Drones for Ghana’s election?

The last time drone technology made its face on Ghana’s electoral landscape, it was the proverbial knight in shining armour for the electorate in the country’s eastern region.

That was in December 2020.

It was 48 hours before the presidential polls on December 7, and with the Covid-19 still wreaking havoc around the world, authorities obviously wanted poll workers protected with enough insulating clothing and masks to last the election period.

That meant tens of thousands of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) had to be distributed to over 33 districts – within an area of 19,323 square kilometres – before the morning of the election.

The speed with which the task needed to be carried out ruled out traditional ground transportation which, given the circumstances, would take forever to complete the task. Precisely, what it would have taken for road transport to distribute the necessary equipment was 48-72 hours – and that was just for moving half the required supplies.

At that point, Zipline moved in to save the day.

Like a knight in shining armour.

“The Eastern Region Electorate immediately reached out to Zipline to request the rapid distribution of PPE in order to ensure that polls were able to open and keep its workers protected,” the drone logistics company said in a 2020 report.

“Zipline agreed and the 18,000+ face masks were picked up and dropped off at Zipline’s Distribution Center in Omenako. In a matter of hours, Zipline coordinated with district directors to select local health facilities as delivery sites.

“Just sixteen hours after the initial request, the Zipline operations team began deliveries; over the next fifteen hours, Zipline dispatched over 160 flights to 29 delivery sites.”

It wasn’t such a hard job for Zipline to carry out, since the company had already been in the country for two years, distributing medical supplies to local health centres.

But this one was such a high stakes task that at its peak, there were eighteen Zips in the air, making rounds at an average of fifteen deliveries per hour of operation.

“By 9AM the next day, election day, Zipline had distributed all of the inventory and polling officers had distributed them to polling sites. Every polling station in the Eastern Region was able to open on time with all personnel receiving the appropriate PPE, enabling hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians to vote.”

So the drones worked great for the 2020 election. But why are we bringing this up today; four years after the election that saw president Nana Akufo Addo return to serve his last term of office?

Because Ghana is preparing for another presidential election in December this year and somebody wants to bring the drones back.

Only this time, not everyone is cool with it.

Maybe it is because, this time, the drones will not be coming from Zipline.

One of the parties taking part in the election has announced that it will be deploying drones to polling stations around the country, ostensibly to ensure that the elections are free and fair.

The National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) Emmanuel Nii Ashie Moore, the Greater Accra Regional Chairman of has announced his party will include drones as part of the observatory teams’ repertoire “to ensure the security of over two million votes for the party and reinforce monitoring mechanisms to prevent any potential irregularities.”

Said Moore a few days ago; “Next week, we are going to train constituency executives on how to use drones to monitor what happens during the elections.”

We have to say, of all the left field applications drones have been used for since they existed, deploying them for electoral integrity purposes does come really left of left field.

And we are not sure how this political party will do it; they have not been clear on the minutiae of this mission; but we sure would love to be there when they do it.

Or if they do it.

Given how antsy most aviation authorities are about drone flying close to people, it would be interesting to experience how the party will do this with the legal licence of local aviation regulators.

What is clear though, is that the election regulatory body is not amused.

Ghana’s Electoral Commission has effectively poured cold water on the NDC’s plans to deploy the drones, arguing that the move will compromise security and privacy.

Besides, the opposition has yet to lodge its application with the electoral body, according to Ghana’s director of electoral services, Serebour Quaicoe.

“They have to apply but it will be very difficult for the Electoral Commission or the police to approve people to be using drones at polling stations,” Quaicoe said.

“Polling stations are security zones and we want to ensure the secrecy of the ballot.”

However, Moore still wanted to have the last word on this, insisting on local media that his party did not need permission from the election management body to use drones for surveillance on the election day.

“This is one of the strategies that I want to use in my region to monitor the operation, to monitor things that I’ve seen during the limited registration,” Moore said.

“So that if someone is planning something untoward, he would know that Big Brother would be watching him.

“I don’t need permission from the EC to fly a drone when I’m going to bury my dead mother… in the statement I made I did not say that I would fly a drone on top of a polling station.

“I said this election we would use drones to monitor my polling agents, to monitor my prompters, to monitor to ensure that whatever assignment I have given is being done.”

This election is promising fireworks.

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