Sunday, 18 June 2017

Zambezi: A Town Divided On Ethnic Lines

A ZNBC Cameraman Kashete Sinyangwe getting an aerial
 view of the Zambezi river in Zambezi town
By Paul Shalala in Zambezi

There are very few places in Zambia with such a spectacular view of the Zambezi river.

Zambezi town in the North Western province is a possible tourist destination due to its location.

The river passes through the town and divides it into two.

This division is also seen in terms of language and culture.

The west bank of the town is predominantly Luvale speaking while in the east bank, people speak Lunda.

The district has two rival chiefs who do not see eye to eye.

In the west resides Senior Chief Ndungu of the Luvales while on the east bank is Senior Chief Ishindi of the Lundas.

Over the years, there has been problems with the dominance of these tribes on either side of the Zambezi.

These divisions have also entered the church, an unlikely place where most people would think tribalism can not be practiced.

Fr Haaninga on the Chinyingi bridge
which connects Zambezi east to Zambezi west 
At the moment, the Catholic Church in the area is caught up in this dilemma.

For example Our Lady of Fatima Parish, which is located in the middle of town, holds separate services for Lundas and Luvales.

Father Noel Haaninga overseas Zambezi District and he explains the challenges he goes through in bringing the two tribes together.

"I superintend over 29 churches in Zambezi and there are certain areas where certain songs from this other side of the tribe are not allowed to be sung in church and vice versa. Even at the boma church were am based, you are able to see tension even on small issues like choosing church leaders, people would want to have their own to lead the church," said Father Haaninga who has been based at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Zambezi for the past six and half years.

Because of this tension in the church, Father Haaninga says he is forced to conduct two separate services for the two tribes as a way of accommodating them.

"We are now forced to conduct two separate services one for the Lundas and the following week one for the Luvales. Even when we do so, the day we conduct a Lunda mass, the Luvales will be few and they will not be active during mass. And when its the turn for the Luvale mass, the Lundas will be few and they wont be active. Now you wonder what the solution is for these people," revealed Father Haaninga.

In schools, there is still a division in the delivery of education services.

According to the school curriculum in Zambia, each district is supposed to adopt one local language for pupils from Grade one to four.

However, in Zambezi, pupils in the west bank are taught in Luvale, while in the east bank are taught in Lunda.
Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Parish in Zambezi

In the town area where there is a high concentration of both tribes, English is the language of instruction in primary schools.

"I was the first District Commissioner under the Patriotic Front Government in 2011. We had found that the schools in Zambezi were being taught in three languages: on the east bank it is Lunda and English. On the west bank its Luvale and English. Thats the same process we are following upto today because thats what government has set up as zonal language," said Lawrence Kayumba who is the District Commissioner in Zambezi.

A few years ago before this policy was introduced, local media reported that one female teacher was assaulted by Grade One pupils when she taught them in a rival language which they termed offensive.

This forced authorities in the town to close the school and classes only resumed after tensions where calmed following the zoning of the entire district into the three languages of instruction.

Rodgers Sakuwuka is a former Zambezi Member of Parliament and understands the challenges in this town.

He shades more light on the history of this tribal tension which dates back to Zambia's pre-independence era.

"There was a white District Commissioner during the British rule here in Zambezi and i think his name was Lawrence. That man used to play what we call divide and rule. Whenever Senior Chief Ishindi came to his office, he would find his portrait stuck on the wall. When Senior Chief Ndungu also goes to his office, Mr Lawrence would remove the portrait for Senior Chief Ishindi and place that for Senior Chief Ndungu. That is the genesis of divide and rule," said Mr Sakuwuka who also served as Zambia's first Tourism Minister and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.

Mr Kayumba (in blue suit) and Mr Sakuwuka (right)
He however says there is need for both the Luvales and the Lundas to co-exist since they inhabit the same territory.

