Getting Out the Vote in Malawi, One App At a Time

Alfred Kankuzi; Photo by Pilirani Phiri

Growing up in Mzuzu, Malawi, Alfred Kankuzi enjoyed working with computers above all else.

“I liked doing things that would mesmerize people,” Alfred says.

As an avid film fan, Alfred also was constantly surprised by the way technology in particular was used by his favorite characters to innovative ends.

“I saw in movies people using technology and robotics to solve problems, to stop traffic, to improve banking,” he says.

“I thought to myself, ‘If technology can do this, I want to work with technology, too.’”

Years later, Alfred noticed a gap in Malawi’s civic structure, a gap he felt only technology could fill.

“Many people did not know who they were voting into power or, if they did, it was only by name or by face, not by policy platform,” Alfred says.

“I wanted to provide people with useful information about candidates — their names, their biographies, and their plans for the country — all in one place.”

The solution, for Alfred, came in the form of Legal Wallet, a mobile app he designed that features a list of candidates organized by policy priorities and manifestos.

Alfred, now the founder of a nonprofit organization under the same name and a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, is working to promote participatory and inclusive governance ahead of the country’s general elections.

One challenge Alfred and others face is gathering accurate information about candidates when lofty, but ultimately transient, campaign promises have become the norm.

“Many parties make promises to the country’s youth,” Alfred says. “But few follow through on them.”

Of equal concern is the country’s steep internet rates. Alfred, well aware of the drawback, made a point of designing an app that only requires internet access to download and to update the interface; otherwise, all the information available on the app is accessible without an internet connection.

Photo from one of Alfred’s human-centered design thinking workshops

“It’s important to remember,” Alfred notes, “that technology does not live in a vacuum. It can only succeed when we collaborate with other community members and other parties.”

“And even if we have the best technology, if the community is not able to use it, it might as well be useless,” he says.

In the end, Alfred hopes that these tools will provide the youth in Malawi with the resources they need to make informed decisions — decisions that will shape the future of the country.

“For me, a perfect world is one in which everyone has equal access to resources,” Alfred says. “It’s a world where people understand what is happening in society and are able to participate fully.”

Interested in Alfred’s work? Learn how you can make your voice heard on our #YALIVotes page.

Alfred is a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow and founder of Legal Wallet, a nonprofit organization focusing on promoting participatory and inclusive governance for people of all social, cultural and economic backgrounds. Alfred holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a double minor in physics from the University of Malawi.

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