Biometric Voters Registration in Njombe

Registration under a mango tree

Registration under a mango tree

Following the demographic changes and technical inadequacies in 2015 Tanzania introduced the use of Biometric Voters Registration system to replace the old OMR system. The intention is to see that not only election processes are free and fair but also efficient and effective. In that course Njombe was the first Region in Tanzania to receive the new technology. According to National Electoral Commission timetable other regions will follow in batches with, as expected, better experience than Njombe because of lessons learnt from there.

TEMCO (Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee) through its observers had the opportunity to follow-up the Voters Registration processes in the Region, covering its all four districts: Makete, Ludewa, Njombe, and Wanging’ombe. CCT being a member TEMCO was there as well, in charge of observing the process for 21 days in all eight wards of Wanging’ombe district.

Wanging’ombe district is one of the four districts and one among the six councils of Njombe Region. Wanging’ombe district was established when it was gazetted on March 2012 in Njombe. It was created out of old Njombe district in 1st July 2013.The district shares border with Makambako Town council, and Njombe district on the East, Iringa region on the North and Njombe town council on the South and Makete district on the west. The administrative seat is in Igwachanya along Makambako-Mbeya road. Wanging’ombe district is divided into 3 divisions, 20 wards and 98 villages. These wards includes Uhambule, Ilembula, Usuka, Igwachanya, Igima, Wangama, Kijombe,Saja, Mdandu, Kipengele, Kidugala, Makoga, Luguda etc. Since it is a new district there are few Government offices some of the essentials offices like district executive director offices, District council offices, are still located in Njombe district council. Wanging’ombe District council is generally dominated by mountains, valleys and hills which make it difficult for transport and communication, and the highest mountains are Kipengere mountain ranges in the southern part of this district.

In essence the process of registration involves raising awareness, educating the public, recruiting and training of personnel, and registration itself; in brief. In general term each of these steps were done in Wanging’ombe but in a very limited manner.

Personnel

The voter registration personnel were recruited from among the district’s civil servants. The recruited twenty personnel were trained for two days 6th and 7th of February2015 by 5 facilitators before being assigned tasks as Voter Registration Officers; that is the election officers, District facilitators and Ward facilitators. Next on 13th and 14th March 2015 BVR kit operators and Voter Registration Clarks were trained as well. The basic qualifications of the voter registration personnel officers were, being a civil servant, computer literate and residence within Wanging’ombe district.

Unfortunately during the training it was said there were 10 BVR kits for 272 voter registration personnel. The ratio of 1:27. Moreover time for training proved well below the minimum as there many things to be covered and practiced. This rendered the whole training process insufficient. Also not all who received the training were recruited for the process. It was then stated that others were to be deployed later on but the promise did not come true. Consequently as the staff were inadequate, they had to rotate from one place to another.

Voter Education & Awareness

According to the sensitivity of the issue many players contributed in raising awareness and educating the public. Not left behind were church leaders, politicians, FBOs and government leaders.

Since Christianity is the dominant religion this district the religious leaders played a significant role in providing voter education during Sunday services, despite starting doing so lately. Most churches decided to educate congregations as a response to low turn up after registration had already began. This effort was coupled by press releases and pastoral letters by CCT, TEC and CPCT on the same issue of voter registrations. All press releases from the mentioned organizations urged believers to make sure that they are registered through the BVR.

Also political parties particularly CCM and CHADEMA campaigned by singing on 15/03/2015 and 16th /03/2015 at Ilembula ward. However they were demanded to stop immediately by the election officers as it seemed they influenced registration on the basis of their political interests. In some villages villagers were reached through village assemblies and door to door outreaches.

It was found that poor preparation by NEC, limited resources, limited access to electronic and print media; and geographical constraints poised significant challenge in reaching people in the area. Therefore because of such challenges the whole exercise of raising awareness and educating the public was hampered, and eventually the whole exercise of Voters Registration.

Now that the system in use is biometric, it means registration is done through recording human body characteristics. In this particular registration only finger prints, digitized signature and facial picture were recorded.

Kits were distributed across all wards and villages of the district.

Success in Wanging’ombe

The process in Wanging’ombe was generally successful, in the sense that people were registered as it was originally intended. Despite many challenges the district registered more than double of the expected number.

Moreover the limited resources, especially human resources were stretched to make the ends meet. This can be considered as a genuine commitment of the appointed personnel to see that the Voters database becomes a reality.

Despite beating by police of some observers by TACCEO in Makambako, the process was very peaceful and the society was very receptive and flexible. Especially when we look at their willingness to use churches, hospital, political party offices and schools for registration. They could otherwise deny to let their churches be used, or some could have considered using political party offices as politicization of the process. It is very impressive that the society held onto the bigger picture, and put aside their differences; at least to a healthy extent.

Shortfalls in Wanging’ombe

  • Lack of means of verification. There was no mechanism to prove the age of the voters, which means persons younger than 18 could be registered. Also there was no means to verify citizenship of registered persons. The later may not be a really challenge for places like Wanging’ombe, but it is potentially very problematic for districts bordering other countries.
  • Double registration is very possible as the BVR kits are not inter-connected in real time making it possible for double registration. It was not known as to how double registrations will be handled when kits are synchronized with the central database in Dares salaam. The concern is this may lead to public discontentment and protests, unless the mechanism for handling double registrations are well known not only by technical people, but the public at large.
  • Lack of thorough preparations: This was very evident especially in terms of preparations that were made in office, in Dar es Salaam without taking into account practical facts of areas concerned. For instance at Uhenga ward four centres were located very close to one another, while other villages like Ipwani with a huge population had no voter registration centres at all; especially if you take into account absence of commuters in such areas. Also delay in information and fire-fighting mode of operations suggest that NEC could have done better. Awkwardly, some places were badly misspelt leading to discontents among villagers.
  • Limited competence of registration personnel: It is obvious that two days training could not give the personnel adequate knowledge and skills for the task they were being assigned. This made the whole exercise prone to human error and mismanagement of kits. Moreover by proper training downtime could be minimized by equipping the personnel with a few maintenance tips.
  • Registrants’ weaknesses: This is not about NEC per se yet it is a challenge it could have foreseen, anyway. There were observed people whose finger prints are so distorted such that the scanning tool could not make sense of it! Well the solution for them was to consider them as disabled. Some other people were illiterate, and therefore it was difficult for them to put down a digitized signature. Even if some others managed to sign once it was difficult for them to repeat the same signature, for instance a signature in the form vs the other on the digital input. Eventually the exercise took longer than expected. In areas with high population density like Dar es Salaam this may lead to long queues and grumbling. In extreme cases some others could not remember their birthdates!
  • There were other challenges, of course; like political interests, interference of other government activities like TASAF, miscommunications e.t.c.

Lessons from Wanging’ombe

CCT has learnt many lessons through the Wanging’ombe experience. These are potential areas of growth for NEC.

    1. Technical Preparation: Technical preparations are critically important in order to push make the exercise a success. All plans from positioning of centres to training must be done with maximum precision. Thorough planning will ensure that resources are efficiently utilized and execution is effective. Moreover the most essential part about planning is not money but attention to details. For instance issues on misspelling names, or poor distribution among centres are indicators that someone somewhere was not keen to their responsibilities.
    2. Preparing people: Registration can be much easier if people are prepared and educated. This will help people understand the importance of the exercise and why they should register. NEC can work with existing social structures to see that sensitization for the exercise is done, down to the grassroots.
    3. We can have confidence on our public: We have learnt that Tanzania public is still aspiring for betterment and stability of our country. If all malign agents will be kept at bay there is every reason to hope that Tanzanians love their country, and they are willing to do their best to see that the country flourishes. This means that politicians and instruments of the state should not interfere with the exercise, instead NEC should be left to handle the process.
    4. BVR kits are not enough: If the exercise will be conducted in other places at the rate it was done in Njombe region then it will be difficult to meet the deadline. The government must resolve to invest in BVR kits such that even one goes down there should be another available for replacement while repair of the former is underway.

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