Last Wednesday, 22 November, Open Knowledge Foundation and AfroLeadership organised a round table on Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) for Electoral Processes, focusing on initiatives developed in Francophone Africa.

This was the fourth round table in the framework of this initiative, with which we are trying to map the initiatives and projects already active in the field, to connect with experts to understand together what the challenges and opportunities, and to build together a solid public digital infrastructure for electoral processes that can help make our democracies more participatory and therefore less vulnerable.

We would like to thank Charlie Martial Ngounou of AfroLeadership for his invaluable help in selecting the speakers.

Round Table

Cyrille Bechon, Executive Director of the NGO Nouveau Droit de l’Homme in Cameroon, spoke to us a great deal about trust, which is essential for guaranteeing participation in the electoral process. Her NGO is working hard to advocate reform of the electoral system in Cameroon, but also to reform the rules for protecting elections, particularly with regard to independent candidates and the failure to take account of young people (in Cameroon today, you can’t vote if you’re over 20). “We need tools that will enable us to observe the entire electoral cycle (during, before, and after)”.

Philippe Nanga, coordinator of the NGO Un Monde Avenir in Cameroon, is also working on a consensual and participatory revision of the electoral code. He is doing this in particular through training and deployment of local players and facilitators, who reach out to the general public to explain the electoral issues and the importance of taking part in voting. Philippe also believes that in order to achieve a transparent and secure democratic process, electoral reform is needed, along with independent observation of the electoral cycle by civil society. “That’s what we did during the last elections. We deployed 1,350 observers in the 10 regions of Cameroon, which enabled the results from the 6,000 polling stations to be published on the evening of the close of the elections”. The speed with which the results are published reduces the fear of fraud and increases voter confidence, according to Philippe.

Abdulayé Diallo, who is responsible for electoral issues and digital rights at the Rencontre Africaine des Droits de l’Homme (RADHO), fully agrees with the other two speakers: observation of the entire electoral cycle, and the participation of civil society, are essential. With a view to the elections in Senegal in 2024, he is working on the development of a solid digital public infrastructure. Together with RADHO, they have published an open database containing all the election results from 1998 to date. “Digital tools allow massive participation in democracy and a certain transparency against corruption, we must seize them.”

Pius Kossi Kougblenou from the NGO Acomb in Togo and a member of the Open Knowledge Network, presented us with the Bridge (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance, and Elections) election administration methodology as a good example. Elections in Togo have historically been marked by protests, street demonstrations, violence, injuries, deaths, exile, and a worsening of the socio-political crisis. “To counter this, electoral methodologies such as Bridge are necessary”, according to Kossi, although there are still challenges to be faced, particularly in relation to corruption.

Didier Amani, President of Tournons la Page, spoke to us about the use of ICTs to make the electoral process more democratic and citizen-friendly. During the last local elections in Ivory Coast, Tournons la Page monitored the institutional communication surrounding the elections in order to measure the impact and commitment of citizens. The findings? Official communications are highly ineffective: they fail to address the fundamental issues and leave room for hate speech and disinformation campaigns that discourage voters. “We need to set up a citizens’ election monitoring system”. Like Philippe, Didier also thinks that the results need to be shared quickly. That’s how we can start to counter the narrative of fraud.

After the round table discussion, we gave the floor to the audience, to hear their challenges, questions and opinions.

Yussuf Ndiaye, Vice-Chairman of the Comité Miroir du Sénégal on good governance, stressed that for there to be general acceptance of the consensus on the electoral process, we need to have confidence in the players. According to him, there needs to be good monitoring and resource people to supervise both before and after the event. “This is the only way to avoid conflict”.

Responding to Yussuf, Abdulayé Diallo reminded us that in Africa all political crises are electoral in nature. Inclusion and participation are necessary if we are to have a true symmetry of information. To achieve this, it is essential to have open and accessible databases.

Cyrille Bechon agrees with Yussuf: the question of consensus depends on the good faith of the players. Once we have this consensus, we need to put in place clear rules and mechanisms to ensure that the consensus is respected and that it is not circumvented. According to Cyrille, even more than consensus, we need additional commitment measures. Philippe Nanga comes back to this: consensus is the key to preventing conflict, but it needs to be formalised in law and given concrete form in institutions. That’s the way to win the trust of the public and ensure that they want to get involved and participate.

We all agree: there is work to be done with education to restore confidence in the institutions in place.

Another major concern relates to infrastructure, and in particular the poor quality of the internet in African countries and the frequent internet shutdowns during election periods.

About the Project

The Open Knowledge Foundation wants to create and enable an international alliance to advocate, design and implement building blocks for a Digital Public Infrastructure for Electoral Processes. The goal of the alliance is to create open-by-design technology that can be reused to make democratic processes more trustworthy, resilient, and transparent.

It is not about voting systems. It’s about how open source technology can support all of the stages of the electoral process. From managing the database of candidates and polling stations to the publications and archiving of results.

Democracy needs to be more participatory and only openness can create the foundations for processes where people can be integrated.

The first step in this initiative is to understand what is already available in the field of open elections. We are carrying out a collaborative mapping of local and global projects to gather critical mass and identify gaps, elements that can be reused and the most urgent needs.

Do you know of existing projects or professionals contributing to a digital public infrastructure for elections? Add them now to our Project Repository or Global Directory under the Open Elections category.

Join the Coalition

You can express your interest in being part of the coalition working on this project. Fill out the form below and stay tuned for our team to get in touch with more information about the next steps.