Digitalizing Democracy: Initiatives in East Africa

By: Caroline Wamala
A number of organizations in east Africa are using ICT to hold leaders accountable, fight corruption, monitor service delivery, and contribute to building a democratic culture. The East Africa ICT4Democracy Network, supported by Spider, was launched in June 2011 to enable the participating organisations to have stronger impact, build a more sustainable initiative, and further enhance people’s capacity to act and participate in democratic processes.
Participating organisations are:

  • iHub, Kenya
  • Women of Uganda Network,
  • Kenya Human Rights Commission,
  • Transparency International, Uganda
  • Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance
  • Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa, Uganda

For further information about the projects, visit
The core problem is that despite the concerted efforts by international agencies, governments and local donors, ignorance prevails about human and citizen rights among the majority of communities. This perpetuates a culture of poor or bad service delivery across all sectors.
In the developed world generally everyone is aware that water is a human right, health is a human right, in sub-Saharan Africa, or east Africa, people are unaware of these rights, clean water, or access to health is seen as a favour.”

Ashnah – CIPESA at M4D2012 New Delhi

Informing people about their rights to government services is the first step to engaging communities in holding their government accountable to better service delivery.
“So we are not just demanding accountability, we are making communities aware that you are entitled to freedom of expression, entitled to clean water, health etc. so we are engaging them, and they are participating, they are knowledgeable…we are going beyond survellieng and hold someone accountable.

Ashnah – CIPESA  at M4D2012 New Delhi

 Are ICTs the road to democracy?
 While ICT can raise awareness on good governance, spread information on human and citizen rights and help monitor service delivery, it is “merely an amplifier, that acts within the environment it is embedded in. ICT is not the panacea none of our projects think or say that technology is the answer, technology is probably solving 5% of the problem, the other 95% requires us as a people to come together. As long as the cohesion and symbiotic relationships in this network continue these projects will explode into some serious change and become sustainable, we are working together and mobile technology is creating effective change and the same model can be applied in other places, we are building something by learning from each other.

Angela and Hilda – iHub at the M4D2012 Conference in Delhi

 Caroline Wamala is Project officer at Spider and post-doc researcher at Karlstad University.
This article was published by the Swedish Programme on ICTs for Developing regions (SPIDER) on April 18, 2012, about the ICT4Democracy in East Africa project, which brings together various partners in the region – among them CIPESA – Editor

Uganda: The Challenge of Accessing Public Information

The inhabitants of Bushenyi District in Uganda have seen their right to access in­formation blatantly violated by public bodies; reflecting the plight of thousands of ordinary citizens who wish to hold their leaders account­able.
Unusual and suspicious delays in the execution of a contract to build a new sta­dium in the District of Bushenyi amid rumours that the District had issued certificates against which payments were made when work had not been done prompted this community led by Civil Society Forum, a local NGO, on Decem­ber 8, 2009 to demonstrate and file a series of requests for access to documents related to the contract.
The first request was made to Dis­trict Local Governments with copies to the Resident District Commissioner, the President’s representative at district level whose duty is, amongst others, to monitor government pro­grammes on the President’s behalf.
With a mute response from local au­thorities, the residents again led by Civil Soci­ety Forum brought the matter to the attention of the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister as well as the De­partment of Ethics and Integrity, Office of the President in December 2010. Still these efforts did not help citizens get the documents or the contract executed as required.
The contract entailed improving and constructing a stadium in the district at the cost of 906 million Ugandan Shillings (about $ 377 500). It was awarded in 2005 to HABA Construction Company, an entity owned by Mr. Hassan Bassajabalaba, a member of the NRM Central Executive Committee, the ruling party’s top policy organ.
Facing these huge obstacles to enjoy­ing their constitutional right to information, this community had to seek external help. The Human Rights Network of Uganda (HURINET) stepped in and joined the CSO Forum to take the matter to court in the beginning of 2011. On the scheduled date of the hearing, HURI­NET lawyers were ready and attended court but hearing did not take place because the Chief Magistrate was reportedly sick.
In a letter dated 10th May 2011 (but received in July 2011) the District finally yield­ed to pressure and responded by providing ,among others, the architectural plan of the stadium, the four certificates of completion, contract agreement with bills of quantities and evidence of payments made. According to these documents, the contractor did not only receive the contracted sum but also took the Local Government to Court and won an addi­tional 40 million Ugandan Shillings (about $16 667) for breach of contract yet very little work had been done. Following the filing of the case in court by CSOs the District Local Government contracted another company Rose ST to com­plete the works.
These developments may be a vic­tory for access to information, but they also confirm how far mindsets in public institutions need to change from secrecy to openness to ensure effective enforcement of Uganda’s ac­cess to information legislation.
Concerns similar to that of Bushenyi were the basis for information requests made by Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) to the Uganda Land Commission, Ministry of Education and Sports as well as the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. All the three public bodies have refused ac­cess and have never reported to Parliament on information requests received in compliance with Section 43 of the Access to Information Act.
It is not clear why the Auditor Gen­eral has never raised questions. There is also no information as to why the Resident District Commissioner, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity did not act on the reports by the Western Civil Society Forum. It remains to be seen if the Inspector General of Government will take interest in the matter now that records have been made avail­able and clearly something went wrong some­where.
Republished with the kind permission of AFIC.

