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Senegal: An Innovative Way to Monitor the Presidential Elections

[All links forward to French articles or videos unless stated otherwise]

During the evening of March 25, 2012, day of the second round of the Senegalese presidential election, journalist Pape Alé Niang of Channel 2stv was able to report that there were “strong trends in the results that outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade would find difficult to contradict”, by as early as 9pm.

Senegalese television was using the results and projections of the #Sunu2012 (Our 2012) campaign which allowed unofficial results to be given by 9pm for the first time in Africa.

Several days later, in his discussion programme Ca Me Dit Mag, Pape Alé Niang said that this historic first had been made possible thanks to the work of Sunu2012 and welcomed two members of the team to his show:

Pape Ousmane Ngom (@Paouz on Twitter) and AmyJane Diop (@aamyjane on Twitter) were invited so that Pape Alé Niang could publicly congratulate them because, as he stated: “similar to what happens in the democracies of developed countries, it was possible to announce the victory of Macky Sall by 9pm.”

Senegal has a population of 12.6 million, with almost 2 million internet users and 620,000 Facebook accounts, according to the reference site Internetworldstats [en].

Sunu2012 was devised and created in 2008 by Web Project Manager and blogger Cheikh Fall (@cypher007 on Twitter) who presented it to the public for the first time in Barcamp [en] Gorée, Senegal, in 2010:

The Sunu 2012 team. Photo used with the permission of Sunu 2012

Cheik Fall also presented the project in an interview given to CESTI (Information Sciences & Techniques Study Centre, attached to the University of Dakar).

Monsieur Fall, c’est quoi sunu2012 ?

Comme son nom l’indique, sunu signifie « notre » [en Wolof]. C’est-à-dire « notre 2012 », pour montrer comment cette année est si importante pour les Sénégalais. … Nous avons eu cette année pour la première fois un lot de treize (13) candidats et qui disent tous : non à la candidature du président sortant, en l’occurrence, Abdoulaye Wade. … Sunu2012 permet à tout Sénégalais d’informer et de recevoir des informations.

    Mr Fall, what is Sunu 2012?

As indicated by its name, sunu, stands for “our” [in the Wolof language [en]]. In other words “Our 2012″ to show how important this year is to the Senegalese. … This year we have had thirteen candidates for the first time, and they all say no to the candidacy of the outgoing president Abdoulaye Wade…Sunu2012 allows all the people of Senegal to be informed and to receive news.

Yves Monteil wrote the following in an article entitled “A Lesson in Democracy from the Senegalese Blogosphere“:

Une nouvelle manière de faire de la politique face aux partis… Une nouvelle preuve aussi pour désavouer radicalement les politiques. La naissance de ces mouvements citoyens sur Facebook risque bien de donner un nouveau souffle de maturité décisionnelle à cette jeunesse sénégalaise. … #Sunu2012 incarne une veille permanente aux multiples branches ; sur Twitter, Facebook, mais aussi avec un blog à vocation 100 % participative et citoyenne qui assure une couverture médiatique sans précédent. #sunu2012 c'est aussi une chaîne vidéo sur YouTube, des ramifications sur des plateformes médias et sur les blogs de journalistes.

Toute l'actualité présidentielle se trouve sur ce nouveau fil que ce soit le livetweet des manifs, les commentaires sur le programme des candidats …

… Nous avons pu constater lors de la validation de la candidature de Wade que certains medias sociaux relayaient mal l'information en expliquant  que les manifs étaient dues à l'invalidation de la candidature de Youssou N'Dour. C'est sur le fil sunu2012 que cette mauvaise info a été corrigée. Un autre exemple avec Cheick Fall qui a décelé une faille sur le site election2012.sn et qui en postant un billet sur le fil sunu2012 permettra plus tard la correction de cette erreur.

A new way of conducting politics has been presented to the parties, as well as a new trial of methods to radically condemn policies. The birth of these citizens’ movements on Facebook might give a fresh breath of decision-making maturity to the Senegalese youth… #Sunu2012 consists of permanent monitoring of several fields such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as a dedicated 100% collaborative citizen blog ensuring unprecedented media coverage. #Sunu2012 also has a YouTube channel and offshoots on media platforms and journalist blogs. All election-related news is found on this new stream, including live tweets from demonstrations and commentaries on the manifestos of candidates….

During the candidacy of Wade, we were able to observe that certain social networks were relating inaccurate information such as stating that the demonstrations were due to the invalidation of Youssou N'Dour's candidacy. This inaccurate news was corrected on the Sunu2012 network. Another example was given when Cheick Fall discovered a fault on the official election website and facilitated correction of the error by posting on the Sunu2012 network.

Cheikh Fall explained how this unfolded on the day of the election:

On s’est rendu très tôt dans les bureaux de vote pour être les premiers à voter et recueillir le maximum d'informations possible avant qu'il y ait affluence. On est armé d'un téléphone portable ou d'un appareil photo afin de diffuser les infos en temps réel, vérifier si tous les candidats ont un bulletin de vote à leur nom dans les bureaux, vérifier si le matériel de vote est bien présent (l'isoloir, l'urne, l'encre indélébile), tweeter et informer avec le hashtag #sunu2012, s'intéresser aux bureaux de vote environnants et enfin, le plus important, se géolocaliser afin que l'on puisse tous se déplacer s'il y a des soucis.

People went to the polling stations very early, so as to be the first to vote and to gather the maximum information possible before it became too crowded. They were armed with mobile phones or cameras so they could spread information in real time, check whether all the candidates had a ballot paper in their name in the stations, check whether all voting materials were actually present (the booth, the ballot box, indelible ink), tweet and inform using the hashtag #sunu2012, take an interest in nearby polling stations and finally, and most importantly, geotag themselves so that people could move elsewhere if there was any trouble.

The #sunu2012 team could count on the mobilization of around one hundred “E-observers” who had put themselves forward voluntarily to relay information from polling stations and especially from various strategic polling stations. The latter allowed the Sunu2012 team to publish strongly indicative trends by 8.30pm which prompted the phone call from the outgoing president to his victorious adversary.

VIDEO from Sunu 2012 HQ on the night of the second round of the presidential elections:

There were also other cyber activist projects as described by Cheikh Fall in Senegalese ‘Soft Revolution’ a definite success, as well as senrevolution or Samabaat (‘My Voice’ in the Wolof language).

Blogger Dom B. wrote the following:

Désormais, il faudra compter avec Twitter, et Facebook dans les élections, au Sénégal comme partout en Afrique, et ailleurs. Les trop vieux présidents qui ne veulent pas quitter le pouvoir, ont dorénavant beaucoup de souci à se faire.

From now Twitter and Facebook must be reckoned with during elections, in Senegal as everywhere in Africa, and elsewhere. The really old presidents who do not want to leave power, henceforth will come under a lot of pressure to do just that.

This echoed the sentiments of Cheikh Fall who stated recently in an email:

C'est ce qui me motive le plus à me lancer pour rédiger le livre pour mieux recadrer l'idée et le projet pour les autres pays.

What motivates me the most is throwing myself into writing a book clearly framing this idea and project for other countries.

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