This article was published by the Swedish Programme on ICTs for Developing regions (SPIDER) on June 28, 2011, about the ICT4Democracy in East Africa project, which brings together various partners in the region.
Recently, we have seen a number of projects, pilots and tools where ICT is used in various ways to promote democracy. Many of these initiatives have been launched in East Africa: crowd-sourcing platforms such as Ugandawatch2011, uReport and Ushahidi (and variations thereof such as Uchaguzi, Huduma and Map Kibera); innovative SMS applications such as Grid 6464, CU@SCHOOL, 3356 shortcode by City Council in Nairobi and Trac FM; and of course the widespread use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
We have also seen some challenges in ICT enabled democracy projects emerge: lack of government involvement, too much government involvement (i.e. surveillance, filtering and censorship), low community involvement and problems sustaining the community involvement over time, expensive marketing strategies and reaching out campaigns, lack of visibility, how to show impact… The list can be made long.
In November 2010, Spider together with Association for Progressive Communications (APC), organized a Governance Stakeholder Workshop in Kampala, Uganda and invited East African organizations who could bring in important and valuable insight to the area of ICT, democracy and development. Following this workshop, Spider received concept papers and project proposals in the field of ICT and democracy and after reviewing the applications, identified several overlaps and areas in the project proposals that could benefit from a collaborative and stronger ICT for democracy program. The aim of the program is to synergize and compliment the individual projects with the ambition of possibly creating a network hub that deals in democracy through the use of ICTs.
A follow-up two-day workshop in Kampala in May 2011, brought together partners with various strengths who all lauded the idea of a program and expanding their individual existing networks. The Partners have different expertise that together will create greater impact:
Kenya Human Rights Commission has been in existence since 1992 and is the oldest partner among the projects. KHRC have for 19 years advocated for constitutional reforms within the area of human rights. As such they are currently looking at incorporating ICTs in their work, and this is an area that their partner iHUB also in Kenya has expertise in and can be of significant assistance. iHUB’s strength and expertise lie in their technical knowledge and solutions which they are now marrying to governance and democracy advocacy in Kenya and area they are relatively new at. Both Kenyan partners expressed interest and support for the idea of a program approach because in this case they can work together to strengthen each other’s weaknesses.
Women of Uganda Network has for the past 11 years worked with women’s groups and organizations promoting the use of ICTs to share information and address various social issues. WOUGNET’s vision is a society in which women are empowered through the use of ICTs for sustainable development. This strong gender-awareness in their ICT programs provides an opportunity for the ICT for Democracy program to ensure that activities and plans by each partner maintain gender sensitivity in their deployment. As these organizations will look at addressing social accountability in various rural regions in the region, Transparency International the Ugandan Chapter, with expertise in awareness and anti-corruption campaigning will be assisting the other partners in this area. TIU in turn expressed the need for help in addressing the communities with a gender-lens.
Towards the end of the workshop, the partners all advocated for regional facilitation of the program, and unanimously selected Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). CIPESA by virtue of their experience in collaborative efforts was identified as the ideal partner to facilitate the cooperation and activities planned by the partners. CIPESA similarly look to KHRC, TIU, WOUGNET and iHUB to assist them in working with technology and with grass-root communities, and with CIPESA’s experience in Policy driven research changes, this program should have an all-round impact not just to the local communities where the activities will be anchored for the next 2 years but to overall policy.
Source: SPIDER newsletter, June 28, 2011