"Since you came to Zambezi, have you seen Lundas physically fighting the Luvales? Have you seen separate shops for Lundas and others for Luvales? All am saying is colleagues, lets avoid this issue of divide and rule. Lets avoid escalating the situation."

In terms of politics, Zambezi is divided into two separate constituencies and the boundary is the Zambezi river.

However,  the whole area is governed as one district.

Despite all this, Zambezi is a lively town.

People here go on with their normal lives despite the divide in their ethnicity.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

How Two Lepers Found Love And Raised A Family In A Hospital

Kenneth, his wife Grace and their grandchildren sitting
outside their one roomed house at the Leprosarium
By Paul Shalala in Zambezi

Some stories are very sad.

But sad as they maybe, they have a happy tinge in them.

The story of 86 year old Kenneth Samanenga and his wife Grace Kachana 76, is one of these.

Their story is an old one.

They met here at Chitokoloki leprosarium in Zambezi District in the North Western Province.

Both were patients as lepers and they found love at the hospital despite their affliction.

Kenneth came to the leprosarium as a single man in 1952.

He lived here until he was treated.

When he was discharged, Kenneth found that he had nowhere to go.

Family members he had left in the village had moved elsewhere and those that remained did not want to have anything to do with him.

Finding himself with no place to go, Samanenga returned to the leprosarium.

Like many lepers who are healed, the disease had left its mark: he lost his toes and fingers.

And meeting Grace was a blessing in disguise.

“We got married in 1978 and God has blessed us with children and grand children. We live here with all of them. This is our home,” said the smiling Kenneth.

His wife also has her version of the story.

“I was born in 1941 and I came for help here at the leprosarium in 1952. We got married and we now keep our children and their children here. I love my husband and we live happily,” said Grace.

The two have been married for the past 39 years.......years happily spent here at the leprosarium.

Two of their children and their five grand children also live here.

The leprosarium at Chitokoloki is a busy place.

In fact it is more than a leprosarium – it is a colony.

There are 150 houses specifically built for lepers.

This is perhaps the biggest and oldest leprosarium in the country.

The only other known leprosy centers in Zambia are at Liteta in Chibombo District and at Ibenga in Masaiti District.

The leprosarium at Chitokoloki is said to have been started by missionaries Suckling and Thomas Hansen around 1928.

Despite having no medical background Suckling and Thomas carried to the best of their abilities, providing drugs, food and clothing to their patients.

According to historical records, the history of this place is closely tied to Dr. James Worsfold who pioneered leprosy work in Chikoloki in the 1940’s.

Today, the leprosarium is more of a place of refuge for many who are now unable to return home.

Some of the oldest residents here do not even want to go back home.

They prefer to continue living here.

“I have spent many years here. They keep us well and I do not want to go back home. Am comfortable just here,” said one of the lepers in an interview.

And some people, who are attending to patients at the hospital, also occupy some of these houses meant for lepers.

Thankfully today, the number of leprosy patients has gone down drastically.

Only the likes of Kenneth and Grace who have only known this life here for the major part of their lives now remain.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was first produced as a documentary and it was aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 08 June 2017 and it can be watched here.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Moses Luneta: Chavuma's Little Known Freedom Fighter

Mr Chilemu and Mr Lufupa at the gravesite of their comrade
By Paul Shalala in Chavuma

Perhaps the history books on the struggle for Freedom in Zambia are unfair or even selective because there is so much that happened which has not been documented.

Or, it may be that some of those who sat down to document this history were not privy to certain information or occurrences in some areas.

Of course, it is also true that not everything that happened......has to be inscribed into the annuals of these journals.

But there were instances, incidents or events which cannot be ignored like the one concerning Moses Luneta and his contribution to the Freedom Struggle.

Thankfully Luneta has not been forgotten in his home town of Chavuma in the North Western Province.

In Chavuma, Luneta has been immortalized.

The author seated at the spot where Luneta capsized in 1961
This isolated burial site now a National Monument lies opposite the District Commissioner's office and just about 300 metres from where he drowned and died in the Zambezi river.

