider was also required to have agreements with alternative service providers or a consortium of mobile network operators (MNOs) in areas it does not have coverage such as polling stations in the diaspora and for redundancy.
In this scope, the IEBC achieved its mandate and no interruptions or third-party infiltration of the results transmission have so far been reported.
Mobile network operators like Safaricom also ensured their robust 4G and 3G network infrastructure maintained 99 percent uptime during the results transmission period and where there was no coverage, satellite phones were adopted.
The split among the IEBC commissioners over the final tallying of the results on Tuesday thus came as a grave flaw in a process that had until then worked like a well-oiled machine.
Some commentators have pointed out that uploading all form 34As on the IEBC portal a day after the election is an important step towards transparency as it decentralised the vote tabulation from the Bomas of Kenya to virtually every Kenyan with an Internet connection.
However, the Election Act provides that only the IEBC has the authority to call an election and at this stage of the process, human intervention is required to verify each of the over 52,000 forms.
Some analysts have argued that a provision for returning officers to upload other file formats of the form 34A such as *xls aside from *PDF and *JPEG formats could have hastened the vote tallying both by independent observers and the IEBC.
In 2018, IEBC formed a task force to guide legal and technological reforms identified by the commission that led the Supreme Court to nullify the outcome of the 2017 presidential election.
Recommendations floated by the task force included the adoption of blockchain technology and distributed ledgers to enable presidential candidates securely access results in real time. This, the IEBC said, would enhance transparency and alleviate suspicions and perceptions of opacity.
The Distributed Ledgers Technology and Artificial Intelligence Taskforce appointed by the Ministry of ICT later that year also recommended elections as one of the areas in which the government could deploy blockchain and artificial intelligence to improve efficiency.
That recommendation, however, was never adopted and the IEBC instead settled on piecemeal tweaks to the process used in past elections. The result is an election marred by claims of fraud and that has once again been challenged at the Supreme Court.
Magu is CEO, Maudhui House, a public affairs consultancy

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Author

Joseph Muongi

Financial.co.ke was founded by Mr. Joseph Muongi Kamau. He holds a Master of Science in Finance, Bachelors of Science in Actuarial Science and a Certificate of proficiencty in insurance. He's also the lead financial consultant.