Saturday, 18 March 2017

Biometric Voter Registration (BVR): Dispelling the Myths

By Dr Samuel Chindaro

There have been a number of publications in the local media, quoting comments from various ‘experts’, and citing developments elsewhere, using these to cast aspersions on the use of biometrics in the upcoming Zimbabwe elections.  Examples of these publications are “Red Flag over Biometric Registration” (The Herald, 11 March 20017), “France’s Cancellation of e-voting: Eye-opener for Zim” (The Herald 9 March 2017), “BVR, A Luxury We Cannot Afford” (The Herald, 13 March 2017 – Editorial Comment) and most recently “More Thumbs Down for Biometric Voting” (The Herald, 15 March 2017). This effort has been systematic and sustained, culminating into a Newsday publication (16 March 2017) screaming “2018 Polls Hang in Balance”. All this comes after the tender process has commenced and a shortlist of companies compiled - maybe just a coincidence. This however is the political side of the process which the author will leave to political analysts.  

What these publications revealed was a clear lack of understanding of the BVR process. This lack of understanding and “mis-information” is being used to discredit the process culminating in the set-up of an agenda giving cues to the abandonment of the biometrics project. This article is intended to correct some of this mis-information and mis-interpretation of developments elsewhere. It also aims to clarify the proposed Biometric Voter Registration and Verification process (BVR) which Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is proposing, and has been successfully used in other countries.  

The common theme in these publications has been the misconception that ZEC is going to implement ‘biometric voting or electronic voting’.  This then set the basis for the claim that the system would be susceptible to ‘cyber-attacks’ and ‘hacking’  which would derail the voting process and dis-enfranchise voters, citing France’s abandonment of electronic voting as an example.  ZEC is not proposing to implement ‘biometric or electronic voting’; it is proposing a model of BVR which is very different from electronic voting (even though it can be used as a launch pad for electronic voting). Additionally, the process being proposed is not more vulnerable to cyber-attacks or hacking than any other electronic voter’s register or database. This will be further explained in this article.

The call for the employment of technology in Zimbabwe for both voter registration and facilitation of the electoral process is not new. The issue has been raised in parliament several times (Tongai Matutu, 2010, Pishai Muchauraya and Nelson Chamisa, 2012 for example). The author of this article also advocated for biometrics to be used in a 2012 publication and in a number of follow-up articles thereafter.

The intention to introduce biometrics in Zimbabwe for the 2018 elections has enhanced ZEC’s credibility, and should be applauded as a step in the right direction. Zimbabwe is not re-inventing the wheel, but is following in the footsteps of other countries including Ghana, Benin, Tanzania, Togo, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, DRC and Nigeria among others, which have successfully pioneered this technology.

Before, dealing with the issues that are being raised in the recent publications, a brief explanation of biometrics is given here. Biometrics refers to human physical and behavioural characteristics such as fingerprints, the iris, signature, face etc. These can be used to uniquely identify an individual.  This concept is definitely not new! Zimbabwe has been collecting people’s biometrics for decades; everyone has to have a picture taken and fingerprints captured to obtain a national identity (ID) or passport.  This background and reference is important because BVR is just similar to this process.  In BVR, a voter’s details (name date of birth, address etc) are digitally captured and stored alongside their biometric features (face and fingerprints) on a computer– that’s it. Nothing more nothing less! The advantage of this system is that these biometric features can be used to uniquely identify an individual in a computerised way and additionally , there is inbuilt software to identify and eliminate duplicate voters/registrants; leading to a clean voters roll.

The deployment of personnel for the purpose of collecting BVR information is not different to that done in order to register people in the “old way”.  Personnel will be trained and equipped with mobile voter registration kits. These are portable devices designed to create electoral rolls; equipment that is reusable, extensible and resistant to adverse conditions. These devices are self-contained, autonomous units supported by long-life batteries and can be used in remote areas for registration, even within homesteads. In the end, what is compiled is a normal database or electoral register which includes biometrics information.

The second part of the process is voter verification or authentication which happens on voting day. This is whereby a person appears on voting day, presents an ID or provides a name. The person’s biometrics face and/or fingerprints are then captured and compared to those in the computer database (biometric voters’ register). Again mobile biometric kits/stations are available to achieve this, enabling penetration of remote areas.  If there is a match, the person is verified, gets a ballot paper and continues to vote (manually) in the normal way! The person’s details are then digitally marked as having voted and cannot be used for repeat voting (no need for ink). This is NOT electronic or biometric voting, but manual voting as we are used to!  

At first ZEC had indicated that biometric verification would not be done (thus just creating Biometric Voter Register – or simply an electoral register which contains a person’s face and fingerprints which would not improve the voting process itself but provide a clean and credible voters’ roll). However Vice President Mnangagwa in response to a question by MP Chamisa in parliament regarding use of biometrics on voting day had this to say; “Hon. Chamisa has forgotten that we agreed that we need BVR.  We never said it would not go full throttle.  We agreed that the biometric system would be used in coming up with a Voters Roll up until the actual voting.” So, it is expected that biometric verification will be used on voting day.

The other dominant theme of the publications attacking the BVR process was the ‘susceptibility to hacking and cyber-attacks’. A biometric voter register, as mentioned before, is no different from any electoral register (as prescribed by the Electoral Act) or any other database. Therefore it’s susceptibility to hacking and cyber-attacks should just be at the same level; but this is not even the case as these biometric databases are more robust and designed to protect the sensitive personal information they contain. 

The issue of data privacy features dominantly in the development of biometric processes. Consequently, the BVR process has inbuilt protection included in the software packages (for example, template protection) which makes it more robust than the current electronic register which has been used in the previous elections. It is difficult to hack, and even if the data is somehow stolen it would be in an unusable format for the perpetrator. It is accepted that the outcry might have been based on the misconception that “electronic voting” and automatic tallying of votes would be carried out; an assumption which is very wrong.

Another debate and negative concept being cast about the BVR process is its perceived cost, but before delving into the intricacies of financial cost, it is important to look at why Zimbabwe has embarked on this path. It is not by accident that ZEC has embarked on the Biometrics project. The history of disputed elections and unclean/suspicious voter registers is a known political burden to Zimbabwe. This has damaged the credibility of Zimbabwe elections leading to violence, leading to loss of lives, people being displaced and some fleeing the country. The cost in terms of human lives and the country’s economy has been monumental and cannot be quantified. It is clear that the current scenario cannot be sustained, and an improvement/change in the electoral process is crucial. Reverting to the use of national IDs or licences will create the same cycle of rigging accusations and discrediting of the electoral process – a vicious circle which needs to be avoided.

In 2012, ZEC said they would need about US$20 million to spruce up the widely-condemned roll after which constituency boundaries would be drawn up for general elections(The Herald 21/12/12). It is on record that a proposal for biometrics registration was made at that time, detailing that the exercise could be carried out within 3 months, costing USD20 Million; the same figure that ZEC had said it needed to clean up the voters’ roll!

