[Column] Nixon Kanali: The role of Mobile Network Operators during the 2022 Kenyan elections
Kenya goes to elections on August 9th to elect new leaders from the county to the National level. A key aspect of this general election and others that have taken place in previous years is the role of technology in enhancing efficiency, accuracy and convenience especially when it comes to results transmission.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is the body mandated by the Constitution of Kenya to run elections. IEBC works with other agencies both inside and outside government including Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to ensure the entire electoral process is seamless.
MNOs specifically play an important role especially when it comes to the transmission of results from the polling stations to the IEBC national tallying centre.
Important to note that the Elections Act, 2011 requires IEBC to transmit the results electronically (via a Results Transmission System RTS) from the 27,410 polling centres to the constituency tallying centres and to the National tallying centre. This requirement means the electoral body has to contract MNOs for the RTS. This could either be any of the MNOs in the country ie Safaricom, Airtel, or even Telkom.
Kenya has one of the best mobile network coverage in the world so transmission of results should really be seamless across the different MNOs. This progressive Mobile Network Coverage improvements over the years according to the Communication Authority (CA) have been achieved largely through regulatory network rollout obligations placed upon licensed ICT network operators and partly through the provision of financial incentives drawn from the Universal Service Fund (USF) in respect of infrastructure development in unserved and underserved areas.
The regulator says these initiatives have in the recent past resulted in significantly reducing the number of persons and also Polling Centers without 3G/4G Network Coverage in the country. In fact, CA notes that there’s over 96 per cent 3G/4G population coverage across the country compared to 78 per cent in the last election. This extensive coverage means MNOs can transmit election results without any hurdles.
During the entire elections period, MNOs will ensure the Security, Traceability and Availability of the network. They will provide connectivity services for the RTS including 3G/4G via sim cards with data bundles (including roaming sim cards for diaspora polling centres), 3G/4G Internet modems with data bundles that will be inserted in the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) kits, 2 fibre links to connect the IEBC Primary and Secondary data centres, internet connectivity at the National Tallying Center as well as a satellite network.
What this entirely means is that MNOs are only providing a secure pipe to IEBC. They will not be able to see what information or data that is transmitted in the secure pipe. The KIEMS Kits will also have 2 SIM Cards from different operators.
IEBC has contracted at least 2 service providers per polling station to support data transmission. CA has also guaranteed that spectrum is available and prepared MNOs to sustain services as well as provided bigger bandwidth. The regulator has also allocated MNOs a Numbering Destination Code for purposes of Election data transmission only. These numbers will be switched off and will only be used for future elections in the country.
The KIEMs kits also have a dedicated network / Express Highway connected to Bomas of Kenya and MNOs will have a dedicated wide pipe connected to Bomas of Kenya.
MNOs still remain independent communication service providers which own the complete telecom infrastructure for hosting and managing mobile communications between the subscribed mobile users and both users in the same network and in external wireless and wired telecom networks.
Nixon Kanali is the Tech Editor for Africa Business Communities.