By Ashnah Kalemera |
As access to information and communication technologies (ICT) has continued to grow across Africa, so have technology-based initiatives that enable social accountability and the participation of citizens in promoting transparency and accountability in government operations.
In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, there is a growing number of government portals for public sector information (PSI) provision, responding to complaints about quality of public services or for corruption whistle-blowing, and generally making PSI more readily available, such as open data portals and budget information websites.
In 2013, Uganda’s finance ministry launched the Know Your Budget portal with government budget expenditure and plans for national and local levels. Citizens are able to interrogate the data and provide feedback or ask questions about budgets for different administrative units. In Kenya, the National Treasury has since 2007 published online its budgets and expenditure figures, offering citizens the opportunity to interrogate the numbers and raise queries to the treasury and to oversight bodies such as parliament.
Similarly, Tanzania developed the Wananchi Portal (or Citizens’ Portal) as a channel for receiving complaints from citizens about the quality of public services. A comparable initiative in Uganda is an ICT platform that enables citizens to provide information and tip-offs to the government anti-corruption ombudsman known as the Inspectorate of Government (IG). Using the IG’s SMS Corruption Tracker, a case can be reported to the ombudsman via the website or through texting Corrupt to 6009 toll free.
The various initiatives in the three countries are improving duty bearers’ use of ICT to provide information and get feedback from citizens, and a growing (but still unsatisfactory) number of leaders are becoming active users of ICT, particularly social media. This is aiding the sprouting of citizen-side eParticipation initiatives in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – in social accountability including quality of public services monitoring, in political campaigning, parliamentary monitoring, and generally giving citizens platforms to debate issues of community and national concern, including democratic governance issues.
Uganda’s Parliament Watch and Kenya’s Mzalendo use social media to monitor the performance of parliamentarians. Also in Uganda, civic groups such as Women of Uganda Network and ToroDev use Ushahidi for citizens to report on service delivery failures and thereby compelling duty bearers to take remedial action. Similarly, Transparency International’s Stop Health Worker Absenteeism initiative enables citizens in Northern Uganda to report health service delivery failures via a toll free call centre.
However, despite having a vibrant mobile and web application development sector in East Africa, partly driven by innovation hubs such as Buni, iHub, Outbox and Hive Colab, whose patrons are mostly youths, there is still a gap in the appreciation of innovation related to civic engagement and social accountability. This is a reflection of how distant the local tech industry and many youth in East Africa are from engaging in democratic and governance processes.
Indeed, according to research conducted by iHub in 2015, there was growing interest in web and mobile applications innovation in support of civic participation, service delivery, transparency and accountability across the region. However, the “hype” remained within tech hubs and tech competitions such as hackathons, often excluding other relevant stakeholders such as civil society, the media and government.
As such, CIPESA, under the ICT4Democracy in East Africa initiative, has embarked on a series of events showcasing innovation in social and civic tech geared at increasing knowledge and awareness, and promoting opportunities for collaboration among technologists and actors in the transparency, accountability and human rights arena.
Stay tuned for updates!