Checkmate: Biometric registration . . . Zimbabwe govt raises red flag

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

HARARE – International relations experts have warned African governments to be wary of Western foisted biometric voter registration (BVR) and voting, which in recent years have been used as conduits for regime change.

The warning comes in the wake of cacophonic calls from some Zimbabwean opposition political parties insisting on a United Nations Development Programme supervised and managed biometric voter registration and voting process instead of the task being undertaken by constitutionally mandated bodies like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Zimbabwe goes to the polls next year and has held elections regularly when they are due.

An international expert based in Namibia says it was suspicious that Western governments through organisations like the UNDP were ever ready to fund elections, and not provide relief for disasters like Cyclone Dineo.

“It is laughable not to have indelible ink, but unlaughable not to have shortage of medicine in hospitals. An election is a superficial process to citizens in that when you go to the poll you have everything you need,” the expert says.

He says biometric data capturing should not be limited to voter registration but principally for population registration systems.

And in an exclusive interview recently, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba, said it was bewildering how African citizens had created a fetish around voting, as if it was the end of all natural life.

He said the sensitivity around the ballot had nothing to do with the ballot but how democracy was interpreted from the West’s point of view. Charamba said African countries needed to sit back and reflect on the whole process of relegating the management and supervision of elections to a so-called international body.

“In terms of Zimbabwe, the idea was to as far back as 2008 push to internationalise the Zimbabwe election. That has been the effort in the wake of the land reform programme. You needed to find an argument that would be giving respectability to intentions of Western countries angry over land.”

Charamba said three areas formed the West’s praxis in weakening the Zimbabwean government for regime change. These were issues around democracy, the country’s operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elections.

Elections provided a good entry point to put a case to the UN and demobilise the region and continent against Zimbabwe.

“In respect of elections, the intention was to wrestle the process away from the government of the day and make it an issue which is led by a multi-lateral agency, preferably the UN,” Charamba said.

He said after failed attempts to harangue SADC and the AU in maligning Zimbabwe, the strategy shifted to making sure the elections would be contested and once they were contested, besmirch the legitimacy of the winner.

After realising that investment in opposition parties was not yielding desired results, some Western governments and organisations shifted their attention to discrediting the whole electoral management process of the day.

Charamba said a sovereign state has the legitimate right to manage its own constitutional processes because doing otherwise would open floodgates for external powers, preferably the UN, to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.

He said it was a known fact that the biggest UN donor is the United States, whose own citizens have since inception dominated the political department of the UNDP.

“That is exactly what happened to Ivory Coast when France was unhappy with Laurent Gbagbo. This precipitated elections that were supervised by the UN and the results were announced by the same organisation,” Charamba said.

He said it was not surprising that the US was the most vocal among countries agitating for biometric registration and voting in Zimbabwe.

He said it was paradoxical that no country was ready to assist in the provision of food and other essentials to victims of Cyclone Dineo but were more than ready to assist when it comes to elections.

In 2008, Charamba said the government turned down overtures for biometric voter registration and voting and again spurned the request in 2013.

Ahead of 2018 elections, the UNDP’s political department said it wanted to invest in the biometric voting, which is ICT-based and their expectations were to raise it as a standard for elections in the country and was hoping Zimbabwean officials would refuse.

Charamba said the government drew a distinction between Biometric Voter Registration and Biometric Voting and sought to use the former to compile data not just for the purpose of election but other purposes needed for future planning.

He said the UNDP wanted the whole process of registration, voting and counting to be ICT based for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and once that had happened the whole process would be beyond the purview of the government, including the maintenance of the equipment procured for such an exercise.

Charamba said the UNDP was to provide its own human capital for the use of the equipment and if that had happened, then it meant moving the whole process of voting to the UNDP, creating possibilities of fiddling with the equipment to produce a result which was not the expression of the will of the people but the will of the “computers, software” and the like.

“Where the figures are so overwhelmingly in favour of an unwanted party, (they) declare a dispute, which invites intervention as what happened in Ivory Coast and once that happens its casus belli (cause for war). What the ballot box cannot do militarily intervention or the threat of it as was the case in Gambia,” Charamba said.

He said the government was ahead of the UNDP in its planning, as it played along and when the UNDP least expected the government said it was to fund the process on its own.

He said when the government made its budget and undertook Command Agriculture, there was no questioning of the source of funding but it is questioned when it says it can fund its own election process.

Charamba said elections should not be opportunities for using the parapet of the UN to effect regime change.

“When we took the decision (to fund the elections) an official, which I will not mention by name, had to fly to America to say ‘those people had caught us flat footed’.”

After being caught flat-footed, he said the Americans started mooting all sorts of scenarios, either to accept that they had been outwitted or to fan the opposition to do the bidding for them.

It seemed they opted for the later and this explained why the opposition was making so much noise not only for BVR but also the UN purchased equipment and managing the process and on both counts, Charamba said the arguments were feeble and were standing on weak grounds.

He said the orchestrated attack on ZEC by opposition political parties were indicative and shows their obsequiousness to regime change forces and their disregard for the rule of law.

Charamba dismissed the call by the opposition to have the 2018 electoral process superintended by SADC, the UN and AU as lacking rationality.

“It’s stupid to ask all of them to intervene in an election of less than 5 million voters as if we have a dispute.”

He said international bodies normally intervene in a sovereign state in the case of Zimbabwe at the decolonisation episode or in a failed state. He said there was no edifying reason to evoke the UN and that the opposition and other Western nations thought BVR was to provide a conduit for the international body’s involvement.

“This is not just a lesson for Zimbabwe or SADC but the continent. They always find a stable entry point through the ballot. Africa must be aware.”

Late last year, this paper carried a similar story on SADC’s moves to adopt biometric voting.

While it has been argued that the biometric verification increases the credibility of the election process, recent experiences in Africa have exposed inherent weaknesses of the system.

In 2015, elections in Nigeria were marred by technical problems in a development that forced former President Goodluck Jonathan to wait nearly 50 minutes to cast his vote after the card reader failed to recognise his identity.

Similar problems have also been experienced in Zambia, Malawi, Ghana and Somali where biometric kits were said to have failed forcing voting to be extended to the second day.

In some instances, there were malfunctions in both the biometric kits and the electronic tallying system, forcing manual tallying of votes.

South Africa is among the few countries that have adopted biometric voting system while Botswana intends to adopt it in 2019.

Biometric data capturing involves electronic capturing of one’s identity through distinguishable biological traits. Unique identifiers include fingerprints, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA including signatures.

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