The current proposal for BVR is based on a budget of US$29 million; to produce a NEW clean and credible voters’ roll – surely not an expensive exercise especially if put into context of what it will achieve. The cost of acquiring the equipment needed is no more than US$15 million. Therefore the “unaffordability” claim is unfounded. Furthermore UNDP had offered to fund the BVR procurement process through their structures to ensure transparency, a proposal which has now been rejected for ‘sovereignty’ reasons. However the government has now made US$17 million available to fund the process. In addition, this process is sustainable, and will be much cheaper in the next elections (no/low procurement cost) in addition to the bonus of sustainable dispute free elections.

Having said all that, BVR in itself does not guarantee successful, fair or credible elections. The author does not propose the use of biometrics as a "silver bullet" capable overcoming all obstacles Zimbabwe faces in ensuring a level playing field in which all eligible voices have their say in the political future of the country.  Its effectiveness can only be recognised if applied in tandem with the political-will and sincerity of authorities in charge, who are tasked with guaranteeing fairness and ensuring inclusion of all citizens.  Biometric technology cannot solve problems rooted in issues such as mistrust among stakeholders or lack of political freedoms. Elections, at the end of the day, are a political process.

In spite of all the challenges, the introduction of biometrics in the compilation of voter registers should improve the accuracy of the voter registers and provide the foundation for clean and violence free elections. Ghana has used biometric registration and verification in three consecutive elections (the latest occasion being in 2016) proving that the process can be reliable and sustainable.  It is therefore urged that ZEC and all stakeholders embrace biometrics technology to ensure integrity, inclusiveness, accuracy, transparency and accessibility in the coming elections. The media should act responsibly and report facts accurately, and ZEC should take a pro-active role in explaining the BVR process and educating the public.

This article first appeared at:

Friday, 25 November 2016

Biometric Elections in Zimbabwe – Managing the Risks

The intention to introduce a Biometric Voting System (BVS) in Zimbabwe for the 2018 elections by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) should be applauded as a step in the right direction.  The fact that the introduction of the system has been done after calls from the opposition and other experts including this author, for introduction of this technology should also additionally boost the credibility of ZEC which has responded positively to these calls. ZEC is following in the footsteps of other countries including Benin, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Togo, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, DRC and Nigeria among others, which have either implemented or trialled this technology.

Even though, the biometrics technology itself is now mature, tried and tested; its implementation in an electoral system; especially in Zimbabwe’s current state requires careful management of risks if it is to achieve its desired goals. Handled in the right way, the introduction of this technology to elections in Zimbabwe will go a long way in eliminating the controversy which has accompanied previous elections. The advantages of using biometrics technology and the process involved have been covered previously by this author.

The frequency at which ICT projects run late and over-budget, makes it clear that Zimbabwe’s BVS project is at a high risk of failure if it’s not adequately planned. As with any major technological project, the introduction of a BVS, especially in the challenging Zimbabwean environment must be done with a full understanding and overview of the requirements and the risks involved. Fundamental to the success of such a project is an appreciation of the procurement and running costs, and thereafter the sustainability of the technology.

Ideally, the preparations for introduction of advanced technology in elections should start soon after the preceding elections, in order to maximise the time for system testing, procedural development, training, etc. Procuring major systems at the last minute increases costs reduces benefits and undermines the sustainability of the technology. Procurement of election materials is among the most costly part of the electoral process and any delay or shortfall in the procurement or distribution of materials could have serious implications on the rest of the electoral schedule.

The minimum requirements to implement a BVS are the acquisition of voter registration kits (cameras, laptops, power supply, and accessories), registration and database software, duplicate analysis software for fingerprints or face recognition (software to identify and eliminate duplicate entries). This should be accompanied by training of operators and providers of on-site technical support. A BVS requires properly trained staff and effective operational support and maintenance structures to have a chance to succeed. It is important for the success of the project that the electoral body hires experienced experts to lead the project implementation and not rely on political appointees.

The choice of technology which ZEC is going to adopt for the BVS will have a big impact on the procurement process. The choice of the appropriate level of technology to implement should be backed by a comprehensive and properly resourced feasibility study. It is vital the electoral board carries out adequate validation tests for biometric voter registration, identification and verification (proving that the registrant is who they are claiming to be).  ZEC should therefore allocate adequate time for the procurement and validation process, integrating the necessary buffers to reduce impacts of potential delays.

The sustainability of the Biometric Voting System is another important aspect when choosing and acquiring the technology. The system should be re-usable and be able to be sustained locally without relying on external experts, technicians and vendors. There are high risks related to lack of local technical service, backup support and spares for high-end technological solutions. ZEC should be able to attract and retain local staff with appropriate levels of skills. The University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology and Chinhoyi University of Technology (among others) have been steadily churning out graduates and researchers in this field. Maximising on local expertise will ensure that the technology survives beyond one election cycle and can also potentially be expanded to other institutions other than ZEC.

Planning for a Biometric Election:Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Chairperson;
Justice Rita Makarau
Relying on external vendors and technological experts will challenge the integrity of the electoral process and the confidence in ZEC, and raise the question of legal responsibility, national ownership and sovereignty (remember the NIKUV controversy?). Relying on external expertise and suppliers will land the country in the hands of organisations/companies who have little interest in capacity building, who may retain intellectual property rights  and therefore challenge the sustainability of the technology  resulting in both donor dependency and vendor lock-in. Therefore, alongside recruitment of appropriate local staff, it is vital that the BVS acquired should be one meeting specific standardisation of practices and processes to avoid the process being locked to one vendor, which additionally, minimises competition and drives up costs through monopolisation.

The frequent and unpredictable power cuts which take place in Zimbabwe make it important that contingency planning is prioritised by ZEC for the implementation of the BVS.  Alternative power supply sources such as standby generators or Uninterruptable Supplies (UPS) should be in place for the duration of the voting process. Associated with power cut risks are data loss, data corruption and equipment loss which will require appropriate back-up servers and other disaster recovery strategies.

There are other general issues which ZEC should be considering as they build up to the introduction of a BVS.  It is crucial to the acceptance of the process that ZEC manages the perceptions of voters and other stakeholders. Electoral technology must generally empower local stakeholders and therefore decisions on the choice of technology should, where practical, involve stakeholder participation and reflect their input. The relevance of any technology applied to electoral administration significantly determines the overall credibility and quality of the entire electoral process. It is therefore important to involve all stakeholders, presenting the benefits clearly, and being transparent about procurement procedures, time of deliveries, costs and risks. ZEC must also carry out transparent pilot and evaluation tests which it can use for civic education and public outreach.

It is advisable for ZEC to organize a consultation process with those users or their representatives to ensure that their needs are met, they are satisfied and that the BVS is acceptable and reliable. It is important to provide sufficient information to users to enable them to feel included in the process and therefore increase the likelihood that the new technology will be successfully accepted and implemented. Since election technology has the potential to directly affect the political process, it is important to engender a sense of ownership in its users. In addition, accessibility, versatility and equality considerations are to be taken into account when adopting new technology to ensure that people with special needs are included.

The challenges to ZEC are not only restricted to technology and procurement. Advanced technology alone cannot guarantee the integrity of elections without corresponding legal and administrative protective mechanisms. ZEC must ensure that the legal framework is compatible with the introduction and use of BVS technology. Associated with acquisition of biometric data is the issue of data protection and right to privacy. While there is a need for electoral data to be in the public domain, the balance between, on one hand, the reasonable demands for transparency in electoral processes and the right to privacy of the citizen on the other is a delicate exercise which requires careful handling.

