As Zimbabweans head to the polls, this local startup promotes accountability

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Zimbabweans head to the polls today for an historic election, the first since the overthrow of Robert Mugabe late last year, as the country looks forward to a brighter, democratic future.

As a fully democratic Zimbabwe comes closer to being a reality, local startup Vote Africa is doing its best to empower Zimbabweans and promote accountability.

Founded last February by Norman Dube, Vote Africa is an Android and iOS mobile application that aims to educate, motivate and empower the electorate to fully own the electoral process and hold elected officials accountable.  

It provides access to relevant information to guide the electorate through the complete electoral process, providing users with voter guides, polling station locations, and details of party representatives and manifestos. It also has a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to answer election-related questions in real-time.

Vote Africa has also launched a “Situation Room Tool”, which allows the electorate to participate as virtual observers by sending pictures and text as reports during the election period. These reports are geolocated and time stamped to ensure accurate data is collected.

“Voter education is inadequate in most African countries, leading to issues of low voter participation and a very high number of invalid votes. The population is dominated by the youth, but there is a low percentage of this age group that participates in the electoral process,” Dube told Disrupt Africa.

“Voter education is mainly conducted through television, radio, and newspapers, which are platforms that the youth are barely using or following. With the high mobile penetration and the use of mobile phones we saw this as a gap to disrupt the voter education process.”

The startup, which has been bootstrapped and secured some grant funding, has seen positive uptake. Dube said it has partnered with civil society organisations, and been piloting the platform in Zimbabwe ahead of the elections.

“We had to test the platform over the pre-election process, which required a lot of technical changes and tweaks,” Dube said.

“Collaborating with organisations already in the elections field made it easier to make information requests and focus on the technology. Going forward we are looking to expand our team to have content creators so we can have the whole process being done in-house.”

Vote Africa, which plans to white label its platform, is already looking beyond Zimbabwe, and targeting elections in other African countries.

“Our next targets are the Nigerian and South African elections in 2019. We are currently working on building relationships with relevant players within the elections field in our target countries,” Dube said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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