Uganda Revises ICT Policy

By Samuel Nabwiiso 
The ministry of Information and Communication Technology is developing a new telecommunication policy to allow fair competition in the market.
The policy has three core objectives: to create a conducive environment for the establishment of a fully liberalized technology and a competitive telecommunications sector, to promote the roll out of telecommunication infrastructure and affordable services, and to promote the human resource capacity.
Jimmy Ssamanya, the permanent secretary ministry of ICT, says the country needs a comprehensive policy that will address barriers blocking the penetration of services in rural areas.
“Uganda ranks among the least countries in Africa in as far as using internet is concerned. That is why the ministry must come up with a strong policy to address the problem,” he said
Ensuring that there is access to internet country wide, the policy will address issues like greater integration of ICT skills trainings at all levels of education, developing the National data back bone, reducing the rates of access to internet, among other interventions. The policy is a response to a study carried out in 2003 to access the performance of the sector, and what is needed to drive it forward.
On the issue of roll out of telecommunication infrastructure and affordable services, the policy will enforce the sharing of telecommunication infrastructures and other telecommunication resources among operators, and also develop a pricing and tariff regime.
“This business of every telecommunication company erecting its masts is going to be phased out with this proposed telecommunication policy,” he said.
The new policy also intends to establish the Uganda communications tribunal to hear complaints emerging out of the sector.
Government plans to meet all these objectives by 2015.
Source: The Observe newspaper, June 22, 2011

Seacom Expands Into Mozambique

By Farzana Rasool, ITWeb journalist.
Seacom has signed a master services agreement with Telecomunicações de Moçambique to allow access to the largest and most distributed fibre-optic network in Mozambique.
The agreement with the telecommunications service provider will see Seacom customers also get access to a diverse route into Zimbabwe and additional border presence into Malawi and SA.
This will allow customers in Zimbabwe to interconnect to the Seacom system in Maputo via Mutare.
The company says this additional route through Mozambique complements its existing route through SA, via Beit Bridge, and provides Zimbabwean customers with resiliency and redundancy.
Seacom, along with Main One, previously interconnected its West and East African cable systems, in order to provide connection between any of their points of presence (POPs) across Africa and between SA and Nigeria.
The partnership launched capacity services from POP to POP, from a STM-1 level and above.
“While efforts to implement a physical cable between Nigeria and SA continue, we have joined our cables together in Europe to satisfy many of our customers’ immediate requirements for capacity between Nigeria and SA,” says Main One CEO Funke Opeke.
“We hold the view that a ring-type system around the entire continent is the best way to attain adequate redundancy, while offering customers a comprehensive connectivity solution,” says Seacom CEO Brian Herlihy.
Source: ITWeb, Jun 22, 2011

New Trends in ICT Could Foster African Development

Addis Ababa, 04 May 2011 (ECA) – Experts attending a session on new ICT trends in relation to fostering industrialisation and socio-economic development expressed optimism on the benefits that African can derive from using ICT-enabled services, such as open data access, social media, FOSS applications, and mobile computing.
“Although Africa is not up to speed when it comes to internet connectivity, the continent has 110 million users,” said Dr. Tarek Cheniti of the Said Business School. “Africans are responsive to technology and we have to build on that.”
The session was held during the May 2-5 Second Session of the Committee on Development Information, Science and Technology – CODIST II. According to the Information and Communication Service of the Economic Commission for Africa – ECA, participants focused on the uptake of ICTs in Africa and emphasised that the continent has led the global shift as one of the fastest to turn from fixed to mobile telephony.
Participants were awash with examples of initiatives impacting on society –the village phone operators in Uganda; the optimal grain market information via SMS initiative in Niger; and the e-Care initiative in Ghana.
An alternative to the social networking tool Facebook has emerged: Asanja, boasts a quarter of a million subscribers. In addition, various imitations of youtube and increased use of professional networks, such as are thriving.
Mobile applications, such as Mpesa, the famous Kenyan mobile money transfer service launched by Safaricom, are changing the way ordinary Kenyans conduct business. In Ethiopia the ECA is supporting researchers in Addis Ababa University to develop a health communication systems and an Ethiopian (script) keyboard for smart phones.
On the education front, the one laptop per child project has placed 100,000 laptops in as many children in Rwanda, according to the participants, that number could double by the end of 2011. These laptops are not only networked and linked to the internet, they carry 100 books. The country aims to see all its children equipped with one laptop each by 2015.
It was indicated that tablets with the capacity to carry 1,000 books are now under production for distribution to children. Participants stressed, however, that although the laptops are very helpful for advancing children’s education, they should be manufactured in Africa.
On other discussions, the session learnt that African governments are yet to venture into open (government) data systems, which give free access to data sets or information sets produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities.
José M. Alonso, from CTIC (Spain) said, moving to open data systems, “generates economic return on investments via the creation of innovative products and services by third parties. It also increases transparency, accountability and democratisation of public data, and increases government efficiency and effectiveness.”
In order to reap all the benefits of innovations in science and technology, though, African countries have been urged to first have sound policies for agriculture, education and all other sectors, which could then be complemented by Science and Technology Policies.
–          ECA Press Release No. 61/2011