Uganda is headed for a heated election in January, 2021. Journalists in Uganda since last year have been gearing up for campaigns and polling day. Most of what is usually reported about during elections, is what happens in the capital Kampala and other urban centers like Jinja, Mbale, Mbarara, Wakiso among others.
It is always difficult to know the political dynamics in deep rural areas like border districts and other places like Karamoja always have limited coverage on the election. This perhaps could be explained by the limited resources media companies are faced with, or sometimes media concentrates in hotly contested areas with a lot of ‘talkability’ – buzz around the election and candidates. But even when they do, the usual is what is expected. Things like what candidate has got how many votes compared to their opponents. We as media rarely take time to scrutinize the voting patterns, voter turnout and reasons behind it, localized issues driving the agenda of the candidates, amount of money spent on campaigns and how this money is spent, and most importantly; documentation of violation of human rights and use of military to man elections.
It is about that time we as media embrace -digital technologies to deliver this election. Where the resources and capacity of the media are limited, some have argued that such technologies make it possible to rapidly “leapfrog” to cleaner and more credible elections, where every bad act by the state or the deployment of its machinery to crush opposition figures and journalists themselves are documented and may later in the future be used for accountability.
The failure of digital checks and balances often renders an electoral process even more vulnerable to rigging than it was before. Journalists should start thinking about being equipped with gadgets and media houses support journalists in this journey. Previously, journalists have used social media as a tool, but this round we should take it a step further beyond social media to include live streaming of panel discourse prior to elections and utilizing mobile apps to report live incidents from different polling units across the country.
Due to the limited resources and this may limit countrywide coverage of the elections, journalists and media houses at large should think about training agents in all parts of the country, and equip them with basic reporting skills and basic technology just for the sake of receiving information from all corners of the country, instantly. These agents should be able to use mobile phones and live reporting applications to tell, if [voting] materials arrived on time, if the police were helpful or not, if there was any violence at their polling unit, if the counting was done the way it should be done.
These observations are not intended as a manifesto against the digitization of reporting on elections; apart from anything else, the drivers(media) of the adoption of these new methods are too powerful to resist, and that’s a good thing. It is a good thing because holding the state accountable takes much more than just filming the state’s actions against its own people, but it also gives an opportunity to civil society groups to follow up such incidents and demand for justice on behalf of the victims that face the wrath of the state’s violence. But that must begin somewhere – film the process first.Though this analysis draws attention to the importance of more careful assessments of the problems, as well as the benefits, of such technologies – and to the need for more careful planning in their deployment. Things like poor network coverage of the internet could hinder deployments of such technologies in different parts of the country.
The author is an investigative journalist, radio show host with NBS television – Uganda, and believes in the power of new media in changing narratives in Africa.