The biggest challenge is how to ensure a sustainable, appropriate, cost effective and transparent use of technology, particularly in Zimbabwe’s fragile political environment. Provided the BVS is operationally appropriate, cost-effective, timely implemented, transparent and sustainable, it can build credibility by improving the speed and efficiency of the electoral process. It is however important to be realistic about the associated risks and their sources. In some cases risks develop because there are participants who may want the process to fail for their own selfish reasons, including those who are deriving benefits from the status quo. It is hoped that ZEC will be taking appropriate measures to mitigate any risks associated with the implementation of the proposed BVS.

This article was first published by TechZim. Reproduction of this article is permissible as long as this fact is acknowledged.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Call for Focus on ICT in Education for Zimbabwe

The release of ‘O’ Level results from last year examinations was met with an unprecedented outcry across the nation. Now that the dust has settled and emotions have calmed down, and the nation is preparing for a new government, it is time to take a sober look at this vital aspect of the nation’s future. The majority of the reactions were peddled with blame finding and finger-pointing with a number of prominent figures playing political gymnastics with the results. This was evidenced by various headlines such as :  “O’Level results ; who is to blame”,  “Education in free-fall, “Pass Rate increased from 2009”, “Coltart  admits O’ Level Results Crisis” , “Fall in O Level Results blamed on de-motivated teachers”  and “Coltart making a bad situation worse” ,  to name a few.

It was apparent that some of these statements were based on mis-information, hidden/political-motives or just irresponsibility and recklessness. It is not acceptable for prominent figures to play political games with the country’s biggest asset – education. Instead of throwing mud at each other and burying our heads in the sand, the nation should now do some serious soul-searching and try and find ways in which this situation can be arrested and improved. It is irresponsible, to say the least, to play political gymnastics with the welfare of future generations. Education and human capital are fundamental to the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.

It was evident that the outcry was a reflection of the high standards in Education that Zimbabwe has set since independence, and consequently the high expectations. Despite the sanctions-inspired crisis in the education sector Zimbabwe’s literacy rate remains the best in Africa as reported in the most recent survey; and this is credit to the government which made education on government schools free at independence, built thousands of schools, trained thousands of teachers and availed opportunities for higher education studies previously unavailable to the majority pre-independence. Historically Zimbabwe has always prioritized education and training at all levels as the government rightly considered it as the foundation for social, economic and national development as reflected in the highly successful ‘Education for all’ policy launched at independence, which is set to be reinforced as indicated by the incoming government in its manifesto. The Presidential Scholarship Programme has been a glowing example of how much advancement of education is prioritised at the highest level. Further evidence of this is in that Education has consistently received the highest budgetary allocation since 1980 until the GNU when the MDCs took over the Finance and Education ministries.

Complex, multi-faceted challenges being faced by the Education sector in Zimbabwe can be linked to the socio-economic conditions that the country finds itself in which were exacerbated by the illegal sanctions. These range from brain drain to lack of basic infrastructure. Despite these challenges, it is the belief of this author that prioritising the utilisation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education will go a long way in addressing them. ICT includes radio, television, and digital technologies such as computers and the Internet which are powerful enabling tools for educational change and reform. When used appropriately, different ICTs can help in expanding access to education, strengthen the relevance of education to the increasingly digital world, and raise educational quality by, among others, helping make teaching and learning into an engaging, active process connected to real life. It can be utilised to resolve structural problems and deficits in the education system such as enhancing administrative and teaching efficiency, alleviating under-resourcing and supporting teachers who may be under-equipped.

The government is well aware of the potential of ICTs to help address some of the above challenges. The recognition of the prominent role which ICT can play in improving Education in Zimbabwe was signified by the establishment of a fully-fledged Ministry of ICT.  Most recently, the National University of Science and Technology hosted the 5th Annual Conference for ICT for Africa 2013. Awareness at the highest level has been demonstrated by the launching of programmes such as the “Presidential e-Learning Programme”, “Presidential Computerisation Programme” and opening of E-Learning Centres across the country. This trend is set to continue with the incoming government pledging to develop a national communications grid for ICT based on fibre optic network linked to the submarine cables located along the eastern seaboard of Africa. Anecdotal evidence has demonstrated that the availability of such tools has helped to bridge the ICT gap, although more could still be done by the relevant ministries to complement these efforts.

Despite numerous benefits of ICT there are many varied issues and challenges countries face when integrating ICT in Education. Overreaching all of them is the need for an ICT Policy in Education. Embarking on ICT projects without clear policy directions will result in stunted development. It is argued here that, the lack of a clear and dedicated body that specifically deals with ICT in Education in Zimbabwe has been hindering the government’s noble objectives, and will continue to do so if not addressed by the incoming government. Any significant ICT-enabling education initiative has to integrate within the national education systems and needs to be developed on a national scale, for it to work sustainably. Efficient integration of ICT in Education requires a unified strategy for the whole sector. This is in view of the fact that each system of education leads into the other and the skills accumulated at one level of education could provide gains in the next level. University computer science students, for example, could be integrated to assist in the development of ICT in schools. A harmonized strategy and implementation framework would accelerate progress, complement other initiatives and maximise impact.

The fundamental purpose of producing a specific policy would be to articulate and clarify goals and to provide a conceptual framework to guide progress towards these ‘ICT in Education’ goals. Only a systematic approach can ensure that ICT educational goals are met in the best possible way, and the hard to reach are educated in an effective way. If appropriate objectives are set to meet the overall goals, the outcome of this strategy will become realistic and measurable resulting in people involved getting a clearer picture of the steps to follow and the rationale behind doing so. The current lack of a coherent policy is likely to contribute to the development or prolonged existence of ineffective infrastructure and a waste of resources if not addressed.

ICT in itself is not going to radically change education systems for the better. An overall view of what education should be seeking to achieve is needed for ICTs to be utilized to their full potential within education systems. In Zimbabwe, the outgoing ministries of ICT and education between them failed to incorporate ICT in the curricula; and therefore the integration of ICT in education and learning remains largely un-initiated. There are no frameworks in place to guide the integration of ICTs into teaching and learning and the curriculum in its entirety has not been reviewed. Without review and overhaul of curriculum to integrate ICTs, their integration will only be an “add-on” and may consequently not have the desired transformational impact. The primary reasons for this were a lack of awareness, understanding, requisite skills and specific institutional or sectoral policy that would support the integration of ICTs in education.

The fundamental issues of ICT in Education development and integration cannot be resolved in isolation and therefore require a coordinated framework that establishes clear goals and priorities for reform. Zimbabwe does not have a dedicated National Policy on ICTs in Education.  ICT in education is loosely dealt with in the “Revised ICT Policy 2012” from the Ministry of ICT as a subsection on ‘E-education’.  It features in the Science and Technology Policy from the Ministry of Science and Technology on a paragraph on ICTs.   In the Ministry of Education and Culture Medium Term Plan (2011 – 2015) the use of ICT in Education is dealt with in a subsection on E-Learning and appears on various sections of the plan where it is captured via provision of computers etc to schools. It is not clear from these current policies, who institutionally cater for the programme of ICT in Education. It is therefore not surprising that the country is populated by a number of NGOs claiming to be spearheading ICT development in education in one way or another. However, without the shared vision of a dedicated national ICT in Education Policy, and a dedicated body to oversee its implementation, the efforts of NGOs and corporations may very well go in divergent directions or work at cross-purposes and their contributions to the nation’s education effort are more likely to be marginalized or even neutralized.

