Will Kenya embrace mobile voting technology?

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Michael Andrew Nduati talks about M-kura, a mobile voting platform, and how it can increase transparency during elections

The 2007/2008 post election violence is still fresh in the minds of many. While most of us were eagerly waiting to have a new government, what we did not know was that it could not come on a silver platter. Lives were lost and property destroyed due to what was termed as a poorly managed election. Inspired by these experiences, Michael Andrew Nduati decided to develop a mobile voting application that could make elections more user friendly and transparent.

“I thought there needed to be a better way to carry out elections whereby relaying and tallying results did not involve human interaction,” he says. Besides, queuing during voting day is sometimes very strenuous and time consuming. Wanting to address these challenges and inspired by the success of M-pesa, the Mobile Kura (M-kura) app was born.

Unable to raise funds to engage a software engineer to build the software, Nduati decided to work with an app developer, a university student at the time, with whom he walked step by step with the little money he could afford in bits until they came up with a working app.

“The app has been improved significantly,” he offers. It has even been linked to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) through their developers’ link program. Besides, it can pick up data in real time as if in an actual election from presidential to the ward level with their photos and party symbols.

Why adopt mobile voting  

Mobile voting can be done through the USSD or short codes provided by the mobile phone signal carriers. Nduati says that this method can be used by virtually all phone users even those without internet. It is also relatively cheaper as it is SMS based compared to internet based options.

It can also be conducted through mobile phone apps, accessed via mobile devices or the internet. This method allows voters to see the photos or the party symbols of those they are voting for. However, it requires users to be in an internet connected zone or have an internet connected device. In Kenya nonetheless, internet penetration is low especially in the rural areas.

According to Nduati, mobile voting could benefit the government and other stakeholders in a great way. During the general elections, the government can save tax payers money that could be directed to other pressing development projects.

Mobile voting allows people to vote from the comfort of their homes or offices. This means that all people who are eligible to vote including the old, the sick, persons with special needs and those in Diaspora, who are generally left out would have a chance to practice their democratic rights.  It could also save voters money huge sums of money as some have to travel to the poling stations in which they registered. “Voting should be a simple and fast exercise so that voters can go back to their businesses and in cases where the voters are few get instant results,” says Nduati.

vote1The young innovator further notes that voters can make informed choices as they are able to look up the candidates they see on their phones before they make the final decision. This is unlike the normal queuing where such a luxury is not available and many people barely know some candidates even on the Election Day.

Most remarkably, unlike in the manual counting and tallying which is archaic in this day and age, mobile voting allows for instant results tallying and relaying once the votes are cast. It also reduces rigging, ballot stuffing as well as manipulation of the voting process.

The innovators are looking forward to partnering with the government in order to come up with a way forward on mobile phone voting.

Our milestones

M-kura had the privilege to participate and emerge a finalist in “The next big thing” (first group), a competition run by the Business Daily, an initiative of the Nation Media Group.

The App is also running on Android and is available for free download at the Google play store. “Our App picks up data from the developers’ link at IEBC so its gives one the feel of a real election in Kenya.”

Besides, M-kura is protected under the copyright act by the Kenya Industrial and Property Institute.

Despite these successes, Nduati reveals that they have experienced their own fair of challenges. To start with is access to finance which affects most young innovators in the country. “We do not have a lot of “angel investors” here in Kenya and those there always take up less risky ventures or wait until one has made a break through to come in,” he says.

Besides, many young innovators are reluctant to expose their innovations for fear that they may be stolen or copied by other people with more resources.

“Kenya lacks a proper platform in which innovators can showcase their ideas to potential investors.” This makes it had for young entrepreneurs to get funding considering that here in Kenya, selling a brilliant idea on a piece of paper is almost impossible.

In spite of this, Nduati feels that having a great team behind your innovation is the key. He also urges the government to support and fund local startups.

Currently, Nduati and his team are developing a portal “electionskenya.co.ke” whose objective is to make politicians answerable to their electorates. It is also meant to improve governance.