But he does not lie here alone.

Seven police officers who came from Kamfinsa in Kitwe to arrest him, also lie buried here.

The story of Luneta is a sad tale of an ultimate sacrifice on his part as he paid with his life.

No wonder the name Luneta is now a folklore of the independence struggle here in Chavuma where it is revered.

Friends and relatives, visitors and inquisitive minds come here now and again to pay homage to this gallant son taken away so young.

85 year old Peter Chilemu was a childhood friend of Luneta.

And so was Ison Lufupa who is now 78 years old.

It was in these waters on that fateful day on August 29,  1961 when Luneta along with eight Northern Rhodesia Police officers drowned when their boat capsized.

For Chilemu, Luneta was a classmate.

Rodgers Sakuwuka (left) during the interview at his residence
"He was in Standard four and i was in Standard two at Chavuma Secondary. After that, he went to Chitokoloki where he got his Standard six. And then from there, he went to Livingstone where he joined the struggle for independence. He was born in 1930, he had a wife, he left three children," said Mr Chilemu.

Lufupa remembers Luneta differently as they held various positions in UNIP.

Luneta was said to have been instrumental in organizing civil disobedience in Chavuma which annoyed the British colonialists.

Days before he died, Luneta is said to have organised a strike which incensed the last British Governor of then Northern Rhodesia Sir Evelyn Hone who travelled all the way to Chavuma to quell the unrest.

According to historical records, the colonialists sent a platoon of Police officers from Kitwe to arrest the ring leaders in the border town.

The plaque at Kamfinsa 
"The British arrested Nelson Kapaku who was UNIP Constituency Chairman, arrested Benua Sandu who was our Constituency Treasurer then Brian Mulungisi our Branch Chairman for Chingi. Then they crossed the Zambezi river to Makingila where they picked Luneta and his brother July Masumba who was our Branch Chairman for Makinjila Branch. On their way back, they capsized. He died with seven Policemen including a white Inspector," said Mr Chilemu.

Rodgers Sakuwuka is another freedom fighter who recals the exploits of Luneta.

He served as Member of Parliament for Zambezi, Provincial Minister,  Zambia’s first Tourism Minister and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.

For him,  Luneta’s sacrifice should be recognized countrywide.

"Can you imagine, he was caught, chained, put in a boat crossing the Zambezi and the boat capsized and thats how he died together with some Police officers. A man like that dying for the country but unfortunately, i don't here anybody including during Africa Freedom Day to talk about Luneta. Obviously he was a great young man who fought with his life for the nation," said Mr Sakuwuka.

A sign post for one of the schools named after
 Luneta in Chavuma
As a way of remembering the fallen freedom fighter, government maintains this memorial site in his honour.

Even major local government functions are held at this site.

"Luneta is being remembered in so many ways. During independence day, everytime we normally have the celebrations near the memorial site where our elder brother was put to rest," said Chavuma District Commissioner Benjamin Mufunga.

The eight Northern Rhodesia Police Officers who perished along with Luneta have also been honoured elsewhere.

Seven of the officers who drowned in the Zambezi river  were from the School of Public Order at Kamfinsa in Kitwe.

A plague has been erected in Kamfinsa in their memory and a clinic there named Chavuma, in their honour.

As for Luneta, much more has been done in his home town of Chavuma to keep his legacy alive.

Two schools, a primary and secondary school carry his name.