A targeted ICT in Education policy can open ways in which the sector can strategise and explore alternate affordable solutions. The country is faced with a situation where computer equipment is costly and electricity and connectivity coverage is limited, and it would be prudent to explore all available ICT options to determine the most feasible options to meeting the educational objectives set. The way forward would be to start by utilising the technology that we have, know how to use and can afford. For example, with the prevalence of mobile phones and radios in Zimbabwe, ways could be explored to determine how these could be used as an educational tool.

The development and integration of ICT in Education needs to be spear-headed by staff equipped with the specific skills for the role. It is clear that the skills and experiences in the areas of educational technology, ICT policy formulation and planning, e-learning, and digital content creation are a pre-requisite if education is going to benefit from this technology. Without these specific skills, critical areas in ICT integration are not attended to or insufficiently attended to, causing skewed development. Without education experts (with ICT and ICT integration knowledge and experience) in charge, ICT in Education initiatives are likely to be technology driven rather than being leveraged as tools to address specific education challenges. A dedicated ICT in Education Policy can focus on acquisition and development of these skills. Guidance and support to educational institutions can be clearly set up to enable them to make efficient use of ICT through implementation of plans to meet set targets. Even simple guidelines like standards are critical. In the absence of uniform standards and specifications institutions may acquire sub-standard equipment.

There is also a danger of lack of a clear policy and specific body for ICT in Education resulting in the issue becoming politicised or personalised at the expense of genuine development in the education sector, as was evidenced during the life of the GNU. The quest for political scores at the expense of progress emerged as one of the Achilles heels of the GNU. Zimbabwe’s case was exacerbated by the fact the two ‘responsible’ ministries (ICT and Education) were from across the two different MDCs whose relationship is as acrimonious as it is almost non-existent. The press was thus littered with announcements and promises from these ministries such as the promise for “solar-powered iPads to rural schools” from David Coltart which never materialised, “donation of 50 Computers to Kuwadzana” and “donation of 41 PCs to a Harare school” by Nelson Chamisa, to name but a few.  These political stunts which involved dumping hardware in schools and hoping that 'magic' will happen, without thinking about educational content,  using unproven technology  and single vendors without planning can only be a recipe for failure. Additionally, even if it is acknowledged that donations of equipment can be vital in helping to initiate an educational technology project, they can rarely be counted on to sustain one, due to dependence on outside expertise.

These donation stunts were in themselves quite ironic because these were some of the dissenting voices who were quick to criticise the Presidential initiatives; labelling them political, but were here found to be personalising the issue of ICT in education. These uncoordinated efforts, parallel structures and individualisation of government efforts all appeared to be cases of individuals trying to gain cheap political and personal mileage out of the issue of ICT in Education with nothing of substance being achieved in the end. A typical example of misplaced priorities, and glory seeking escapades was thet trip to South Korea by David Coltart to recruit 6 Maths and Science teachers; instead of using the scarce resources to create better working conditions for local teachers. Zimbabwe has very good maths and science teachers locally and in the Diaspora and efforts should be directed at attracting these teachers back to the profession.

This political grandstanding and mileage seeking behaviour could be further evidenced by the fact that the ‘Education Medium Term Policy’ was not on the Ministry of Education’s website but could be found on David Coltart’s personal page. The latter was well maintained in comparison with the former website. The Ministry of Education website lacked useful digital content and hardly inspired confidence in the nation that this Ministry was capable of spearheading the ICT revolution in Education; this should be addressed. For example, the scandal of temporary teachers’ application forms being sold (they should be free) could have been avoided by simply having downloadable forms available on the website. Similar shortcomings in the Ministry of ICT were highlighted by this author, in an article published in the Sunday Mail on 13 January 2013. However to its credit, the Ministry revamped its website and revised its poorly crafted and plagiarised ICT Policy.

Going forward and having observed the multi-faceted challenges we are facing in Education, it appeared the outgoing ministry tasked with multiple responsibilities (Education plus Sports and Culture) was incapable or lacked the required dedicated focus to achieve the ICT in Education goals. In all fairness, the minister who was responsible, David Coltart was probably much better at giving a ball by ball commentary on his personal Twitter/Facebook  page of a Zimbabwe cricket match, as opposed to say tackling the much more important issues of a clear cut ICT in Education policy and developing relevant curricula, for example. Given the emerging challenges in education brought by the ICT revolution, consideration should be made for taking away some of the ministerial functions in the next government and have a ministry dedicated only to Education return.

With the state of the education system in Zimbabwe, it is acknowledged that some of the efforts from NGOs, individuals and other well-wishers are providing much needed help in this sector. However their efforts could reap better results if these were co-ordinated by a central body with enough expertise in the area. Without the guidance of a specific national policy and the resources of corollary programs, it is less likely that individual school and classroom innovations will be sustained. Nor is it likely individual effects will accrue across the country to have an overall impact on the educational system.  The country might end up, again, with a loose fragmented policy which is techno-centric, promoting the purchase of equipment or the training of teachers without providing a strong educational purpose or goal for the use of technology. The mere establishment of a written national ICT in Education policy has value in itself. At a minimum, it conveys the message that the government is forward-looking and intends to pursue the utilization of ICT in Education.

The government should try to create circles of innovation through co-ordinated strategies on broadband deployment, PC purchase programmes, digital literacy programmes and on-line e-service provisioning. While each of these components has value in isolation, a network effect in education can only be achieved through co-management and evolution strategies. The government should, of course, aspire to more by putting the policy content into actual practice and becoming a role model in applying ICT in their own administration and services.

It should be noted that the full realization of the potential educational benefits of ICTs is not automatic. The effective integration of ICTs into the educational system is a complex, multifaceted process that involves not just technology. Given enough initial capital, acquiring computers for example, is the easiest part. In order to make successful use of ICT in enhancing the quality of teaching and learning, policy makers need to be aware of how ICT can be of best value in the country's education system, and need to develop a supportive policy environment and framework at the national level for its integration. It is urged that the incoming government prioritises ICT in Education in order to reap the benefits of technology. This will require appropriate investment, and it has to be systematic and well planned.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Feasibility of Using Biometrics Technology for Zimbabwe Elections

1.     Introduction

In a previous article published by the author, “Biometrics in Elections” was discussed, with emphasis on how this technology works. In this follow–up article this issue is further explored taking into account the current status of the voters’ roll and current economic and social environment in Zimbabwe. The feasibility of introducing “Biometrics in Elections”  is looked into, taking into account the costs  involved and precedence from other countries. The issue of voter identification at polling stations and problems arising from the current process will be explored. Given the history of electoral problems and disputes which have tragically led to loss of lives in Zimbabwe, it is argued that biometrics can and should be implemented to ensure credible elections.

