The intersection of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and civic engagement continues to gain popularity as more citizens adopt the use of tools to engage with each other, and with civic organisations and the state. While empirical evidence suggests that the rate at which this is happening remains debatable, the ICT4Democracy in East Africa network is using various forms of ICT tools to promote civic participation in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and working to overcome challenges such as gender and geographical disparity in use of ICT.
By Ashnah Kalemera | The Rwenzori sub-region of western Uganda, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools have been key tools in promoting public accountability and improved service delivery. Through an ICT “convergence approach” that combines SMS, radio and online polling, Toro Development Network (ToroDev) has for the past five years promoted information and knowledge sharing for citizens’ engagement with their leaders on priority service delivery needs and concerns in the region. Read more
Growing the capacity of citizens and civic groups including human rights networks to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to foster free speech, human rights, access to information and open governance is one of the objectives of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network. Since April 2014, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) in Tanzania has conducted a campaign to raise awareness about the SMS for Human Rights system throughout Tanzania.
The system, which was launched on Human Rights Day in December 2012, has made it easier for citizens to report human rights violations to the Commission. In 2013, a total of 173,493 complaints were received through the system. Since then, the number of complaints filed with the Commission has averaged more than 100 per week compared to 10 per week prior to the system’s installation.
Given that CHRAGG has only four regional offices to cover a large country, the system has reduced the amount of time, inconvenience and cost to citizens for submitting complaints and following up on case progress, particularly for those in rural areas. The electronic case handling system has also eased the work of investigators by reducing their travel burden and enabling more efficient evidence gathering. Besides text message, the platform allows for video and image capabilities for complainants and informers.
The SMS for Human Rights System is a mobile phone based Complaints Handling Management Information System aimed at expanding CHRAGG’s case handling and tracking. An individual is able to file a complaint by texting the word ‘REPORT’ or ‘TAARIFA’ to the toll free number: +255 (0) 754 460 259. The individual receives a text message confirming receipt of the complaint. Thereafter, a follow up phone call is made by investigators at the Commission to obtain further information, authenticate the report and assign the individual a reference number. The same number can be used to track the progress of a complaint by texting the word ‘STATUS’ followed by the reference number.
However, although many complaints are received through the system, many citizens, particularly on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, were not aware of its existence. With an estimated population of 45 million people, Tanzania has about 28 million mobile phone subscriptions representing a teledensity of 61 phones per 100 inhabitants.
The system’s awareness campaign launch in Zanzibar in April was officiated by CHRAGG’s Commissioner Zahor Kharmis. CHRAGG’s Director of Human Rights Francis Nzuki and Wilfred Warioba, the Head of Management Information System Unit demonstrated how the system works and fielded questions from the attendees who included journalists, representatives from civil society organisations and ordinary citizens.
The event was televised live on Television Zanzibar (TVZ) and broadcast on Coconut FM radio station. It was also featured on Zanzibar Broadcasting TV and Radio, Independent TV, Radio Coconut, Radio Chuchu, Radio Hits, Radio Zenj, Radio Alnoor and two local print newspapers.
Since the launch, two public awareness meetings have been held in the North Unguja and Urban West regions of Zanzibar island. Furthermore, five similar events have been held in Mtwara, KilwaKivinje, Pwani and Dar es Salaam regions on the mainland.
In addition to the meetings, over four million print leaflets have been distributed encouraging citizens to seek redress for human rights violations particularly in the areas of poor service delivery, police brutality, corruption and employment rights.
The awareness raising campaign is expected to cover at least 18 more regions in the coming months. It is expected to incorporate nationwide TV and radio talk shows as well as social media as part of its outreach campaign.
Established in 2001 in fulfillment of Tanzania’s national constitution, CHRAGG plays the dual role of an ombudsman and a human rights commission for the protection and promotion of human rights as well as good governance.
CHRAGG is a member of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network whose work is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions (Spider). The network is coordinated by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
This month, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the E-Society Resource Centre Kasese trained local leaders in Kasese district in the use of ICTs for improved governance and service delivery. During the March 20-21 2014 workshop, local leaders of the western Uganda district were also trained in using ICTs for information sharing and promoting citizen participation.
Speaking at the workshop, District Information Officer John Thawite urged local leaders to break away from the culture of secrecy and work in accordance with the 2005 Uganda Access to Information Act. “Meaningful participation in democratic processes requires informed participants hence the need for increased access to information,” he said.
However, Mr. Thawite noted some challenges to better access to information: poor facilitation for information officers, lack of ICT tools to process information requests, the Official Secrets Act of 1964 which bars public servants from releasing certain information, and poor coordination of information systems between departments.
