Edited by Nanjira Sambuli & Varyanne Sika |
Late last year, I accompanied the Executive Director of Mzalendo when she went to deliver awards to some of the winners of Shujaaz Awards. The awards were part of an undertaking that recognized efforts by Members of Parliament whose activities in the House had the biggest positive impact on the Common Mwananchi. The winners were chosen via public voting that was conducted through Twitter.
The winners were quite impressed with their awards, and wanted to ensure it made to the press,in testament perhaps, to what positive opinion based on performance means to them. I do not know how they would react if they knew that the Twitter users who voted for them are considerably well informed about government proceedings, and engage more on governance issues of all users of ICTs in governance in Kenya,Uganda and Tanzania, according to a study that was conducted recently
A study done by iHub Research shows that Twitter users, particularly those who engage Mzalendoin Kenya, and Parliament Watchin Uganda are quite well versed with matters governance. Mzalendo is a platform that keeps track of the activities of Kenyan legislators when in parliament. Parliament Watch also conducts the same for Uganda. It was inspired by Mzalendo Watch. Both use Facebook and Twitter to share information with citizens.
These findings on Twitter users may not be a surprise to many, especially in Kenya where we have seen the government respond to Twitter outcries. For instance, as recent as last month, President Kenyatta cancelled his trip to Nigeria for the inauguration of Nigeria’s President elect, Gen. Buhari, and sent his deputy instead, ostensibly, because of a regional East African summit over Burundi. However, it is believed that the strong reactions by Kenyans on twitter(and other social media sites) to a leaked list of several officials who were to accompany him largely influenced that decision. In general, the most popular ICT tool across the board is the good old radio.
It comes complete with several success stories reported when it comes to making information accessible to citizens. This is attributed to radio being a commonly accessed ICT tool in many rural areas and many inhabitants of East Africa residing in rural areas. Despite this robust evaluation of users of ICTs in Governance, the use of certain tools, like mobile phone applications, is not that widespread, and not much research, or documentation had been done on the subject. The researchers, who focused on Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania noted that “empirical evidence on the use of ICTs in East Africa remains scanty”. However, interest and investments in the field is growing across Africa.
The study, which showed interesting contradictions, focused on four areas: Access to Information, Service Delivery, Tracking Corruption and Citizen Participation. It showed that some efforts, while well intention were being hampered by challenges in execution. For instance, while governments are busy making information accessible to the citizens, the state of the information is not, in some cases, usable.
The information, especially the technical data, was considered jargon-laden, thus difficult for the citizens to understand. The information needs to be broken down into a state and form in which a common mwananchi can easily understand it as that is the key point to its being released. In addition, the governments were found to release very little information. In fact, some of the information that was shared can be accessed elsewhere on the Internet, which prompted one focus group discussion participant to quip that “the information there, is information I can get on Google”.
Further, the governments make little (if any) effort to create awareness about the information that they share. Few citizens therefore, are aware of the existence of the said information. Governments also seem to give preference to areas that citizens do not consider a priority. Most government initiatives are biased towards providing service ICT delivery tools as found in the areas under the study’s focus. (More on the locations here). Interestingly, this has become one consistent way in which citizens interact with ICTs even though they do it out of necessity, and not choice. Another issue with governments’ and CSOs’ ICT initiatives is the design-reality gap.
The people who deploy, or design the technologies to be used do not consider the situation in the ground, that of the users, when they are doing so. This results into initiatives, or technologies that are not used by the intended people. Consequently, there exists a number of websites, mobile phones and web applications that are not being used as often as the developers expected.
The governments, and the CSOs interviewed also indicated facing challenges in their quest to boost the use of ICTs. The costs of setting up and running the ICTs may be prohibitive, especially for donor-funded CSOs and projects/initiatives. So, their programmes run as far as the funds can allow. Since the tools have to be free for users to embrace them, cost is mainly on the side of the deployer, in this case the government or the CSOs: “Governance is not fund based, it compromises the continuity of the work we do, but we have no other way to raise money for this project. The government will not give us money to do it, citizens will not pay to participate either.” CSO representative in Tanzania.
There is also the case of limited expertise on how to use ICTs. It hampers citizens from engaging, and the government staffers from enabling successful use of the technologies. There were found to be instances where feedback from the government was slow because of poorly informed respondents on governments’ side. Similarly, governments and CSOs have trouble with management (of their ICT initiatives) and updates. Governments depend on several governmental departments to provide data updates which sometimes takes a while. And, CSOs which at times source their data from governments cannot do updates unless the government departments provide the latest data and/or information. Unsurprisingly, another hindrance to sourcing data comes in the form of those in government viewing ICTs as a tool to expose them.Before the advent of ICTs, it was not easy for citizens to access information.
However, ICTs make it possible for information to be shared by those in government, as part of facilitating citizens’ right to accessing information. Therefore, those in power see technological tools as ways through which their wrongdoing could be discovered and released to the public. In the case of citizens making reports on service delivery or corruption, citizens’ demotivation was noted, and attributed to apathy that seems to have extended from behaviours outside the realm of ICT usage; people lacked faith that their reports would be acted upon, especially based on previous experiences.
Generally, many of the respondents were content with leveraging ICTs to report corruption cases. In some cases,the sense of anonymity provided by these technologies seemed to encourage citizens to report issues without the fear of being identified, especially on radio and social media platforms and toll-free numbers.
However, in some cases, this appeared to be a double-edged sword where people feared raising issues on social media for fear of being victimised. Another aspect that encouraged action were instances where there was physical organization around the technology.
Areas where there were forums for citizens to physically meet and follow up on issues raised through the use of ICTs recorded greater success than areas where there were no physical forums. Equally encouraging is perhaps the observation that people embraced the ease provided by ICTs to interact with CSOs and governments. Similarly, organizations mandated with service delivery were quick to respond to citizens. This acted as a motivator for the citizens.
Non internet based and low cost ICTs recorded the most success. A justification for CSOs especially, using low cost technology at no cost to the citizens is the finding that people tend to participate more in governance issues more when it is at no cost to them. This should be a major consideration for those planning to enter this field, and those already in it as well for their future plans.
And more is hoped for in this particular area as the conclusion of the study showed that despite the investment in ICTs in Governance by the East African governments, the implementation of ICT-related projects in governance has not been effective in promoting two-way interaction between citizens and government.