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Electronic voting is a threat to our democracy!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Following Parliament’s passing of the bill to amend the Electoral Act by, among other things, introducing voting by Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), several commentators raised concerns not only about the rushed manner in which the bill was tabled before Parliament, but also by the possibility of the EVMs being used to rig elections.

These concerns are justified considering that it is unusual for a bill which touches on such an essential right as the right to vote to be brought to Parliament through a certificate of urgency. In a democracy such as ours, this bill should have been brought to Parliament in the normal course after extensive consultation with the people.

I am unable to understand what circumstances exist that made it urgent to table the bill. After all, the next general elections are in 2019, about three years away. Perhaps, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wanted to take advantage of the lull that many people may be under because of the 50th anniversary independence excitement.

In my view, the implications of this amendment are so significant for our democracy that it required to be decided by the voters through a referendum. It is beyond the scope of the BDP Parliamentarians, most of who have shown that their loyalty is not to the voter but to the BDP and President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

Considering that the BDP suffered an electoral decline in the 2014 general elections, getting less than fifty percent of the popular vote for the first time since independence, such a clandestine move by the BDP dominated Parliament makes one fear that the BDP intends to use EVMs to rig elections in 2019.

Many Batswana, including some in the BDP leadership, have, for many years, called for such electoral reforms as direct presidential elections, political party funding, and stopping the Specially Elected Members of Parliament and Nominated Councillors system, but the BDP government turned a deaf ear to the people’s voice.

I cannot recall a concerted voice by Batswana calling for the introduction of EVMs, yet the BDP, of its own motion, has moved under the cover of darkness and in flagrant abuse of the certificate of urgency procedure, to amend the Electoral Act to introduce it. This unprecedented move raises the suspicion that the BDP wants to use EVMs to rig the 2019 general elections.

This suspicion is worsened by reports in Sunday Standard’s edition of 21st August 2016 that the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) has recruited an information security specialist as part of a black-operation to hack into EVMs during the 2019 general elections.

Without suggesting that other countries should dictate terms to us, reports by Sunday Standard’s online edition of 30th August 2016 that some G8 diplomats who met with Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Honourable Duma Boko, also expressed fear that the BDP may use the EVMs to rig the 2019 elections are troubling.

This is because almost all countries, including Botswana, use their embassies and high commissions to collect information and spy on the host countries. It is, therefore, likely that these G8 diplomats made these statements because of credible intelligence at their disposal.  

Electronic voting has been a subject of debate the world over. Proponents of electronic voting argue that it is convenient because, with the well-designed software and system, the voters can simply use their own equipment with the minimal time and skill to finish the voting process.

They also argue that electronic voting has the benefit of mobility in that voters can use mobile devices to cast their vote. They also argue that using electronic voting saves money because it reduces such personnel expenses as location management and administration fee.

Proponents of electronic voting buttress their argument by arguing that it is environmentally friendly since it saves on paper by using online voting, for example. They also argue that it delivers election results quickly thereby reducing post-election violence which is often caused by uncertainty of the election outcome.

On the contrary, exponents of electronic voting argue that the aforesaid advantages notwithstanding, its disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. Their major argument is that it can be manipulated by humans to rig elections. They give an example of Germany where the ES3B voting machine was hacked by a Dutch citizen group and the Chaos Computer Club on 5th October 2006.

They also argue that the election results may be tainted because of the data base’s viral attacks. They contend that though this may be mitigated through the use of specific kinds of operating systems and anti-virus software the risk cannot be eliminated. This, they argue, puts the integrity of the election results in doubt, something which jeopardizes democracy.

They also argue that electronic voting can, even without human manipulation or viral attacks, give wrong results because of system errors. They give an example of Finland where, in the October 2008 municipal elections, some voters encountered a usability flaw resulting in their votes not being registered resulting in the ordering of new elections by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland.

Elections are about the reliability of the electoral results. Reliability is, in part, assured through a voting system that the voter trusts, and which, though error cannot be completely eliminated, has a very low margin of error. It appears to me that such a system is manual voting and manual vote counting. It cannot be electronic voting.    

Though manual voting and manual ballot counting indeed take long, it has proven to be highly reliable since it is done in a manner that allows candidates, party agents and election observers to physically witness the vote casting, vote counting and vote tallying. Consequently, the election results of a manual voting process are generally often accepted by all parties.

Manual voting is so reliable that even countries with populations hundred times more than that of Botswana use it. South Africa has a population of fifty three million compared to Botswana’s paltry two million, but it uses manual voting. In its just ended municipal elections, though the voting took the whole day and the final results were announced about three days after polling day, the results were acceptable to all the political parties and candidates with few protests.

Free and fair elections are an essential tenet of our democracy. These aspects are not always about objective facts. On the contrary, they are often about perceptions. Therefore, the mere fact that some Batswana have the perception that the use of EVMs may result in electoral fraud or rigging is troubling enough.

It is needless to say that this perception or actual eventuality of the electoral fraud or rigging as a result of the use of EVMs can result in conflicts and civil unrest in our country. If this happens, simply because of the BDP’s abuse of its Parliamentary majority to pass such an ill-advised amendment, it will be a sad day for our country.

The peace and stability that we are internationally acclaimed for is at the risk of being diminished just because of the BDP’s desire to cling to power at all costs. Why now when there is a likelihood that the UDC may win the 2019 general elections that the BDP rushes to introduce such an amendment?

What has happened that has necessitated resort to electronic voting? Is there an empirical study that has been conducted whose findings compel us to introduce electronic voting? Do we really have to incur the financial cost and the cost to our democracy associated with electronic voting? I think not.

I, therefore, commend the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)’s decision to instruct one of the country’s finest attorneys, Attorney Dick Bayford, to commence court action to challenge the bill’s legality. All democracy loving Batswana must play any role they can to assist the court action.

All of us – individual citizens, civil society, trade unions and the media, have to pay our dues for the protection of our democracy by ensuring that the bill does not become law. If President Khama signs it into law, we all have a duty to participate in all lawful and peaceful action to have the Act set aside by the courts.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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