Today, Luneta maybe dead but his legacy lives on and generations to come will keep learning about this youth from a small town who died in the most cruel way for the sake of freedom.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video version of this story was aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 25 May 2017 and it can be watched here.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Kabompo House And Its Significance In Zambia's History

The Kabompo House -Pictures by Tigana Chileshe
By Paul Shalala in Kabompo
The independence of Zambia can not be complete without highlighting the role former President Kenneth Kaunda played. 
Dr. Kaunda's history is not only confined to his childhood town of Chinsali or Lusaka where he has spent most of his adult life.
Kabompo District in the North Western Province is dear to Zambia's founding President.
A visit to Kabompo is not complete without a visit to the Kabompo House where Dr. Kaunda was incarcerated for four months in 1961. 
In March of that year, Dr Kaunda was arrested at his Chilenje House in Lusaka and he was later transferred to Kabompo were he was held until July 1961.
Katiki Sakufola (left) after the interview
This blogger has travelled to Kabompo to track down people who saw Dr. Kaunda while he was in detention.
In a small village, five kilometers away from Kabompo town, i managed to locate Jonas Sakuwaha, the cook who used to prepare food for the then independence leader.
His story is interesting.                                    
"I lived on the Copperbelt with my uncle who was working in the mines in Kitwe. When i returned to Kabompo in 1961, i spoke a bit of Bemba and the British colonialists hired me because they could not understand local languages in Kabompo. I started cooking food for President Kaunda and he was a jovial man," said Mr Sakuwaha while seated on a stool.
The old man, who lives alone in his grass thatched house, added that the former President used to appreciate his food.
"After eating, he used to tell us many stories. He used to assure us that one day Zambia will be free and all of us will have a better life in future. He promised me a job but to date he has not returned, am still waiting," said Mr Sakuwaha.

Mr Sakuwaha also talked about Dr. Kaunda's choice of foods.

"In the morning, he used to drink tea with lemons. He used to refuse coffee or coffee."
Two kilometers away from Mr Sakuwaha's village is the residence of Katiki Sakufola who was a messenger just before Zambia's independence in 1964.
Jonas Sakuwaha (left), the cook who served Dr Kaunda in Kabompo
He and two other messengers guarded Dr Kaunda in his Kabompo House 24 hours a day because at that time, the colonialists had no Police officers in Kabompo.
"We used to take turns in guarding our future President. He used to read a lot and told us too many stories. Whenever we took him to the Kabompo river to work, he would take cover whenever he hears a plane flying past. He was scared of being bombed," said Mr Sakufola.
Mr. Sakufola said he was present when a huge snake is said to have passed in between Dr. Kaunda’s legs as he rested under a huge tree which still stands today near the Kabompo House.
"On a Sunday in March 1961, we did not take Mr Kaunda to the river. So he spent the day under the tree, reading his books. As he sat there, a huge snake came and it passed between his legs. I then whistled for my fellow messengers to come so we can kill it but it ran away," he said.

The tree under which Dr Kaunda used to seat
The National Heritage and Conservation Commission has taken care of the tree where President Kaunda used to rest from.

A Plaque has been placed there with an inscription explaining its significance. 

The Kabompo House caretaker Jean Chipita says youths of nowadays must be grateful to the forefathers who fought for our freedom.
"This house must inspire the young ones to work hard and cherish the freedom that they currently enjoy. Imagine the sacrifice President Kaunda made when he spent four months here just for the sake of our freedom. That was total sacrifice," said Mrs Chipita.
Kabompo may not feature much in the history books but it also has a mark on the freedom struggle.
Despite there being few visitors to this house on an annual basis, its significance is larger than the size of the structure.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This blogger also produced a TV report from this story and it was aired on TV1 on 25 May 2017 and the YouTube link of the video is here.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Source of Zambezi River Dries Up Due To Climate Change

This is the point where the Zambezi river starts from and
it is totally dry -Pictures by Paul Shalala
By Paul Shalala in Ikelengi
It has never happened before, at least in living memory of this life……as we know it.
In fact no one remembers such a thing ever happening.
And this has happened at a time when, water levels are supposed to be at their highest on account of the good rains experienced in the past six months.
But this is not so.
This blogger travelled over 500 kilometers from his mining town of Kitwe to the border town of Ikelengi in northern Zambia to verify reports that the source of the Zambia river had dried up.
What the blogger found on site was shocking.
Geologists believe that the Zambezi river starts from the Kalene Hills and it flows underground for some kilometers, only to appear in Mukangala area where the official source is.

A dry patch now meets the eye from the spot where the source is, where the Zambezi river used to ooze from.
In happier times, that was the first sighting of the river as it creeps from the undergrowth to form a rivulet.
And then it disappears and creeps back in visible patches here and there.
This dry patch is also the reason why this place is protected by the Zambian government.
First site of the Zambezi river, 300 meters from the source
It is also the reason why beautiful walk-ways were made for people to easily walk around and see the phenomenal spot.: the source of the Zambezi river
This same spot is also the reason why a nice visitor center was constructed by the Zambia government to provide information for tourists.
So what could have happened here?
Even Willy Chiwaya. the conservation assistant who has been taking care of the Zambezi source for the past 10 years has never seen anything like this before.
"I have been working here for 10 years and this is the first time ever seeing the source drying. We did not just have enough rains this year that is why it is dry," said Mr. Chiwaya.
And the traditionalists also have an explanation.
"The forefathers are annoyed that is why the source is dry. They are annoyed with the white people who have encroached into our land and chased us from the source. We are asking the government to allow us resume the musolu ceremony," said Senior Headman Mukangala, a local Lunda leader who lives less than two kilometers from the source of the Zambezi river.
The source of the Zambezi river is protected by the National Heritage and Conservation Commission.
The Visitor Information Center at the source of the Zambezi
The area, which is 36 hectares, has been declared a national forest in order to preserve the source.
However, this year has been full of surprises.
"The water table has really gone down. We have not had enough rains this year like we have had in the past. But there is still water here, though its 300 meters away from the actual source were we are standing," said Mr Chiwaya.
The Lunda speaking people are the owners of this land -  the source of the Zambezi river.
The Lundas called the river Yambezhi but the white man opted to call it Zambezi.
Actually, the Republic of Zambia derives its name from the Zambezi river.
In the years before the source of the river became a national heritage site, the Lundas considered the area as a shrine.
They used to come to this area to perform rituals.
And then came the white man.
"Where there is a monument, that was some kind of a hospital were the sick were brought for healing. What used to happen is that the ancestors would come here, get few leaves and trees to mix together and give the herbs to the people who were at the camp and they would get healed," revealed Mr Chiwaya.

He further explained about the restrictions which were followed religiously at the shrine.

