Reflecting on ICT for Democratic Engagement in Uganda’s Rwenzori Region

By Ashnah Kalemera |
In 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.
ToroDev’s project, which is part of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network, has empowered local citizens in offline and online advocacy and engagement with duty bearers, trained radio journalists in reporting and promoting debate on accountability issues, facilitated quarterly accountability meetings between citizens and leaders, and supported the initiation of 15 civic groups in the region. The civic groups, also known as rural advocacy forums, consist of 80 members each, and are involved in citizen journalism and community mobilisation for the radio debates and accountability meetings.
Over the years, the project has seen increased levels of citizen participation and engagement. In 2014, each monthly advocacy forum meeting was attended by at least 50 members. Outcomes from the monthly meetings are discussed on radio talk shows. Meanwhile, 60 leaders at sub-county and parliamentary level participated in the deliberations and jointly with citizens drew up action plans, among them, the State Minister for Finance.

In western Uganda’s Rwenzori region, citizens’ participation on radio talk shows on governance issues through SMS, call ins, and social media grew from 304 in June 2014 to 4,835 by Nov 2014. See ICT4Democracy in East Africa Annual Review 2014.

Citizens have also gone on to leverage social media to engage in discussions on governance and service delivery. See for instance State of Service Delivery in Rwenzori Region, Orukurato, Rwenzori Journalists Forum and Listeners’ Forum Facebook with active membership pages.
However, at a national level participation of citizen in public affairs remains low. During the 2011 presidential elections, only 59% of registered voters cast their ballot. According to the 2013 Uganda National Household Survey, only 7% of households have a member that participates in governance at the local level, down from 10% in 2010.
The 2013 survey estimates that household participation in local governance in Western Uganda stands at 8.1% and the region boasts the highest proportion of citizens registered as voters (89%).
In the run up to the 2016 national elections, ToroDev convened regional stakeholders at a conference to reflect on the role of ICT in the electioneering processes. Uganda will hold local, parliamentary, and presidential elections in February 2016.
Speaking at the conference, Dr. Paschal Kabura, the director of Uganda Martyrs University Fort Portal campus, urged local citizens to take interest in staying informed of regional concerns that directly affect their livelihoods. “Voter apathy must be overcome,” he said, while calling for more active citizen participation in local governance processes through the use of ICT.
Discussions at the conference also included mainstreaming gender in governance processes. Goretti Amuriat from the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) highlighted the need for building women’s capacity to participate in advocacy and accountability engagements, and for promoting awareness of gender issues at community level. She also stressed the need to consider women’s special needs such as child care facilities at local government consultation meetings, and suitable timing and conducive locations of accountability forums for both women and men.
Amuriat urged workshop participants to fight “biased cultural attitudes” in the region such as only men being leaders, what a man says being “right and final” and women being undermined due to their domestic responsibilities. She said it was important for women to realise that such attitudes “are not biological but socially constructed.”
The conference provided a platform for feedback and knowledge sharing on the performance of existing rural advocacy forums and the potential for establishing forums consisting of local government officials and civil society organisations at district level.
“As a result of the work of advocacy forums we have seen water put in place for example in Mugusu and Katebwa sub-counties in Kabarole district, two class room blocks have been put in place in Bufunjo Seed school in Kyenjojo district, roads [have been] improved in Kichwamba, Rwebisengo and Ntoroko District,” said Tumwesigye Andrew, the leader of Bufunjo Forum in Kyenjojo District, during the panel discussion on the performance of advocacy forums. “We have improved staff in health centres in Bufunjo, improved accountability and improved participation of women in budgetary processes and meetings,” he added.
The conference, which was held on November 19, and 20, 2015 drew more than 80 stakeholders from the districts of Kabarole, Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, Kasese, Kamwenge, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko. They included district planners, radio, print and TV journalists, civil society organisations, religious leaders, advocacy forum members, youth leaders, district information officers and other local government officials.
The ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network is a regional coalition of civil society organisations leveraging ICT to promote civic participation, human rights and democracy in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Coordinated by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), it was established in 2011 with seed funding from the Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions (Spider) and is currently supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

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

Policy And Regulation Crucial to ICT Progress in Africa

Addis Ababa, 03 May 2011 (ECA) – The ICT, Science and Technology Division (ISTD) of the UN Economic Commission for Africa reported at the ICT sub-committee meeting Tuesday that it had concentrated during the year 2009-2010 on supporting countries to implement their ICT policies and strategies.
Ms. Eskedar Nega, Programme Officer said that the Division had extended its policy and strategy support to countries that made requests. She highlighted Burkina Faso that needed to develop e-government and e-health strategies and the Gambia that needed support for the development of its National Information and Communication Implementation Plan (NICI).
Other countries such as Mali requested support for sectoral e-strategies on e-commerce and e-agriculture, and Niger, the development of e-commerce, e-education and e-health strategies.
“ECA is trying to promote the need to build a conducive environment for economic growth and employment creation,” she said, adding: “We have supported in revising and adopting new laws for the ICT sector in Ethiopia and in Ghana.”
These e-Legislation activities include developing a national e-commerce law and supporting the newly-created Ministry of Communication and Information Technology of Ethiopia as well as reviewing Ghana’s cyber security policy and helping to set up a Computer Emergency Response Team.
At the sub-regional level, the ECA has been working with the SADC on eSADC, a programme aimed at promoting regional cooperation and trade in the region.
“We have received requests from COMESA and CEMAC and we are mobilising resources to respond to their requests.” Nega said.
The ECA is partnering with the ITU and UNCTAD, supported by the Government of Finland, to continue with its work on measuring how well countries are performing in ICTs. This work on measurement and evaluation includes: Capacity-building on ICT Measurement in Africa; Development of e-government indicators; Scan-ICT programme in Nigeria; Capacity-building for Parliamentarians; African eLearning Initiative; and the Technology in Government Awards (TIGA).
ECA’s collaboration with the African Union during the reporting period was also highlighted. “In terms of collaborating with the AUC, we have worked very closely,” She said.
The ECA is looking forward to even more work for the 2012-2013 period. Several activities are envisaged in capacity-building, advocacy and gender sensitive strategies.
Among the many lessons learnt, Ms. Nega said that commitment to policy and regulatory change as well as developing an enabling ICT environment was crucial.
“Where we have a clear vision to promote ICTs, to ensure political leadership at the highest level, member states need to ensure ownership by all stakeholders.”
The session was marked by a successful motion from one of the participants requesting the re-establishment of the Knowledge, Library and Information Service (KLIS) Committee. Following unanimous support from participants, the ECA will take the case forward for CODIST III. If reintroduced, it will bring back the number of subcommittees under ISTD to four including Geo, ICT and S&T.
The order of business for the ICT subcommittee included the selection of new members to spearhead the work of the bureau for the next reporting period. The new bureau included Gambia and Rwanda as chair and vice-chair and Angola and Sudan as first and second rapporteurs.
–    UNECA Press release