How BVR technology is poised to revolutionise voting in Kenya

The biometric voter registration (BVR) project got mired in controversy the minute the initial tender was rejected and President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were forced to intervene.

When the two principals came on the scene, it was decided that a government-to-government deal involving Kenya and Canada resolves the impasse.

The Canadian government arranged to have its fully-owned parastatal, Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), sign a contract with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) leading to the procurement of the biometric hardware, software, and documentation for the General Election.

CCC engaged another Canadian parastatal, Export Development Corporation, to get guarantees for financing from Standard Chartered Plc.

Thus, while StanChart would provide the loan to IEBC, this would be made cheaper by the guarantee from the Canadian government.

StanChart provided the loan at an interest rate of 5.12 per cent, which was lower than an earlier syndicated loan procured at 6.73 per cent, showing the importance of the guarantee from the Canadian government.

The fact that StanChart had dealt with the Kenya government previously, as one of the banks providing a $600 million syndicated loan, proved important in the negotiations.

The importance of the BVR technology in the coming General Election is underlined by the fact that all voters will register afresh.

This is expected to avoid a repeat of the 2007 poll where 1.2 million dead voters are said to have voted. Due to the anomaly, some observers held that it was difficult to establish who really won the 2007 presidential poll.

However, some officials at the Treasury were quick to blame IEBC for starting the process of procuring BVR technology late because, forcing the government to borrow cash and pay an insurance premium of Sh1 billion to the Canadian government for the guarantee it gave.

Finance minister Njeru Githae accused IEBC of negotiating a skewed contract, where the government was supposed to pay in advance for the kits, once negotiations failed to resolve outstanding issues by October 15.

Indeed, the loan was taken in order to pay for the kits even when delivery was yet to be ascertained.


What makes BVR more efficient in producing a credible principle register?

The personal information captured by BVR technology is unique to each individual and cannot be shared. This helps create a credible register. BVR requires every voter to present himself or herself in person at the voting station to ensure only those who are genuinely registered and are physically present on polling day vote.

What are the comparative advantages of BVR over manual registration?

BVR enjoys the following key advantages over older methods of registration;

  • Unique: BVR has been developed around unique characteristics of individuals. It is virtually impossible for two people to share the same biometric data.
  • Cannot be shared: Bio-data captured by BVR is unique to an individual and cannot be duplicated or shared (you cannot give a copy of your face or your fingers to someone!) This is unlike in previous registration where the national ID or passport used to identify a voter was easy to forge and duplicate.
  • Cannot be copied: Biometric features are nearly impossible to forge or spoof. This ensures that the biometric being identified is from a live person.
  • Cannot be lost: Biometric features of an individual can be lost only in case of a serious accident, unlike in manual registration where one can lose the voter’s card or national ID card and the card used by imposters to vote.
  • Accuracy: BVR directly captures the voter’s details into the system. The voter verifies and confirms this before the information is saved. This enhances production of a reliable and credible principle register.
  • Speed: The solution provides a direct data capture of details and requires no more processing of information. This makes it faster in consolidation of the voter’s register unlike older technology that required verification and data processing.
  • Quick and precise: BVR provides the highest voting safety levels and prevents election fraud.

Are there other African countries besides Kenya which have used BVR?
Yes. They include Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, DRC, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Mozambique.

How will BVR-registered voters be identified during voting? What will be different from the manual identification process previously used?

BVR is not a voting technology but an identification one. The voter will be identified on the polling day by an electronic poll-book using the biometric data provided during registration before proceeding to vote. No voter’s cards will be issued. All a voter needs is to present his or her national ID card and fingerprints to be allowed to vote.

When can one be denied registration?

  • When you are adjudged bankrupt
  • When you have been found guilty by an election court
  • If you are in lawful detention or in lawful custody
  • If a competent court declares you to be of unsound mind.