Sunday, April 01, 2012

I got the (Biometric Voter's Registration) Blues - Observing Ghana go Biometric from a distance

The 2008 Election summed and effectively captured 

Election year is here again in the country I call the Beacon of African Democracy -Ghana. On December 7th 2012, Ghanaians will go to the polls for the 6th time since what is known in Ghanaian history as "the return to democratic rule" in 1992. This return heralded a new political era in Ghana known as ‘The Fourth Republic’.  Since the start of The Fourth Republic, the Ghanaian electoral process has gone on successfully although not always so smoothly. Some called the 1992 election a farce but then again there were similar grievances with the 1996, 2000, 2004 and even the 2008 elections.

Ah but who could forget the down-to-the-wire 2008 election? It ended up being the stuff movies are made of…literally. I kid you not. Apparently the behind-the-scenes electioneering of this election are chronicled in the film, An African Election by Swiss-born actor/producer/director of Ghanaian descent - Jarreth Merz.

Being a Ghanaian citizen of age and sound mind (I hope) and having relocated to Ghana almost a decade ago, I have not taken my constitutional right to vote lightly. I was proud to vote in the 2008 election but was shocked at the level of apathy when it came to voting in general. There was apathy from rural-folk living in agricultural communities who felt that regardless of whomever was in power their lives would remain the same. Interestingly, I also observed apathy coming from highly educated urban individuals some of whom arrogantly postured that the 2008 election would be decided by rural folk anyway so they would not bother voting. Hopefully, the newly launched Ghana Decides project and similar initiatives will succeed in getting more of both of these groups involved in exercising their franchise in Election 2012.

Alas I digress. Before I was distracted by Election 2008, I meant to talk about what makes Election 2012 different from other elections conducted under the banner of the Fourth Republic. Well, maybe it is because modern technology is coming to the aid of our never-ending quest for transparent and democratic elections in Ghana. This year, after many calls, the Ghanaian Electoral Commission has decided to adopt a biometric registration process. Interestingly, I blogged about moving to electronic voting in 2009 with a post entitled Mayhem in Akwatia: Isn't Ghana ready for Electronic Voting yet? However, biometric registration and verification is NOT going to mean electronic voting at least not for Election 2012. 

My initial excitement over the introduction of biometric registration turned bittersweet quite quickly. This is simply because I will not be in Ghana for most of 2012 and the narrow window in which biometric registration will take place will not afford me the opportunity to participate. So just like that, I find myself disenfranchised. As if this was not clear already, the Electoral Commission came out recently to reiterate the point that all old voter identification cards will be null and void. 

Since the biometric registration exercise started, I have actively been following the process from a distance via online radio, social media and personal accounts from people in Ghana. At first complaints revolved around lack of information concerning the exercise in general. Later there were reports in the media on attempts to influence the process as well as acts of violence in some parts of the country. However, so far, the biometric registration appears to be going smoothly albeit slowly.

People patiently waiting for biometric registration
Source: JoyFM
Perhaps I am being cynical and a little bit bitter but I can already foresee that by the end of the allocated registration period, not everyone wishing to register will be registered. In the meantime, I will be watching from a distance enviously admiring pictures I've seen of people holding up their new voter cards. I will also keep looking for narrow windows of my own; windows that will allow me to hopefully swing by Ghana to participate in the process. After all, being able to vote for one’s leaders is a privilege that cannot be taken for granted.

P.S. This post also appears on the new website for Ghana Decides, a BLoGHA initiative that employs social media into getting the Ghanaian electorate more informed. The power of social media and technology at work. 

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