During introductory sessions, participants were introduced to the basic elements of computer use, the internet and information security. Later, they were introduced to the concept of e-governance and its role in improving service delivery. The training included an interaction with the district e-government tools such as the district portal (www.kasese.go.ug), district discussion group (https://dgroups.org/iicd/kasese), E-library for district e-resources (https://elibrary.kasese.go.ug) and the district news portal (https://kasesenews.blogspot.com/).
The workshop also sought to enhance the leaders’ capability to engage with citizens through social media, and illustrated how this engagement could contribute to improved services delivery. According to Alexa.com, Facebook, Twitter, blog post and youtube are among the top ten accessed websites in Uganda and their potential in catalysing citizen participation in governance was emphasised.
Leaders were further encouraged to use the Rwenzururu facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/nokasesesplit/) created in 2012 by community members in Kasese during a CIPESA citizen journalism training to discuss prevailing issues in the region..
Participants welcomed the training with one saying that he would henceforth be able to get access more information about various operations of the government through the various e-governance platforms shared. Another participant asked the e-society Resource Centre to work with heads of departments so that they always send their budgets, minutes of meetings, work plans and other communication to the e-platforms.
CIPESA has since 2011 spearheaded the iParticipate Uganda project. Through grassroots based ICT access centres in Eastern, Western and Northern Uganda, CIPESA creates awareness and builds the capacity and skills of citizens, media and local government to leverage ICTs to catalyse civic participation, democracy monitoring and access to information in Uganda. The E-society Resource Center Kasese is CIPESA’s western region partner. The centre provides support, promotes ICT literacy and the use of ICT for transparency in the Kasese local government.
Article complied by Mr. Samuel Mumbere – E-Society Resource Centre Kasese and Ms. Lillian Nalwoga – CIPESA
Read about how The Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) in Tanzania takes SMS to the citizens to strengthen human rights. The newsletter also includes articles on “Health Service Delivery”, “Empowering rural communities through ICTs”, and “Fostering community empowerment through ICTs for service delivery and community participation”, among other things. The Spider ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network is premised on the recognition that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) enhances communication and the right to freedom of expression, as well as the right to seek, receive and impart information.
In this respect, ICT has the potential to increase citizens’ participation in decision-making processes, thus strengthening democratisation. The network is facilitated by The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), based in Uganda. Participating project partners come from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Download the Newsletter here.
The Democratization process of the East African Countries still remains elusive as Civil and Political actors of Governments and top leadership remains major impediments in addressing the underlying problems to social evils such as corruption, poor governance, a declining press freedom and lack of respect for fundamental rights and freedom of its Citizens. The East African Countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania is still bogged down by high levels of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability in the delivery of public service, poor civic participation by Citizens and lack of feedback mechanisms from leaders to citizens in addressing major concerns that directly affects the well-being of communities. This has created a situation whereby we live in a society in which people are less informed about government functions and systems typically breeding an environment in which corruption and poor service delivery can thrive.
However, Civil Society Organisations in East Africa have moved a step further in ensuring that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be strategically used to improve access to public services, to increase the efficiency, transparency and accountability of government and political processes, as well as to empower citizens by enabling them to participate in government decision-making processes. At local levels, pro-poor ICT-based governance and public service delivery strategies and applications have been applied so as to contribute to poverty reduction and development within the larger context of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In 2011, The East African ICT4Democracy Network was set up with funding from the Swedish Program for ICT Support in Developing Regions (Spider) and composed of 7 partners in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Through the application of Information and communication technologies (ICTs), partners in the network continue to empower diverse communities in the region to hold their leaders accountable by monitoring service delivery and fighting corruption. The Network members using ICTs as a tool in the democratization process includes in Uganda, the Toro Development Network which operates in the Rwenzori regions of western Uganda.
Toro Development Network [ToroDev] implements a project that brings and converges the different ICT tools for increased public accountability and Civic participation in the region. The organization works and empowers journalist, Government leaders and stakeholders to ensure that they are more proactive in addressing the development concerns of the poor communities as well as catalyzing actions for a democratic engagement and accountability. The project according to its results, have trained many journalists, and registered successes in delivery of services through its approach of making an informed citizenry able to ask questions and leaders accountable to their electorates.
Transparency International in Uganda, uses ICTs in the Health Sector delivery in Northern Uganda, a community that has been regarded marginalized and also suffered the brunt of the LRA insurgency for more than a decade. This organization deploy a number of ICT tools including mobile phones, toll free lines and other strategies to ensure that the falling health in the communities of Northern Uganda and the country in general which is largely criticized is not on the brink of collapse but yet supporting the rural communities. They have trained health workers and empowered communities to be more alert to report cases of theft of drugs in health centers and absenteeism of health workers. They have also empowered leaders to be more accountable to its electorates always giving feedback and ensuring that there is public trust and confidence amongst the citizenzry.
