Last weekend, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), out of its own volition, decide to upload what it called a data report on the outcome the 2017 election.
The report was immediately pulled down from their website after many Kenyans started spotting basic errors like winning candidates being labelled as belonging to a different party, or even losing candidates being reported as having won the particular constituency or county seat.
With Kenyan election results over the last fifteen years having been contested fiercely with blood and tears, both in and outside court, the mistakes spotted in that report ignited the debate about how credible Kenyan elections are.
But rather than try to re-prosecute cases already heard and determined by the Supreme Court, we should instead look at what the IEBC should have done better in generating the report.
First, the IEBC should have avoided trying to create a statistical report using cut-and-paste methods.
There is no way one can escape errors if their process involves manually cutting data from one system – the database system – and dropping them into another system – their word processor.
Unlike Kenyans on Twitter, I want to give the IEBC the benefit of doubt by believing that this is how the errors occurred – rather than as a result of trying to cook the figures.
The elections figures were pretty much settled and submitted to court during the Presidential petition and we should not expect any changes on the same.
What the IEBC should have done, therefore, is not to do a manual cut and paste job, but to get the IT team to write logic that would extract, transform and load the results from the database and past them automatically into the Word-processed report.
Indeed, the IEBC should have gone a step further and published the election results into the open data platform to allow independent researchers to engage and interrogate the data independently.
The open data platform was designed precisely for this but it seems state agencies abandoned it along the way for unknown reasons.
The open data platform would store the data in a format that allows researchers to write their own logic to extract and generate insights around the 2017 elections.
By publishing the results in an open data format, the IEBC would have not only increased transparency but also trust from citizens in as far as their conduct of elections is concerned. Further, it would also free itself from the liability that they must shoulder for the errors that they publish in their reports.
As they ponder over this proposal, the IEBC needs to also remember that they outsourced citizen voter data that included sensitive biometric data to be managed in the cloud by a French firm. They got away with this action because there was no Data Protection Act during that 2017 election cycle.
As we head into 2022, the ability to outsource citizen data to foreign destinations will be significantly controlled and restricted as per the provisions of the Kenyan Data Protection Act of 2019. To date, Kenyans have not been informed about what the French have done or not done with their data – as per the provisions of the said Act.
Additionally, the IEBC must begin to build local technical capacity to host and manage voter’s data using the local data centers, facilities managed by the local cloud providers. That way, we avoid situations where technically challenged lawyers tell an equally challenged Supreme Court that we cannot access our election data because it is night in France and the French technicians are asleep somewhere far away from Nairobi.
The 2022 elections are only two years away and it should find us in a better technical position than we were in 2017.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu