Source: IDG News Service (Boston)
By Michael Malakata
Zambia has become the first country in eastern and southern Africa to introduce multipurpose electronic national registration cards that will be used for voting, accessing banking services and as driving licenses.
Zambia and Kenya were embracing information technology as a means to protect integrity of their voting systems and to showcase their ability to use technology for development. Zambia’s efforts, however, have outpaced Kenya, which has introduced an electronic voting system in a bid to curb electoral malpractices.
The Zambian cards will offer users anywhere in the country access to an array of services including online banking. Zambian Minister of Home Affairs Lameck Mangani said the new technology will be synchronized with banks to allow people with bank accounts to have access to their accounts anywhere and anytime.
Mangani said the new cards will work exactly like automated teller machine cards, and allow bank customers to make transactions online. The Zambian government is currently expanding its fiber-optic connections to all provincial centers in readiness for the launch of cards. The fiber-optic of the Zambia Electricity Supply Corp. and Zambia Telecommunication Co. have been expanded in order to connect all provincial centers and towns in the country. The printing of the electronic cards comes only a year after the Zambian government introduced digitalized passports.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is funding the project at a cost of $15 million while the Zambian government will only contribute 10 percent of the total cost. The introduction of the new electronic card follows the approval by cabinet and the process to phase out the old cards is already in progress.
“Instead of carrying many documents, people can now only be carrying one card that will serve different purposes including electronic transactions and electronic voting,” Mangani said.
The UNDP is already assisting the Electoral Commission of Zambia in using biometric technology to conduct voter registration. Biometric technology is used to measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as fingerprints, for either identification or verification process. For the first stage of the project, Smartmatic will supply the Electoral Commission of Zambia with 1, 000 mobile electronic registry units, known as PARkits, which include all hardware and software components. Smartmatic is a Netherlands-based company that has a presence in the US, Mexico, Venezuela and Spain.
However, the past president of the Computer Society of Zambia, Milner Makuni, said while such an initiative is good for promoting e-governance, a lack of infrastructure and ignorance will hamper the roll-out and use of the cards. Makuni said that the computerizing and linking of the National Registration Cards to a database was good because people will be able to replace the cards anywhere online if they are lost but the country lacks the infrastructure to support the roll-out of the new system.
“Yes, we already have Internet banking in this country but the issue of electronic cards is very much different. Think about the uneducated people in the village. How will they be able to use the card?,” Makuni asked.
However, Mangani said the Zambian government is going to train and acquaint people with the new technology and that the issuance of the new cards will be accomplished next year and will be used in the 2016 elections.
Zambia joins Kenya in using election automation technology in order to curb electoral malpractices rampant in Africa. Kenya, like Zambia, has opted for a pilot scheme which combines electronic voter registration with electronic voting. The Kenya Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) is currently sampling different electronic voter systems to find out the most suitable one of the country’s 2012 elections. The companies involved include the Electronic Corporation of India and India Electronic Voting Machines, which were successfully used last year in India’s general election.