ICT for Democracy in East Africa: Project Update

By Ashnah Kalemera

Launched in May 2011, ICT for Democracy in East Africa (ICT4DemEA) is a network of organisations undertaking collaborative projects where Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is used in various ways to promote transparency, accountability and democracy.

The network, with seed funding from the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (Spider) comprises of organisations in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. These are the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET); Transparency International Uganda (TIU); The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA); iHub (Kenya) the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and Tanzania’s Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG).

The projects spearheaded by each organisation leverage on ICT with the aim to fight corruption, enhance the right to freedom of expression, monitor service delivery, hold leaders accountable and encourage civic participation. During the recently concluded Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi, September 27-30, 2011, the regional network partners met to discuss the progress of their projects.

iHub, Nairobi’s technical and solutions centre, is conducting exploratory research into the conditions for mobile as a successful tool for improved governance in Kenya. Desk research is underway to identify a Kenyan definition of “good governance” and the weakest areas of governance in Kenya. This is to be based on global indices and will engage the United Nations, Strathmore and Jomo Kenyatta Universities, Huduma and SODNET (Social Development Network), among others. This October, iHub is due to host a workshop with Kenyan Governance experts and iHub’s application developer community, conduct expert interviews as well as pilot questionnaires in five [yet to be decided] areas of Nairobi. Besides, iHub is studying the different mobile and web applications out there as well as lessons learned from existing mobile governance efforts.

KHRC’s has identified and sensitised grassroots based Human Rights Networks (HURINETs) in the use of social media. Through the HURINETs, databases have been developed for an SMS and crowd-sourcing platform. With little ICT expertise, KHRC is facing technological challenges and is in the process of identifying suitable platforms and contracting developers. In the meantime, it is exploring collaboration with iHub (technical) and CIPESA (policy) as well as synergies with CHRAGG.

In its pursuit to empower communities through ICT to demand for better health service delivery in Northern Uganda, TIU, with headquarters in Kampala officially opened its offices in Lira on July 25, 2011. Since then, the selection and formation of Voluntary and Accountability Committees (VACs) which incorporate previously existing Village Health Teams, Health Management Committees, District Health Teams and Baraza structures has been successful. The VACs empowered through ICT to monitor health service delivery in Lira and Oyam districts currently have 199 members and have so far made visits to eight health centres. During October, TIU will be gathering user needs and requirements for the development of a database to support a short code SMS application through stakeholder workshops. TIU is working in partnership with WOUGNET, THETA Uganda, Lira NGO Forum, Plan Uganda, World Vision, Platform for Labour Action and Uganda National Health Consumers Association.

On the other hand, to enhance Ugandan civic advocacy and engagement and increase government transparency and accountability, CIPESA has entered into memorandums of understanding (MoU) with two grassroots based centres. One of the centres, Busoga Rural Open Source & Development Initiative (BROSDI), is a non-profit centre working to improve rural livelihoods and the second is the local government-run Kasese eSociety. The MOUs provide for CIPESA’s training of centre staff in citizen journalism and the undertaking and reporting on surveys, focus group discussions and polls on prevailing governance, political and service delivery issues. The centres are responsible for mobilising organised groups to join a Network of users and advocates in the use of ICTs to improve citizen participation as well as reporting on the activities and developments in the work of mobilised network organisations. The contact details of centre visitors and collaborators are being collected to receive regular informative SMSs and emails from CIPESA on governance issues and how citizens can play a role in them.

An analysis by CIPESA of Ugandan policies and practices that enhance (or undermine) eDemocracy is well underway. The output of this will be briefing papers and fact sheets targeting policy makers and the media. Already published is a briefing note that explains the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The Partnership, launched on September 20, 2011 aims to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. CIPESA’s Open Government briefing (available here) explains the OGP, looks at OGP indicators and prospects in selected African countries (Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa), and explores the role ICT could play in catalysing the achievement of open governance in Africa.

Similar to TIU, WOUGNET has also started its work to empower local people and communities in monitoring service delivery through ICTs. Its project is targeted at five districts in Northern Uganda: Apac, Oyam, Kole, Amuru and Gulu. The project, in its preliminary stages has so far seen mobilisation exercises undertaken in Gulu and Amuru. The sub-counties and parishes to work with in the two districts have been identified. WOUGNET is currently exploring a partnership with Track FM for radio talk shows to be conducted to discuss transparency and accountability in local languages.

In order to ensure citizens understand their basic human rights and the principles of good governance while dealing with the high complaints volume received, CHRAGG built a web based Complaints Handling Management Information System. However, the system is not accessible to citizens in remote areas and towns without CHRAGG branch offices. The Commission is currently developing and implementing additional features to the Complaint Handing System. The features via mobile phone platform are to incorporate text messages, image and video capabilities for informers or complainants. Additionally, the Commission is to send out information and also receive inquiries about its services through the platform. An MoU has been signed with the system design and development partner – Bessbrook International LTD. The Commission has also signed MoUs for collaboration with 10 non-government organisations.

Further information is available on individual organisations’ websites as well as the regional network’s social pages: Twitter ICT4DemEA and Facebook ICT for Democracy in East Africa.

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