ElecTech Abidjan - Talking Tech and Elections in Cote d'Ivoire

ElecTech Abidjan - Talking Tech and Elections in Cote d'Ivoire

Cote d’Ivoire has an election coming up this fall. The last one didn’t go so well. As such, there is a lot of focus on - and anxiety about - the months ahead from the international community.

Last month, NDI and our partners from the Platform of Civil Society Organizations for the Observation of Elections in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI, as they are known to their friends) hosted a conference pulling together all the key players in the upcoming election: leaders from political parties, technologists, civil society, the election commission, journalism and academia. NDI has done a number of these gatherings in the past convening folks at the intersection of technology and electoral politics - we call them ElecTechs.

There was a lot of interest in the topic from the geeky political world and we ended up with quite a full house, with over 60 people in the room; POECI needed to turn away gatecrashers. Core to this whole conference (and probably all my future posts about Cote d’Ivoire) was the work by Akendewa, an Ivorian technology hub and POECI member. Akendewa is awesome; they’re a remarkable group with impressive capabilities and enthusiastic members. You’ll be hearing more about them in my next post.

ElecTech attendees spent two days sharing information on activities around the upcoming election, raising challenges, and discussing opportunities for collaboration. These sorts of gatherings are particularly useful to pull together all the different techies from relevant organizations; coordination at this point can help prevent duplication of efforts and build useful partnerships to pull together on related projects. Highlights included an update on current Ivorian tech infrastructure from the Ministry of Telecommunications, new tech efforts by the Election Commission, and what the different political parties were up to online. Mourakiboun rockstar Anis Samaali, a good friend from our time working together on the Tunisian elections, visited to share his experiences and global innovations in election monitoring. The gathering got a hands-on training on best practices in digital communications from Edith Brou, West African social media star.

Throughout, participants flagged core problems that they observed that Cote d’Ivoire faces in the upcoming months before the elections. For the final activity, this ElecTech did something totally unique and, I think, powerful. On the second day, participants broke into groups wrestling with the electoral problems they’d flagged throughout the course of the conference.

The three main categories:

  • Data: What do we do with it? What are the opportunities? What are the challenges? 
  • Social networks: Rumors are dangerous, but information sharing is powerful
  • Marginalization: How do we help women participate? Non-French speakers? The disabled? People in rural areas?

Brought together as Ivorians outside of their organizational roles, the working groups opened up new channels of communication as they articulated specific problems in need of action before the fall election. It was fascinating to watch the institutional rivalries fall away as the groups were brainstorming creatively about how to make the world better for their fellow citizens.

As with any conference, the best work probably happened between the formal sessions. Gathering around coffee and croissants - (I love le monde Francophonie) the participants were able to build relationships, spark conversations (occasionally frank disagreements) and come up with new creative ideas. In the end, the participants left jazzed for the opportunities and work ahead. We then took the list of problems identified by the working groups and brought them to a new gathering - the first of its kind by NDI. That, my friends, is a story for another post.