By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (TrustLaw) — Tanzania is the latest African country to introduce electronic identification cards for its citizens as a way to prevent voter fraud ahead of its 2015 general elections.
Tanzania’s elections have been marred by fraud allegations, with opposition candidates accusing the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party (CCM) of vote rigging.
The biometric card, which electronically records a person’s fingerprints and retina image, offers a way to prevent multiple registrations of a single voter, according to the National Identification Authority’s (NIDA) Executive Director Dickson Maimu.
NEC election official Julius Malaba told TrustLaw that the new identity card, which will replace the old paper card, would reduce fraud and ensure that only eligible citizens participate in elections. It has additional benefits, allowing police, immigration, the revenue authority and other government agencies to share information and differentiate between Tanzanians, foreign nationals and refugees.
President Jakaya Kikwete was the first Tanzanian to receive his identity card in a project that was first envisioned in 1968, but long delayed by financial constraints. The initial launch cost was $160 million.
Analysts welcomed the move, saying it would foster transparency.
“This is the best way to ensure a clean election. The old system had many glaring omissions, which created room for vote rigging,” said Benson Bana, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam.
CCM publicity secretary Nape Nnauye agrees that electronic identification is crucial to sort out irregularities likely to cause disputes.
Kenya will use the biometric voter registry system in its March 4 general election, following the heavily-contested 2007 presidential poll in which fraud allegations sparked a wave of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Biometric voting systems have been successfully used elsewhere in Africa. In December last year, Ghana used the system to compile a registry of voters for its presidential and parliamentary elections. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Zambia, and Uganda have also turned to technology to improve the accuracy of their voter registers.
Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam.