By YOUMSSI EYA Yvan Lionnel (Download the Pdf Version)
The term democracy, which comes from the combination of demos, meaning “people“, and krátos, meaning “power“, refers to a mode of governance in which the people hold power and participate in its exercise. For this reason, the definition popularised by Abraham LINCOLN is that of “government of the people by the people and for the people”. In contact with the New Information and Communication Technologies (NICT), classical democracy is gradually turning into “e-democracy“, which GARSON defines as being: “the use of ICT by governments to improve the efficiency, equity, and quality of democratic participation”. (Garson, G. David. (2006) Public Information Technology and E-Governance: Managing the Virtual State. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.)
E-democracy is therefore involved in all aspects of democracy, including the electoral process (e-voting), which is seen as the most important in ensuring fair elections. For the OSCE, fair elections imply that “the electoral process is conducted in a transparent and accountable manner and that the electorate is able to make a real and informed choice, – these conditions ensuring voter confidence in the electoral process”. OSCE, Election Observation Handbook, fifth edition, ISBN 83-60190-02-X, (2005)
This is the challenge of e-democracy in Africa, which has been marked for decades by a crisis between political actors in the electoral process, which generates more or less devastating post-electoral conflicts. Therefore, it is possible to ask the question whether e-democracy can address the limitations of traditional democracy in Africa.
To this question, it can be said that e-democracy provides solutions to the limits of democratic practice in Africa. However, shortcomings in its application must be addressed if it is to be a real alternative to the traditional practice of democracy in Africa.
Therefore, it seemed appropriate to present e-democracy as a solution to the limitations of the traditional practice of democracy in Africa (I) provided that the limitations in its application are corrected (II) so that it constitutes a real political alternative.
I. E-Democracy: A Response To The Limitations Of The Traditional Practice Of Democracy In Africa
E-democracy seems to provide solutions to the various limitations observed in the traditional practice of democracy in Africa, particularly with regard to the sincerity of the electoral process. The latter refers to the obligation for the institutions in charge of elections to ensure that the results of the ballot faithfully reflect the will of the electorate. It takes into account the registration of ballots, their transport and their counting.
In Africa, with traditional democracy, the sincerity of the vote is very often questioned, which can be the cause of conflicts (Kenya 2007 and 2008), Zimbabwe (2008), Nigeria (2007), Lesotho (2007), Democratic Republic of Congo (2006), Central African Republic, Togo (2005), Senegal (2012), Gabon (2016)). In most cases, allegations of voter intimidation at polling stations are relayed by opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations. The transport of ballots, often controlled by the government, does not allow for their traceability and the counting of votes takes place in an opaque environment and for a sufficiently long period of time to feed all sorts of suspicions among political actors and part of the electorate when the results are announced.
With electronic voting, it is possible to guarantee the recording of votes in a framework that favours the freedom of the voter. The transport of the votes through a computerised network to a data storage centre whose security can be reinforced thanks to the “Blockchain” technology, through which the risks of fraud are considerably limited. This makes the vote count more credible, especially when the results are announced only a few hours after the polls close. All these elements would make elections more credible and thus legitimise the elected leaders.
E-democracy therefore provides real solutions to the ills of democracy in Africa. However, in view of African experiences in this area, which have produced mixed results, it is clear that its application must be improved if it is to constitute a real political alternative.
II. E-Democracy: A Political Alternative Under Construction
E-democracy needs to be improved in its application in order to constitute a real alternative to classical democracy. It is therefore not enough to purchase a large number of voting machines to increase stakeholders’ confidence in the electoral process.
E-democracy can considerably increase the participation of populations and political actors. However, this requires a prerequisite: the understanding of the electronic voting system by the electorate and political actors. This was particularly lacking during the use of voting machines in the DRC in 2017 in the context of the presidential elections, which led to strong protests.
Furthermore, electronic voting itself, which is available in several types (direct recording electronic voting machines (DRE); optical mark reader (OMR) solutions; electronic ballot printers (EBP)), must be adopted taking into account the specific realities of each State. These devices, once in the possession of the government, should be tested before the election to ensure the accuracy of the results. The post-election conflict in Kenya in 2007 is a clear example. Numerous failures in the use of voting machines during the presidential elections brought doubt on the fairness of the results declared and led to the serious crisis that followed.
Stakeholder Confidence in the electoral process is therefore highly dependent on the manner in which electronic voting is introduced and the quality of the system put in place. Otherwise, it will be as much a vector of conflict as voting in the traditional practice of democracy.
E-democracy, far from being a panacea, appears to be a real solution to the limits of democracy as practiced in Africa, by its ability to restore the confidence of the people in the electoral process through electronic voting. However, it is also a double-edged sword, because if electronic voting can indeed make elections more credible, it can also worsen the situation and be a vector of conflict if it is not properly implemented. It is therefore up to the leaders of African states and all stakeholders in the electoral process to help make e-democracy a real political alternative to the current democratic practice.
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