A while back I wrote about an interesting development in politics in Tanzania: the use of mobile phones to register members of political parties. A reader tried the service out and found that the safeguards and cost left something to be desired, but it served to illustrate an important point, that the rapidly spreading technology is being used in increasingly innovative ways to resolve the problems of distance, infrastructure and communication that so beset parts of the continent.
Zanzibar Leo, a Swahili daily, is reporting another clever use of mobile phones for the elections scheduled for October 31. The Zanzibar Electoral Commission is going to run a service whereby, on the days running up to the election, people can find out exactly where the polling station they have been allocated to is, though the service costs TSh 300 (approximately 2 cents – which means that this service could also be an earner for the Government). In Zanzibar, all voters are allocated a station and room to vote in; until now, they would have had to go to specific announcements boards to see which room they’ve been allocated, and would then have to try and locate it – not always an easy task in the labyrinth that is Stone Town.
The paper reports that the justification is to avoid ‘usumbufu wa kuhangaika’, literally the ‘disturbance of roaming around’. It’s not saying so explicitly, but there exist definite benefits to not being on the streets any more than absolutely necessary on election day here in Zanzibar. I think this service will prove pretty popular.