How Tech Helped Advance Nigeria’s Democracy

An open-source Internet platform and electronic ID-verification devices were seen as crucial to a smooth transition of power.

People jubilate along a street in Kano after All Progressive Congress candidate Muhammadu Buhari is pronounced the winner of Nigeria’s presidential election on March 31. (Photo: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)


Apr 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart fellow Jessica Dollin studied journalism at the University of Arizona. She has written for the Phoenix New Times and HerCampus.

On March 28, Nigerians went to the polls to cast votes for their next president. The country’s history of rigged elections marred by violence has been overshadowed only by its frequent coups, but this year, an incumbent was ousted via the ballot box for the first time.

Technology played an important role in the peaceful election of former military leader Muhammadu Buhari over President Goodluck Jonathan. The Nairobi, Kenya–based tech nonprofit Ushahidi and the nongovernmental organization Stakeholder Democracy Network collaborated on an early warning system, called CrisisNET, to raise the alarm about any violent incidents related to the presidential election.

Ushahidi (the word means “testimony” in Swahili) originated in Kenya as a map of violent outbreaks that followed elections there in 2007. Today the company creates free open-source software for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping. Reports are collected via email and text message (mobile phones are widely disseminated arcross Africa, even among the poor).
CrisisNET also enables users to map potential hot spots and archives information from Twitter feeds and five media outlets; 6,000 to 10,000 were coming in each day around the time of the election. The platform allows users to personalize a feed using keyword filters. Journalists and analysts used it to create Uzabe and NEEWS2015, disseminating data to voters and users of the platform.

CrisisNET has been deployed during elections in Mexico and India and following natural disasters in Haiti and Thailand. Most recently it has been used as a tool for mapping incidents in the Syrian Civil War, and for managing Ebola in West Africa.

In the past, bombings and assassinations have deterred many Nigerians from participating in elections, creating doubts about the legitimacy of the results. This time, CrisisNET and other technology was seen as critical to making this one of the least violent elections in the country’s history. Biometric card readers were used to eschew rigged and fraudulent votes, which was instrumental in citizens trusting the results—and the loser accepting them. The Washington Post reported that there were issues involving touch screen ballots, but it’s unlikely they had a substantial influence on outcomes.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and has its largest economy and greatest number of Internet users. Buhari, of the All Progressive Congress, beat Jonathan, of the People’s Democratic Party, by 9 percent of the vote.

During his time in office, Jonathan worked to overcome regional and religious divisions but failed to contain Boko Haram. The terrorist group has killed more than 13,000 people and kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls in the country. The whereabouts of most of the victims are still unknown, and voters seem to have responded to Buhari’s promise to crack down on the militants.

But it was Jonathan’s promise that may have the more lasting influence, in Nigeria and throughout the region.

“I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word,” Jonathan said in a concession speech. “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability, and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.”