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Growing the Internet 8 May 2024

The Internet is Making Elections More Transparent 

By Steven ManduranoGuest AuthorSenior Director, Marketing, Internet Society Foundation

With 64 countries and the European Union holding elections throughout 2024, the Internet will be a critical resource for many people around the world to access real-time poll updates in our own countries and those happening abroad.  

Like many other countries, Kenya faced polarized and competitive elections when people headed to the polls two years ago. Historically, a lack of transparency around elections led to heightened distrust.

In the 2022 election, the Internet was pivotal in shifting this sentiment and advancing democracy in Kenya after years of work done to grow and advance Internet access in the region. 

The Internet’s Role in Kenya’s 2022 Election 

August 2022, Kenya’s national election was designed to be the most digital election Kenya ever had, with electronic biometric voter verification and real-time result reporting for the first time in Kenya’s history. At the more than 40,000 polling stations across the country, over 12 million paper ballots were cast, and polling station results were transmitted to a central server in Nairobi. This, undoubtedly, was a feat in and of itself.  

The raw results were open to anyone to download and tabulate, giving newfound transparency into the election process. The government had to trust that the proper infrastructure was in place to manage the load of such a sensitive and critical process. 

However, on the second day of the election process, when polling station results were being transmitted to Nairobi via the Internet, one of the submarine cable operators serving the region had an unexpected outage near Egypt. Across East Africa, people experienced varying degrees of service interference, from lagging video calls to decreased Internet Service Provider (ISP) capacity.  

Despite the widespread regional disruptions, the election process in Kenya was not impacted, and no one took notice, thanks to the local infrastructure advancements. Because the vote transmission could be sent over local pathways, the international outage did not interfere with reporting the results on schedule. The power of connectivity and digital transparency helped build a newfound trust in Kenya’s election process.  

Most distinctively, the electoral process was conducted in a markedly more transparent, competitive, and democratic climate than any previous Kenyan election. Understanding the factors that contributed to this higher standard, therefore, is vital to normalizing these measures—in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.”

At a time when emotions were heightened, an Internet outage could have led to skepticism or claims of election sabotage. For Kenyans, the country’s Internet infrastructure showed its strength and resilience, it showed democracy without interruption.  

The Growth of Africa’s Internet

The number of Internet exchange points (IXPs)—where Internet networks interconnect to keep local traffic local—has grown from 17 to 52 since 2008, and with this, so has Internet traffic, by over 1000 percent, along with the number of data centers, terrestrial infrastructure, and cross-border connectivity. The Internet has become more affordable and resilient.   

Bolstered by the perseverance and unwavering commitment of so many on the African continent to grow the Internet infrastructure in the region. Regional Internet Society chapters worked tirelessly to ensure greater access to digital connectivity by mobilizing stakeholders, growing the peering ecosystem, tracking policy reform, and implementing the African Union’s AXIS Project, among other initiatives. Together with local and global partners, we worked toward an 80/20 vision whereby 80 percent of Internet traffic would be local and 20 percent international by 2020. By and large, the 80/20 vision was reached in 3 countries, namely Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. 

The growth of the Internet ecosystem is largely dependent on the community of people and organizations that dedicate their time and resources to promote it for the benefit of all. Our work at the Internet Society has been consistently amplified by this remarkable group, the Internet community.”
Michuki Mwangi, Distinguished Technologist for Internet Growth, Internet Society

Elections are only free and fair when there is transparency that ultimately breeds accountability. This includes, but is not limited to, election observers, checks and balances, division of duties at election sites, real-time reporting, and more. The Internet is emerging as a key player in election transparency.  

Image copyright: © Nyani Quarmyne

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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