2.     Background

The call for the employment of technology in Zimbabwe for both voter registration and facilitation of the electoral process is not entirely new.  Masvingo MP, Mr Tongai Matutu called for the introduction of biometrics,  lodging a motion in Parliament to this effect in 2010. The issue was raised again in March 2012 by Mr Pishai Muchauraya, who stated that though it had been addressed with Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, nothing concrete had materialised. In April 2012, the Minister of ICT, Nelson Chamisa also called for the adoption of a digital biometric voters roll. The author of this article also brought this issue to the limelight in a publication in July 2012 in which the basics behind Biometrics Technology were explored. Most recently calls led by Misihairabwi-Mushonga, to implement an ‘on-line voters’ registration’ have been rejected by the Registrar General who contends that this does not provide adequate checks as required in Section 24 of the Electoral Act. In this article the case for using biometrics for elections in Zimbabwe is put forward, with particular emphasis on producing a clean and credible voters’ roll for the upcoming elections and the referendum.   The feasibility of doing so in the current environment will be tabled.

3.     Importance of Voters Roll

The voters’ roll is of paramount importance for the running of any democratic election, and as such needs to be kept accurate and up to date. To hold credible elections it is imperative to have credible voter registration. A bloated or inaccurate voters’ register always has a negative effect on the electoral process. The voter registration framework and processes must be designed to allow only eligible persons to register as voters. Therefore the voters’ roll has a direct influence on the results of any poll, as only those on the roll are allowed to vote. The quality of the voters’ role is a crucial factor in determining the validity and legitimacy of election results and can be a deciding factor on the outcome of elections

A deficient voters' roll will disenfranchise those entitled to vote and an inflated roll with duplicate entries, ‘ghost voters’ and names of people who have migrated, exposes itself to electoral fraud, for example through ballot stuffing and manipulation of numbers without raising an obvious alarm. It can also affect the delimitation of constituencies by giving wrong indications of the population within each constituency – directly impacting on and influencing the election of MPs. It is therefore vital that measures be put in place to ensure an accurate voters’ roll before conducting any elections in Zimbabwe. It can make or break the democratic process and therefore the embracing of any technology which can improve this process is important.

4.     The State of Zimbabwe’s Voters Roll

The state of the voters’ roll has historically been controversial in the past elections, which have been held in Zimbabwe. It has emerged as a bone of contention each time the country has prepared for elections, and the anticipated 2013 elections are not an exception. Participants in elections have raised the issue of ghost voters; with names of deceased persons, young people below the eligible voting age appearing in the voter’s roll. Furthermore, names and addresses of completely non-existent voters have been known to feature on the roll. Duplication of names in different constituents has also been raised as a contentious issue, with the high-profile case of MP Mr Pishai Muchauraya whose name appeared in two constituencies: Makoni South and Makoni Central, in the 2008 voters roll being a prominent example. [Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) Report, 2010].

Last Name First Name Sex DOB National ID Block Constituency Address
BALENI LUKA M 16/03/1966 29-105633-G-38 050129 GWERU URBAN 7-5TH STR GWERU
BALENI LUKA M 16/03/1966 29-105633-G-38 050129 MKOBA 7-5TH STR GWERU

1 to 3 Same ID and Name - different address in a different constituency = Duplicate
4 to 6 Same ID, Name and Address in a different constituency with the Same Block number indicating the whole Block is duplicated in a wrong Constituency = Copy
7 Same ID, Name and Address in the SAME Constituency with the Same Block number where the whole file on the CD supplied is mis-named = Copy

An extract from Zimbabwe's voters' roll showing multiple entries (2013 VISION – SEEING DOUBLE AND THE DEAD A PRELIMINARY AUDIT OF ZIMBABWE’S VOTERS’ ROLL : By Derek Matyszak, Research and Advocacy Unit.)

The state of the Zimbabwe voters’ roll as of October 2010 was described as a complete shambles.  Reports produced by the ZESN based on the roll supplied by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) at that time revealed that there had been an increase of 366,550 in the number of voters from the roll used in the 2008 harmonised elections. Debatable figures of 49,239 new voters over the age of 50 with 16,033 of these over the age of 70 and with 1,488 over the age of 100 were presented in the report.  According to the report in Mount Darwin East there were 118 registered voters over 100 years old, with a significant number having the same date of birth (01.01.1901). With Wikipedia documenting only 3 men and 3 women aged 108 and above in Zimbabwe as of 2012, the reader is invited to make a verdict on the authenticity of the above figures.

A number of registered voters were either under age or very young children (228). The report also revealed that 182 564 people were duplicated in the same or more than one constituency. The ZESN report showed that 27% of voters registered in the voters’ roll were deceased, with the case of David Stevens, who was widely reported in Zimbabwean Newspapers as the first victim of the land redistribution programme being highlighted. It is not clear as to how many people who are in the Diaspora (and not allowed to vote) are still on the voters roll, but an educated guess should put this figure into millions!

According to the Registrar General there were 5 612 464 registered voters by December 2007, but the number rose to 5 934 768 by February the following year. This number is quoted to have gone down to 5,589 355 by November 2012 (Herald: 20/12/2012).  These figures are also debatable according to a report produced by the South African Institute of Race Relations, which analysed the roll  as it stood in 2010 and concluded that taking into account Zimbabwe’s population, age-range and levels of voters’ registration elsewhere, the voters roll should consist of a maximum of 3.2 Million people (

Even though these figures may not be entirely accurate and up-to-date, the above reports and statistics give indications that the current state of the voters’ roll does not provide a firm foundation for conducting credible elections. The roll provides a recipe for possible chaos post-elections with results likely to be disputed by any losing candidates, as happened in the past.

5.     Biometrics Elections in Africa and other Developing Countries

The proposal for adopting technology has not just been plucked out of the air without considering any precedence. Biometric technology has been used successfully in a number of countries across the world, and in particular Africa.

In 2005, "La Commission Electorale Ind├ępendante" in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) used biometric technology to register more than 25 million voters ahead of the country's first democratic elections in four decades. In Nigeria, some 65 million people had their pictures taken and fingerprints scanned and the system was used in presidential and legislative elections in 2011. Ghana registered more than 12 million voters using biometrics in 2012. In Kenya, after protracted disputes over procurement, 15,000 biometric registration kits have arrived ahead of the elections scheduled for March 2013. Sierra Leone’s national biometric voter registration was carried out over a 3-month period in 2012, registering over 2.5 million people to vote across the country.

Biometric voter registration in Kenya (credit: The People)

Other African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Cameroon, Somaliland and Uganda have also turned to technology to improve the accuracy of their voter registers. Zimbabwe’s neighbour, Zambia has adopted a biometric voters’ roll and is receiving aid from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide the technology.

 Biometric voting machine at a Ghanaian polling station (credit: Gabriela Barnuevo)

Almost half a million electronic voting machines were in action in Brazil's municipal elections in 2012. In a pilot program, around 7.5 million of 140 million Brazilian voters were using fingerprint-based biometric machines. Brazil’s Federal Election Court (“Tribunal Superior Eleitoral – TSE”) wants every voter in the country to use biometric machines by 2018. Currently, the world's largest biometric identity exercise, is taking place in India, and is reported to be well on its way to reaching its target of half the country's population.

6.     Biometrics for Voter Registration

Biometrics has been used in civil and voter registration around the world for more than a decade with the aim to limit fraud and enhance voter registration.  In biometrics terms the equivalent of registering eligible voters is enrolment, and the resultant voters’ register/roll is equivalent to a database.

