Spreading democracy at the touch of a button


During recent elections across Africa, new technologies have been harnessed to help monitor elected officials, bolster democracies and liberate election information, notes Stephen Abbott Pugh, an ICFJ Knight international journalism fellow working with Code for Africa on a project to strengthen health and development journalism across Africa.

Disputed results in Kenya and Burkina Faso have led to outbreaks of post-election violence in recent years, he writes for the Guardian:

In response, the 2015 elections in Burkina Faso saw the government embrace open real-time election data while civil society groups helped reassure citizens of the veracity of the polls through transparency. Similar groups played a crucial role in last year’s lauded peaceful presidential election in Nigeria, and other countries are now looking to adopt this successful “situation room” model to allay fears of vote tampering.

Following violence in Kenya, my team at Code for Africa created Got To Vote, an open source toolkit which let anyone send “peace messages” as well as finding out via SMS if they could vote and where their nearest polling centre was. This toolkit has since been used in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Malawi during their 2014 vote, helping 300,000 locals verify their registration status and showing the value of making data simple and easy to interact with.

Code for Africa looks for opportunities where data can urgently be made more useful, reliable or actionable for citizens using simple technology solutions, Pugh adds:

Whether it’s unlocking the value of census data, exposing unlicensed doctors or connecting the dots between politicians and big business, we build tools and provide media training to make sure data is used and not just left gathering dust. And with many of these tools freely available for reuse via developer site Github from Code for Africa, the Sunlight Foundation, Open Knowledge, DemocracyWorks, mySociety or Democracy Club, the pace of adoption of data-driven tools should only accelerate.


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