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Ghana’s election, and hopes for Darfur?

Jim Moore has an interesting commentary on the post I made a couple of days back about Ghana’s election. (Jon Lebowsky has picked up the conversation and is continuing it on WorldChanging.)I pointed to a piece on GhanaWeb about the multiple ways technology is being used to monitor Ghanaian elections, quickly report results from far-flung constituencies and generally produce an election that is free, fair and transparent. (So transparent, in fact, that I’ve been having a great deal of fun watching the election results come in district by district.

Jim points out that Ghana is so highly connected that it’s quite hard for anyone to aspire to throw the elections (Rawlings’s unsupported complaints of Nigerian interference aside). Unhappy incidents like the shooting near the Burkina Faso border are widely reported and discussed, incidents of intimidation or vote fraud were reported into radio stations, and results and polling data were closely scrutinized. The result? An election that’s being widely celebrated as free, fair and exemplary.

Jim wants to know whether we can take some of the lessons from Ghana’s election and apply them to the current situation in western Sudan. He points to Tom Barnett’s key observation, “disconnection equals danger”, and points out that Sudan’s disconnection from global communication networks is allowing a genocide to take place.

Unfortunately, it’s a long road from Sudan to Ghana. The reason these systems work in Ghana is that government, for the most part, works. When a cellphone user calls a radio station to report intimidation at a polling place, there’s reason to believe the police will come by and stop the intimidation. That’s not a reasonable assumption in Sudan, where the government is likely responsible for said intimidation.

The need in Sudan is to increase connectivity with the outside world so that other governments of the world can respond to the atrocities taking place in Sudan. While there’s a temptation to get very high tech, my suspicion is that less is more… getting basic voice connectivity into camps across the Sudan/Chad border could go a long way towards letting people in the camps communicate the actual situation unfolding there.

My suggestion: take a lesson from the situation at the Rwanda/Democratic Republic of Congo border, where MTN builds cellphone towers that serve Congolese users, although they’re not licensed to operate in DRC. There’s widespread smuggling of handsets and smartcards from Rwanda to DRC – it’s quite possible that the Sudan/Chad border is similarly porous. Companies like MTN or Spacefon have a lot of experience linking GSM to VSAT and providing voice services in extremely isolated locations. It would be interesting to see a) whether the government of Chad would allow this to happen and b) whether the community concerned with Sudan could raise the money to make this happen.

Bonus link: BBC/JoyFM’s Kweky Sakyi-Addo is maintaining a terrific online diary of his experiences covering the Ghana elections. He’s a natural weblogger, and I’ve got high hopes his journal will continue.