The use of biometrics in voter registration can ensure that no persons are excluded. The voter registration process should include all adult eligible citizens, including the poor or homeless people, or residents of remote areas. With the versatility and mobility of modern biometric equipment, inclusion of all eligible citizens can be assured. It can go a long way in ensuring that appropriate registration facilities are available to those for whom access to traditional registration methods may be more difficult. Certain groups of people can easily be excluded from the voting process by restrictions such long distances to registrations centres. For example, this can have adverse effects on women and the disabled, who could easily be enfranchised by adopting mobile biometrics systems for registration.

Biometric systems allow for the creation of a permanent electronic register which can be updated as new voters become eligible or existing ones die. They capture data unique to an individual, in addition to biographical information, and can identify whether someone has registered more than once by centrally matching fingerprints. The system allows for people to move to a different electoral constituency without the need to re-register. In countries where it is in use, Biometric technology has been adopted to help address electoral fraud and increase the transparency, and credibility, of the electoral process.

Biometrics can be used to ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained. The technology can be used to check if the identity for which a person attempts to register to vote validly belongs to that person. There are many ways to keep the voters’ register up to date. An example is the automatic inclusion in the voters’ roll of newly eligible voters when they register for the National ID. In Zimbabwe, biometrics information in the form of a facial image and fingerprints has always been captured when applying for an ID. In South Africa citizens are automatically included in the voters’ roll after they have reached the official voting age of 18 via the National ID process. The use of biometrics enables the cross-linking of the civil and electoral register, which can cut the cost of voter registration.

Biometric voter registration in  Sierra Leone (credit: The Africa Paper)

The use of biometrics can help in both maintaining and purging the electoral roll. It can be used effectively in de-duplication of registries, i.e. finding multiple occurrences of the same person in a register. People register multiple times for several reasons. It can be for the purpose of voting several times, it can be to obtain other services several times. It can be for cheating purposes, or it can simply be due to misunderstandings. A common occurrence is that the registration process has not been designed to easily allow for a change of address, wherefore people when moving re-register without having their old record deleted.  People may also change their names, when they get married for example. A biometrics based search can locate and eliminate such duplicate entries as it is based on physical characteristics as compared to a name search.

7.     Biometrics for Voter Identification

Another problem faced in the voting process is the positive identification of voters at the polls. Protecting the integrity of the electoral process should include making sure that only eligible voters vote. A foolproof method is required in assisting poll workers to be certain that people appearing at the polls are who they claim to be. Of all the methods that have been used for strengthening the process of identifying voters at the polls, biometric identification would be the method hardest to defraud.

A positive identification system requires you to identify yourself when submitting a biometric measure. Your submitted measure is then checked against the measures given when you enrolled in the system to affirm that they match. If the submitted and stored biometric measures match then it is ascertained that you enrolled under the identity you are claiming. If the presented and enrolled characteristics do not match to a certain pre-determined level, the user can be given another chance.

8.     Feasibility

Fingerprinting systems have been in use for almost three decades. In Zimbabwe fingerprints and facial images have been captured for National ID purposes and passports at least since independence. Therefore this is not an entirely new phenomenon. With existing technology, digitalization and maintenance of historic information is not a difficult task at all. Combined civil and voter registration can utilise synergy effects of data exchange and can serve state administration effectively. In South Africa, this system has been used successfully and can certainly function as a best practice model for Zimbabwe. For the past two years India has been building the world's most sophisticated database of personal identities. By the end of this year 600m Indians will have a Unique Identity Number (UID), aimed at improving access to welfare programmes, financial services and more. It is a project that could serve as a model elsewhere in the world. The same system used for ID and passport registration can be adapted for voter registration or data can be shared across departments.  Paper based biometrics can also be easily digitised to contribute to a more comprehensive and harmonised database.

The most beneficial aspect of using biometrics in Zimbabwe, given the current state of transport links, is that it is viable to introduce and fruitfully utilise mobile biometric stations. These are portable biometric devices which can be used for biometric registration and identification. There are portable devices available on the market designed to create electoral rolls; equipment that is reusable, extensible and resistant to adverse conditions. These devices are sell-contained, autonomous units which are supported by long-life batteries which can be used in remote areas for registration, even within homesteads. They can also be used for biometric identification and verification at polling stations. Fixed biometric stations can be deployed at fixed centres, within urban cores.

Data storage is no longer an issue as several hundred to a thousand bytes will be required per user; a figure which is very small given current technology. Fingerprint scanners which link to a computer are now available for as low as USD10 and computer keyboards with built-in scanners are also available. It is therefore not an expensive technology to implement.

In Ghana, a ‘Cluster System’ whereby polling stations were placed in a cluster of 4 polling stations and given one of the 7,000 registration kits was adopted. The kit remained at each polling station for 10 days and the registration team rested a day and moved on to the next polling station within the cluster for another 10 days. This allowed the system to check double registration on a daily basis and identify cheats early. The adoption of this strategy was informed by the Nigerian experience where it took a long time to undertake the matching of fingerprints to eliminate double registration, thus enhancing confidence in the voter roll.

The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) said it would need about US$20 million to spruce up the widely-condemned roll after which constituency boundaries would be drawn up for general elections(Herald 21/12/12). It is on record that a proposal for biometrics registration was made, detailing that the exercise could be carried out within 3 months, costing USD20 Million; the same figure the ZEC has said it needs to clean up the voters’ roll!  It is therefore feasible to implement this technology, which once established and maintained, will in the long-term result in the reaping of diminishing costs of running future elections.

9.     Conclusion and Discussion

Whenever the process of elections is tabled for discussion, several governments have a tendency to stay old fashioned and continue using the traditional systems as opposed to the newly introduced and burgeoning digital ones.  As one of the few African nations which were at the forefront of embracing modern IT technology in the banking and telecommunications sector before economic problems surfaced, Zimbabwe should not be in this category. Other countries have turned into the biometric era and started using these systems in order to create a better and more reliable electoral process as discussed above, for example in the case of Nigeria and Brazil. Biometrics is a portable identity for citizens that can be reused in many other programs in both the public and private sectors. Delivering services such as entitlements, banking and voting brings points-of- service access to rural populations in a cost-effective, reliable and secure way. Many countries are now fingerprinting their entire population in anticipation of using biometric databases for a wide range of civil and commercial programs. The challenge for Zimbabwe will be to protect the integrity of the process without burdening the right to vote in ways that may decrease registration by eligible voters.

A registration process that uses sensitive high-tech equipment not only adds significant ‘integrity’ costs to the core costs but also increases organisational and logistical challenges. These include the increased need for technical training as well as continuous supervision and support for registration staff in the field to ensure that the data is captured, collected and processed to the highest possible standard. If the Electoral Commission lacks organisational and logistical resources while attempting to organise such a complex task, the resulting voters’ roll can be replete with errors. However Zimbabwe is blessed with a large intellectual base and technically gifted people, and this challenge is therefore surmountable. The alternative is a continuation of the current status which, as has been observed over the years, is costly to the nation, and has claimed lives. This makes this technology worth pursuing.

A complex voter registration system does not guarantee successful, fair or credible elections. The author does not propose the use of biometrics as a "silver bullet" capable overcoming all obstacles Zimbabwe faces in ensuring a level playing field in which all eligible voices have their say in the political future of the country.  Its use can only work in tandem with the political-will and sincerity of authorities in charge, who are tasked with guaranteeing fairness and with ensuring inclusion of all citizens.  Biometric technology cannot solve problems rooted in issues such as mistrust among stakeholders or lack of political freedoms. Elections, at the end of the day, are a political process. In spite of all the challenges, the introduction of biometrics in the compilation of voter registers should improve the accuracy of the voter registers and provide the foundation for clean and violence free elections. It is therefore urged that Zimbabwe seriously consider and embrace biometrics technology to ensure integrity, inclusiveness, accuracy, transparency and accessibility in the coming elections. This will also ensure that Zimbabwe also learns from and keeps pace with other African countries which have already adopted Biometric technology as the author foresees lots of advantages embracing it sooner rather than later. The Ministry of ICT should take a lead on this.

Monday, 14 January 2013


The Ministry of ICT (MICT) has come up with a draft ICT Policy to replace the one launched by the government in 2005. In between these documents, a Strategic Plan for 2010 to 2014 was also put in place by the MICT. Having gone through both policy documents (ICT Policy 2005 and 2012) and the Strategic Plan for 2010 - 2014, it is clear that there are glaring inadequacies in both the policies and the process used in formulating them. In this article, a review of some of the issues addressed in the Draft 2012 ICT policy is conducted, together with an analysis of the process used in its formulation.  It is the author’s belief that such a scrutiny of policies and processes carried out by government ministries is important not only in order to evaluate the performance of public bodies but to enable the nation to move forward in an enlightened way. There is no benefit in producing and glorifying policies and grand-standing their launch if the people entrusted with the responsibility of implementing them are lacking the necessary ability, capacity, or power to do the job.

The MICT produced the first National Information and Communication Technology Policy Framework in 2005.  This framework set out policy statements on: e-Government/Governance, Education and Training Sector, Commerce, Agriculture, Tourism and Environment, Health, Mining and Manufacturing, Transport, Gender, Youths, Disabled and aged and Human Resources Development. This was followed by a Strategic Plan five years later (MICT – Strategic Plan 2010-2014) in which explicit goals, targets and milestones were set. Whether the MICT Strategic Plan 2010-2014 was based on the 2005 MICT Policy is unclear. There was also a list of ‘quick wins’ which included for example setting up ‘interactive databases enhanced websites’ for ministries, establishment of pilot information centres, establishment of an ICT Government School and e-government among others. Some of these had already been set out in the mission statements of the 2005 Policy (for example setting up ministry websites). This brings us to the latest draft ICT Policy which has been produced citing the need to continuously review the policy. This is despite the fact that the launch of this policy is only two years after the same ministry came up with a strategic plan which covers 2010 to 2014.

When setting out to review a policy, an examination of the existing policy should be made in order to identify gaps, the need to revise or rescind and to enable consistency.  A research process for review is carried out to investigate whether the policy is still consistent with new developments, strategic directions of the country and changes in other government policies and legislation.  This should include an assessment of the level of compliance by the various stakeholders with the existing policy and whether any related policies need to be revised or rescinded. New policies develop from past practices – good or bad. These past practices can have an influence on government decisions, in other words the leadership cannot ignore them. It is therefore important for the policy maker to present a clear record of past practices regarding the implementation of the previous policy.

According to the MICT, the 2012 policy is based on a review of the 2005 Policy. There is also need to consider the Strategic Plan for 2010-2014. It is therefore logical and reasonable to expect that a full detailed review of the 2005 Policy and the Strategic Plan for 2010 – 2014 should precede this document with a clear record of the achievements and failures against the objectives. The relationship between the 2005 policy statements and the 2012 policy statements must also be documented. Are some of the 2012 plans completely new or continuations of those from 2005? The 2005 Policy for example promises the establishment of a National ICTs Authority and National ICTs Regulator – has this been achieved? If not – why? What progress has been made in setting up Pilot Information Centres? Where is the documentation of achievements in the areas of ICTs in education, e-Governance, e-Health, Human Resource Development etc? Is it unreasonable to expect the MICT to produce proper statistics regarding computers in schools and what it has actually achieved in human resources development and raising awareness. How can the government be expected to endorse the current policy if it does not know what the last policy achieved and where it failed? Is this information available anyway?  

Both the 2005 Policy and the 2010 Strategic Plan have one of the aims as the establishment of decent websites for ministries; but the most remarkable thing about the MICT is the poor quality of its website.  For a ministry that is supposed to be spearheading the development of ICT, the website does not inspire confidence or hope, that is, when it is available. The content on the website is antiquated, and has not been updated for a long period. It is also populated by blank links. The reader is invited to visit the website ( and click on the contacts link for example!  The striking image that greets the reader is the picture of the ‘Hon Minister’, and beyond that nothing much of substance. A survey of the Zimbabwe Government Ministry websites ( will show that this is among the worst; if not the worst website. It stands out as the only one among those surveyed where you have the picture of the minister on the header. In contrast, the website for the Ministry of Science and Technology Development ( is of quite a good standard, very interactive and informative. Some of the websites, with the MICT topping the league, are disgraceful for national websites, would be better removed until they are improved to a standard befitting national institutions.

If the MICT is to be taken seriously in this technology age, it should up its game and put a little effort in maintaining a respectable website. How much does it really cost to maintain an up-to-date website?  This is not even about building a website – simply updating the information and making sure simple information like contacts is available! However the point here is, it is a waste of money and effort producing policies on paper and using them for electioneering if there is no visible action on the ground, and then dusting them off when it is time to produce another policy.  It also brings to question the capability of those afforded the responsibility of developing this important technological area; an important cornerstone of the development of the nation.

A scrutiny of the 2 policies’ sections on ‘Status of ICTs’ in Zimbabwe in 2005 and 2012 brings up some interesting revelations. One is left wondering whether there has been any significant progress made in the ICT sector except for the obvious increase of mobile phone users and internet subscribers (quoted in both policies) – a natural growth world-wide. Alternatively one can be left wondering if it is just blatant inefficiency or evidence of shoddy work?  For example, both policies mention the progress in the ICT sector as deregulation, massive computerisation of government ministries (2005) compared to ‘computerisation of government ministries in the main centres of the country’ (2012), establishment of Cabinet Committee on Scientific Research, Technology and Applications and establishment of regulatory framework for the ICTs sector.  In fact, comparing the two sections, the only difference in terms of progress is that in 2005 electricity is mentioned positively with an acknowledgement of rural electrification and in 2012 there is mention of electricity shortage curtailing progress. The only significant difference in the status of ICT between 2005 and 2012 according to the two policies is the removal of duty on ICT hardware and software. The same repetitions are observed in the policy objectives; which may of course have some similarities, if they reflected a continuation of policies; but these should be clearly indicated. On a lighter note, the policy objectives for 2012 start from (f) in the circulated draft; leaving one wondering what happened to (a) to (e)!  This can be viewed as a clear indication of a recycled policy, lack of adequate effort and lack of careful attention which is a prerequisite for a document of national importance.