Meanwhile, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) through her iParticpate project conducts Research to understand the issues behind lack or for citizen participation using a number of ICT tools. Through a project on catalyzing civic participation and democracy monitoring, CIPESA has carried out needs assessments including surveys of knowledge attitudes and practices among individuals, citizens, groups and local governments regarding utility, effectiveness and security of using ICTs in citizen participation and monitoring of democracy
WOUGNET, an organization with specialty in ICTs and Gender policy through its project ‘’Empowering local people and communities to monitor district service delivery’’ critically addresses the inclusion of women in democratic processes through the application of ICTs. Technical and Democratic processes are in themselves inaccessible for women due to the culture and the gender structure in place. WOUGNET applied both methods and challenged them simultaneously. Ihub Research in Kenya through its project ‘’M-Governance: exploring conditions for successful water governance through use of mobile phones’’ [m-Governance] in Kenya, illustrating further gains towards employing the use of mobile technology in Governance processes. The Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance [CHRAGG] in Tanzania have been conducting SMS for human Rights has brought its services closer to the people where Tanzanians can report and obtain feedback through a basic mobile phone.
Moses Owiny_Facilitator for the East African ICT4Democracy Network [ICT4DemEA]
WOUGNET with financial support from the Swedish Program for ICT support to Developing Countries (Spider) conducted awareness raising meetings in the District of Tororo and Busia in Eastern Uganda from the 23rd -27th of September 2013. The awareness meetings was aimed at introducing the new project to the district and mapping stakeholders and partners to be involved in the Project.
The Senior Program Officer, Gender and ICT Policy Advocacy, Ms. Goretti Z. Amuriat met a number of District leaders including the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) and the Chief Administrative Officer of Busia, Mr. Okumu Christopher and briefed them about the SPIDER Upscale project in their offices last week. Mr. Okumu said that he believes that it will be one of the best projects in his district and since it is targeting mainly women, he is so happy about it and welcomes it to Busia
Meanwhile, the Resident District Commissioner, Tororo decried the state of Corruption and mismanagement of public resources in the district as well as poor active engagement of local people in holding their leaders accountable and welcomed the new project with open arms.
WOUGNET received financial support from Spider to implement projects aimed at promoting Citizen participation for improved social service deliveries through use of ICTs. This Project was originally piloted in Northern Uganda districts of Apac, Kole, Gulu, Oyam and Amuru/
Spider ICT for Education Network Workshop held in Uganda, August 28-29
Spider project partners at the workshop. From left John Sebaganwa (Open Learning Exchange Rwanda), Regina Monyemangene (Open University of Tanzania), Iryna Kuchma (EIFL), Tito Okumu (Makerere University), and Ulf Larsson (Spider). Raul Silveti (Fundacion LaPaz) participated via skype. Spider and five project partners within education has held a successful workshop in Kampala, Uganda where the Network for ICT in Education was formed. The workshop took place on August 28-29 and was modeled after the start-up of other networks among Spider-funded projects, such as the East Africa ICT4Democracy network. The project partners at the workshop were Makerere University from Uganda (where the project coordinator Tito Okumu participated), EIFL, Italy (Iryna Kuchma), Open Learning Exchange Rwanda (John Sebaganwa), Open University of Tanzania (Regina Monyemangene) and Fundacion LaPaz, Bolivia (Raul Silveti). During the first day, each project partners introduced their organizations and projects at the workshop and shared what they perceived benefits and challenges for their respective projects to join a network. Generally, the major benefits were the possibility to exchange experiences and resources, the potential of a platform for higher visibility of project results, and possibility to collaborate on joint project applications in the future. It was agreed that forming a network would be beneficial for all participating projects. During the second day the practical aspects of forming a network was discuss. To our help we had Ashnah Kalemera of CIPESA who was the first facilitator for the East Africa ICT4Democracy network. She gave valuable tips and experiences. A Memorandum of Understanding was drafted and agreed on by all partners present. As facilitator for the network Tito Okumu of Makerere University was selected. The network has set up an ambitious plan of activities for the coming year which aims to produce the outcomes of: • Having established a collaborative platform for ICT in Education as a community of practice sharing knowledge, resources and expertise within the network and globally • Having good practices on ICT in Education disseminated.
In its April 2013 publication, the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network – of which CIPESA is a member – highlights stories and experiences from the field.
Download the full publication here.
The network is premised on the recognition that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) enhances communication and the right to freedom of expression, as well as the right to seek, receive and impart information. In this respect, ICT has the potential to increase citizens’ participation in decision-making processes, thus strengthening democratisation.