Tech Takes Role in Uganda Elections

Technology has taken a central role in Uganda's electoral process, with SMS campaigns, websites, so-called robocalls, and even a presidential rap on YouTube playing a part in political campaigns concluding this week ahead of elections today.

At the beginning of the election campaign, President Museveni did a rap song in one of the major local languages. An amateur video of Museveni performing the rap made its way to YouTube, with the aim of luring young people to vote for him, and has over 1.8 million views today. It was continuously linked to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The National Resistance Movement (NRM), Musveni's party, also used an automated "robocall" system delivering pre-recorded messages to ask people to vote for "the old man in a hat." It's an expensive method of getting out the vote that up until now has mostly been used in elections in the U.S.

Mass SMS broadcasts were also widely deployed as a tool for campaign messaging, public information campaigns and direct requests from candidates asking users to vote them into office.

Organizations that were calling for violence-free elections also used SMS messages to call on people to honor the voting rights of fellow citizens. One such organization, the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), used its website to spread its message of tolerance.

The major political parties have used websites and social networking sites to communicate with voters and offer interactive means of communication. (For a history of electioneering online, see The Web's 12 Dirtiest Tricks").

Party members, for example, were able to follow the activities of their candidates on the campaign trail across the country using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Visitors to the websites were also able to listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos as well as view still images off the Flickr website.

Blogs, RSS feeds and e-mail lists were also used actively in the electoral process. The key role that technology has played in Uganda's elections is expected to be reflected in elections across the continent as tele-density grows and broadband Internet access is increasingly becoming a reality. With elections set for Nigeria in April, these expectations will be put to the test.

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