A further look at ‘challenges facing the ICTs sector’ will yield similar results to the above. The challenges outlined are exactly the same; such as inadequate communications infrastructure, ICT facilities, skills, limited institutional arrangements etc. Strangely, the only addition on the 2012 policy is ‘insufficient awareness campaigns’! Now whose challenge is this, and who is supposed to carry out these awareness campaigns? What has the MICT been doing in the past 7 years if they could not carry out this basic task?  The main policy statements regarding the ICT sector are exactly the same (compare section 3.5.1 – 2005 Policy and Section 4.4 – 2012 Policy). The only difference is in the numbering (letters vs numbers); a textbook example of trying to mask a copy and paste job.  Although it is reasonable to have similar policy statements, if nothing has changed, that is; the drafting of the 2012 policy is based on changes that have occurred, and therefore the new policy should reflect these changes.

A scrutiny of the different policy statements on e-Government, Education, Tourism etc will also reveal that there is little or nothing new. As evidence of manipulation of the 2005 policy, attention is drawn to the conclusions of both policies; instead of trying to analyse them for the public; both conclusions have been pasted below. It is acceptable and entirely reasonable that the drafting of the 2012 document could not be done from scratch, and that this is a review/revision of the 2005 Policy. What is not acceptable is when sentences are re-arranged and deliberately tweaked to mask a duplication or copy and paste job leading to plagiarised policy documents. The reader is left to judge on the  amount of work done in trying to come up with the ‘new’ 2012 policy; and the justification in all the funding consumed and meetings held in coming up with a document of such poor quality.

2005 ICT Policy

This policy recognises that ICTs contribute significantly to the reduction of social, political and economic inequalities, increase national productivity, enhancement of wealth creation and entrepreneurship and increase in efficiency in public administration. They also strengthen democratic values and promote gender equality and the interest of marginalized groups like youths, the disabled and the elderly.

In order for ICTS to act as effective transmission vectors for the national development process, they need to locate the interests of all citizens at the centre of development strategy. They also need to be accompanied by supportive organizational and institutional change. Access to information by citizens on issues that affect their lives and capacity to 'voice' their perspectives and concerns is a key factor in development. The huge investment required to create communication infrastructure to achieve connectivity should bring advantages to all citizens and not new forms of marginalization.

The ICT policy also seeks to ensure that private sector interests and expertise create investments in which the ICTs sector generates jobs, increases national productivity and empowers citizens through the amplifications of choices brought by connectivity. In addition, for ICTs to yield increased development benefits, creative leadership is required from government, as the guardian of the public interest, especially in managing markets and establishing institutions to achieve public policy objectives. In this regard, a strong, committed and effective digital champion, always ready to invest political capital to achieve policy objectives is required at the highest level of government.

The policy further posits ICTs as enablers of development strategies whose nature, scope and purpose are steeped in ideology, power relations and authority. ICTs cut across all sectors of the society and economy. The acid test for policy effectiveness therefore lies in the extent to which the deployment of ICTs buttress the development of human capacity, generates employment and income, creates wealth, enhances enjoyment of health and well being and promotes participation and expression of voice in favour of all citizens in the development process.

Existing and new public and private sector institutions across all sectors of the economy are expected to formulate sector based strategies/programmes to implement ICT flagship projects. Such projects would, inter alia, promote awareness of the benefits of ICTs, develop human skills in ICTs, enhance research and training capability, demonstrate the benefits of public sector leadership and encourage private-public sector partnerships. The projects would also establish appropriate legal frameworks to manage markets, stimulate and promote innovations and inventions in the ICTs sector and give voice to citizens in the development process.


21. Conclusion

This policy recognises that ICTs contribute significantly to the reduction of social, political and economic inequalities, increase national productivity, enhance wealth creation and entrepreneurship, and increase efficiency in public administration. ICTs also strengthen democratic values and promote gender equality and the interest of marginalised groups.

The policy further recognises that in order for ICTs to act as an effective catalyst for national development, upgrading and substantial investment in high broadband ICT infrastructure and capacity building, as well as enabling institutional arrangements, are a prerequisite. It therefore follows that the policy is advocating for supportive organizational change as a first step in seeking to achieve national development through ICTs. Access to information by citizens on issues that affect their lives and capacity to 'voice' their views and concerns is a key factor in development. The policy therefore extols the need to put in place policies that promote the achievement by Zimbabwe of the status of a knowledge society.

The ICT policy also seeks to ensure that private sector interests and expertise create investments in which the ICT sector generates jobs, increases national productivity and empowers citizens through the amplification of choices brought by unfettered connectivity. In addition, for ICTs to yield increased development benefits, creative leadership is required from government, as the guardian of the public interest, especially in managing markets and establishing institutions to achieve public policy objectives. In this regard, a strong, committed and effective digital champion, always ready to invest political capital to achieve policy objectives is required at the highest level of government.

As a means of recognizing that ICTs cut across all sectors of the society and economy, this policy has sought to take cognizance of the needs of the various members of our society. The acid test for policy effectiveness therefore lies in the extent to which the deployment of ICTs buttress the development of human capacity, generates employment and income, creates wealth, enhances enjoyment of health and well being and promotes participation and expression of voice in favour of all citizens in the development process.

Existing and new public and private sector institutions across all sectors of the economy are expected to formulate sector based strategies/programmes to implement ICT flagship projects. Such projects would, inter alia, promote awareness of the benefits of ICTs, develop human skills in ICT, enhance research and training capability, demonstrate the benefits of public sector leadership and encourage public- private partnerships.

In conclusion, the draft 2012 policy does not present any significant new ideas.  It is inadequate, of poor quality, and not based on a clear review or documentation of what has been achieved or has not over the 7 years of its existence. As revealed, documented and evidenced above, calling this policy ‘new/revised ’is offensive and an insult to the public’s intelligence as it can clearly be seen as a manipulation of the old one. Moreover, as pointed out, there is evidence that the implementation of the existing policies is poor – as can be seen on the MICT website.  The Draft Policy should therefore be ditched and re-written with meticulous care and attention which reflects its importance as a national document. It is a public document which reflects on Zimbabwe as a nation. A call is also made for a clear documentation of achievements over the past 7 years for public scrutiny, not only for accountability purposes but to enable the ICT agenda to move forward.  It is from such a point that a clear-cut plan with a clear vision on moving forward can be envisaged. A good policy will preserve the MICT’s ability to serve the public and reach its objectives through logical and consistent decision making. If the same aims and objectives are set again without addressing previous failures and successes then the success of the current policy is greatly compromised.

In the next article, the author will discuss and make recommendations on what the Policy should include in the area of e-Government; which refers to the application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for delivering government services, exchange of information communication transactions, integration of various stand-alone systems and services between Government and Citizens. Through e-Governance, the government services can be made available to the citizens in a convenient, efficient and transparent manner. The article will include a discussion and recommendations on how the MICT can implement ICT policies that facilitate the electoral process, security and law enforcement, among other areas.

The Zimbabwe ICT Policy Framework 2005 and the MICT – Strategic Plan 2010-2014 can be downloaded from:
The 2012 Draft National ICT Policy Framework can be downloaded from:
Alternatively, if the site is not available, the reader can contact the author for electronic copies.