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How blockchain can uphold democracy

Friday January 17 2020

DEMOCRACY

Sierra Leone People's Party presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio holds his daughter while casting his ballot in the general election on March 7, 2018 in Freetown. The country conducted a blockchain-based voting system. PHOTO | ISSOUF SANOGO | AFP 

FAUSTINE NGILA
By FAUSTINE NGILA
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In this digital age, fake news during electioneering periods have become synonymous with manipulating voter decisions.

Consequently, the will of the people has been buried by biased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning that rely on Big Data, birthing a global democracy deficiency that swung votes in America’s election and UK’s Brexit vote in 2016, plus Kenya’s 2017 elections.

In Kenya, the presidential election outcome held the country’s economy hostage, and a wave of the fear of bloodshed swept across all 47 counties.

In past elections, it has been worse. Last year, the rise of deepfake technology on social media became a big worry across technology circles, with the prediction that edited videos of candidates could be used irresponsibly by competitors to gain voter appeal.

A global concern over the use of AI exists regarding the extent to which it can be deployed to undermine democracy by electing candidates that incumbent governments want.

BLOCKCHAIN

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But in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, when our next election will be conducted, we can avoid such self-inflicted pain by responsibly adopting emerging technologies that ensure accountability and transparency in the electoral process.

Kenya showed some level of commitment to solve the digital identity crisis by launching the Huduma Namba digital registration project, but it went silent soon after.

It is time to revive the drive and ensure at least 95 per cent civil registration on the platform.

The government can then commission the coding of a public blockchain network alongside that data.

Blockchain is a distributed and decentralised ledger technology that chronologically and publicly records all transactions in a network.

This digital ledger is held and updated by anyone who takes part in the network.

This doubles to be a peer-to-peer platform that eliminates intermediaries who help in election rigging, thereby creating trust.

VOTING SYSTEM

For a hacker to succeed, they must hack every “block” and there are millions of them.

It is an immutable system. Such a blockchain could be updated with criminal records of every Kenyan, their education level, gender, county, occupation, ID number, marital status, birth certificate number, personal identification number, NHIF number, NSSF number, log book details, property owned and Sim card details.

With this in place, sly politicians will be unable to capitalise on loopholes in the electoral agency to claim that they attended university, they never escaped prison or acquired property illegally.

Sierra Leone conducted a blockchain-based voting system in March 2018, becoming the first country to try the technology to deliver democracy.

Last Monday, a university in Nigeria conducted an online mock election on blockchain, and the results were 100 per cent accurate.

With the right political commitment and goodwill, the technology can be used in Kenya’s next election.

Mr Ngila is a 4IR journalist at NMG

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