"There are some restrictions which are currently not being followed thats why this place is no longer a shrine. Only circumcised men where allowed here and women who did not have sex during the day time were also allowed to come." 
Senior Headman Mukangala lives a few kilometers away from the source of the Zambezi.
During the colonial error, he used to be Chief Kabanda but in 1947, he was de-gazette on account of not having enough people in his chiefdom.
Senior Headman Mukangala
The British colonial government claimed his villages were scattered and he would not manage to hold his chiefdom together.
Today Senior Headman Mukangala feels the drying up of the source of the Zambezi river is a curse.
"The decision to stop us from celebrating the Musolu traditional ceremony at the source of the Zambezi is what is causing problems and the drying up of the source. The spirits are annoyed," said the traditional leader in an interview.
Before the whites started visiting this area in the 1920s, the villagers used to perform a ceremony called Musolu.
In this ritual, they prayed asking the gods for good rains.
But now they no longer perform it.
"During the ceremony, we used to start by praying to God for good rains. All Headmen under my leadership would gather at the source of the Zambezi. All people would be happy because they would be talking to God directly," he said.
The Musolu ceremony, like many other cultural activities of this nature, is performed once a year.
Senior Headman Mukangala now recalls how it was done.
Throwing some seeds on the ground, Senior Headman says: "Once we paint our faces with white powder, we would then ask God that whatever we have planted, let it germinate so that next year we can have enough food for your people."
But all is not so dry at the source of the Zambezi.
Three hundred meters away from the actual source, there is some activity.
A local tourist at the Chavuma Falls
A small brook of water coming from an underground fountain, is the first sign that the Zambezi river still runs here.
And it is as they say that big things, sometimes start very small.
These are the humble beginnings of the Zambezi  before it starts its long, winding journey to the Indian ocean.
The Zambezi river grows in size and flows west wards within Ikelengi District before it crosses into Angola.
While in Angola, the Zambezi,  grows in size and stature as more and more rivers and streams pour into it.
And for flowing for 240 kilometers, the Zambezi river gets bigger and bigger before entering Zambia.
A few meters after entering Zambia, the Zambezi passes a place called Lingelengenda in Chavuma District.
Here there are rapids and natural swimming pools popular to young people.
Some boys were spotted by this blogger, swimming at the rapids without the fear of being snatched by crocodiles.
The Zambezi river as it enters Zambia from Angola
From here, the Zambezi flows swiftly and southwards towards Chavuma town and forms another set of rapids which plunge into Chavuma falls.
The Zambezi then continues on its southern journey to the Western Province, down to Mozambique and finally into the Indian Ocean.
All along its 3, 540 kilometer stretch, the Zambezi is a lifeline for millions of people in Southern Africa.
But it is the new developments at the source of the Zambezi that are worrisome.
Does this drying have any effect on this mighty river?
"I must believe that we haven't just had enough rains, because if you can see the status of the road we used when coming here, it is still very good, but usually around this time, there is a lot of trouble getting here due to too much water.  But its still okay because there are no enough rains," said Mr Chiwaya.
Despite this climatic phenomenon, the Zambezi is giver of all things.
The river is a source of transport, food and employment in Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.
It is also a major source of electricity for these countries due to its many water-falls and dams which produce hydro power for domestic and industrial use.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally aired on TV1's Newsline program on 19 May 2017 and the video can be watched here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Copperbelt University Students Launch Green Ngwee Campaign

By Paul Shalala

Since 2013 when coins where re-introduced in Zambia, many have had mixed feelings about them.

Some have embraced them while others have not.

For example, all the coins below 50 ngwee are rarely used in transactions.

They are either kept in houses or thrown away by those who deem them to be of no value.

This is why some students at the Copperbelt University (CBU) in Kitwe have launched a campaign to raise money through the collection of these coins.

"We can use a container like this one. You open it in one area and keep dropping in coins, by the end of five years, i will accumulate a fortune which will spill over to my family," said Kasulubusa Mashonga, one of the co-founders of the Green Ngwee campaign.

The campaign is expected to encourage students to collect coins and raise funds for various purposes.

The collection of coins is also being done to conserve the environment.

"Eventually, this campaign should contribute to the Gross Domestic Product.

Economists argue that keeping coins as is the case with the Green Ngwee campaign can help students raise money for their day to day needs.

CBU Economics Lecturer Edna Litana, who also spoke during the launch of the Green Ngwee campaign held at the American Corner last week, feels the  will also help students reduce their dependency on guardians.

"By saving money, students can strengthen family relations. How can they do that? They can one day go to their parents and tell them they have saved enough to sustain them for a term or two," said Mrs Litana.

This is not the first time students at the Copperbelt University are collecting coins for a noble cause.

A few years ago, they launched a similar campaign and raised funds which they used to build a house for the vulnerable in society.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally aired on TV1's Newsline program on 5 May, 2017. You can watch the video here.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Zimbabwe's “Electronic Votes:" Setting The Facts Straight

The gadget used for electronic voting
By Ray Mwareya

There have been a number of publications in the Zimbabwe media, quoting comments from various ‘experts’, and citing developments elsewhere, using these to cast aspersions on the use of biometrics in the upcoming 2018 Zimbabwe elections. 

Examples of these publications are “Red Flag over Biometric Registration” (The Herald, 11 March 20017), “France’s Cancellation of e-voting: Eye-opener for Zim” (The Herald 9 March 2017), “BVR, A Luxury We Cannot Afford” (The Herald, 13 March 2017 – Editorial Comment) and most recently “More Thumbs Down for Biometric Voting” (The Herald, 15 March 2017). 

This effort has been systematic and sustained, culminating into a Newsday publication (16 March 2017) screaming “2018 Polls Hang in Balance”. 

All this comes after the tender process has commenced and a shortlist of companies compiled – maybe just a coincidence. 

This however is the political side of the process which the author will leave to political analysts.  

What these publications revealed was a clear lack of understanding of the Biometric Voter Registration process. 

This lack of understanding and “mis-information” is being used to discredit the process culminating in the set-up of an agenda giving cues to the abandonment of the biometrics project. 

This article is intended to correct some of this misinformation and misinterpretation of developments elsewhere. 

It also aims to clarify the proposed Biometric Voter Registration and Verification process (BVR) which Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is proposing, and has been successfully used in other countries.  

The common theme in these publications has been the misconception that ZEC is going to implement ‘biometric voting or electronic voting’.  

This then set the basis for the claim that the system would be susceptible to ‘cyber-attacks’ and ‘hacking’  which would derail the voting process and dis-enfranchise voters, citing France’s abandonment of electronic voting as an example. 

ZEC is not proposing to implement ‘biometric or electronic voting’; it is proposing a model of BVR which is very different from electronic voting (even though it can be used as a launch pad for electronic voting). 

Additionally, the process being proposed is not more vulnerable to cyber-attacks or hacking than any other electronic voter’s register or database. 

This will be further explained in this article.

The call for the employment of technology in Zimbabwe for both voter registration and facilitation of the electoral process is not new. 

The issue has been raised in parliament several times.

The intention to introduce biometrics in Zimbabwe for the 2018 elections has enhanced ZEC’s credibility, and should be applauded as a step in the right direction. 

Zimbabwe is not re-inventing the wheel, but is following in the footsteps of other countries including Ghana, Benin, Tanzania, Togo, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, DRC and Nigeria among others, which have successfully pioneered this technology.

Before, dealing with the issues that are being raised in the recent publications, a brief explanation of biometrics is given here. 

Biometrics refers to human physical and behavioral characteristics such as fingerprints, the iris, signature, face etc. 

These can be used to uniquely identify an individual.  

This concept is definitely not new! Zimbabwe has been collecting people’s biometrics for decades; everyone has to have a picture taken and fingerprints captured to obtain a national identity (ID) or passport.  

This background and reference is important because BVR is just similar to this process.  

In BVR, a voter’s details (name date of birth, address etc) are digitally captured and stored alongside their biometric features (face and fingerprints) on a computer– that’s it. Nothing more nothing less! 

The advantage of this system is that these biometric features can be used to uniquely identify an individual in a computerized way and additionally, there is inbuilt software to identify and eliminate duplicate voters/registrants; leading to a clean voters roll.

The deployment of personnel for the purpose of collecting BVR information is not different to that done in order to register people in the “old way”.  

Personnel will be trained and equipped with mobile voter registration kits. 

These are portable devices designed to create electoral rolls; equipment that is reusable, extensible and resistant to adverse conditions. 

These devices are self-contained, autonomous units supported by long-life batteries and can be used in remote areas for registration, even within homesteads. 

In the end, what is compiled is a normal database or electoral register which includes biometrics information.

The second part of the process is voter verification or authentication which happens on voting day. 

This is whereby a person appears on voting day, presents an ID or provides a name. 

The person’s biometrics face and/or fingerprints are then captured and compared to those in the computer database (biometric voters’ register). 

Again mobile biometric kits/stations are available to achieve this, enabling penetration of remote areas.  

If there is a match, the person is verified, gets a ballot paper and continues to vote (manually) in the normal way

The person’s details are then digitally marked as having voted and cannot be used for repeat voting (no need for ink). 

This is NOT electronic or biometric voting, but manual voting as we are used to!  

The other dominant theme of the publications attacking the BVR process was the ‘susceptibility to hacking and cyber-attacks’. 

A biometric voter register, as mentioned before, is no different from any electoral register (as prescribed by the Electoral Act) or any other database. 

Therefore it’s susceptibility to hacking and cyber-attacks should just be at the same level; but this is not even the case as these biometric databases are more robust and designed to protect the sensitive personal information they contain. 

The issue of data privacy features dominantly in the development of biometric processes. 

Consequently, the BVR process has inbuilt protection included in the software packages (for example, template protection) which makes it more robust than the current electronic register which has been used in the previous elections. 

It is difficult to hack, and even if the data is somehow stolen it would be in an unusable format for the perpetrator. 

It is accepted that the outcry might have been based on the misconception that “electronic voting” and automatic tallying of votes would be carried out; an assumption which is very wrong.

Another debate and negative concept being cast about the BVR process is its perceived cost, but before delving into the intricacies of financial cost, it is important to look at why Zimbabwe has embarked on this path. 

It is not by accident that ZEC has embarked on the Biometrics project. 

The history of disputed elections and unclean/suspicious voter registers is a known political burden to Zimbabwe. 

This has damaged the credibility of Zimbabwe elections leading to violence, leading to loss of lives, people being displaced and some fleeing the country. 

The cost in terms of human lives and the country’s economy has been monumental and cannot be quantified. 

It is clear that the current scenario cannot be sustained, and an improvement/change in the electoral process is crucial. 

Reverting to the use of national IDs or licences will create the same cycle of rigging accusations and discrediting of the electoral process – a vicious circle which needs to be avoided.

In 2012, ZEC said they would need about US$20 million to spruce up the widely-condemned roll after which constituency boundaries would be drawn up for general elections(The Herald 21/12/12). 

It is on record that a proposal for biometrics registration was made at that time, detailing that the exercise could be carried out within 3 months, costing USD20 Million; the same figure that ZEC had said it needed to clean up the voters’ roll!

The current proposal for BVR is based on a budget of US$29 million; to produce a NEW clean and credible voters’ roll – surely not an expensive exercise especially if put into context of what it will achieve. 

The cost of acquiring the equipment needed is no more than US$15 million. 

Therefore the “unaffordability” claim is unfounded. 

Furthermore UNDP had offered to fund the BVR procurement process through their structures to ensure transparency, a proposal which has now been rejected for ‘sovereignty’ reasons. 

However the government has now made US$17 million available to fund the process. 

In addition, this process is sustainable, and will be much cheaper in the next elections (no/low procurement cost) in addition to the bonus of sustainable dispute free elections.

Having said all that, BVR in itself does not guarantee successful, fair or credible elections. 

The author does not propose the use of biometrics as a “silver bullet” capable overcoming all obstacles Zimbabwe faces in ensuring a level playing field in which all eligible voices have their say in the political future of the country.  

Its effectiveness can only be recognised if applied in tandem with the political-will and sincerity of authorities in charge, who are tasked with guaranteeing fairness and ensuring inclusion of all citizens.  

Biometric technology cannot solve problems rooted in issues such as mistrust among stakeholders or lack of political freedoms. Elections, at the end of the day, are a political process.

In spite of all the challenges, the introduction of biometrics in the compilation of voter registers should improve the accuracy of the voter registers and provide the foundation for clean and violence free elections. 

Ghana has used biometric registration and verification in three consecutive elections (the latest occasion being in 2016) proving that the process can be reliable and sustainable.  

It is therefore urged that ZEC and all stakeholders embrace biometrics technology to ensure integrity, inclusiveness, accuracy, transparency and accessibility in the coming elections. 

The media should act responsibly and report facts accurately, and ZEC should take a pro-active role in explaining the BVR process and educating the public.