Thanks to ICT, government secrets get ever fewer

By John Walubengo |

Have ICTs enhanced political participation, social accountability, public service delivery and citizen engagement in East Africa in the recent past?
These were the research questions behind a study commissioned by CIPESA, a regional think tank focusing on ICTs in East and Central Africa.
In Kenya’s case, the answers are found in its recently published ICTs in Governance report. Some, which make for interesting reading, are highlighted below.
During the last general elections, Kenyans flocked onto social media platforms in support of their parties and presidential candidates.
Parties also embraced ICTs and used it to extensively engage with supporters in dynamic and interactive ways that were previously impossible.
Blogs, Facebook walls, Twitter pages and websites were constantly updated with real-time information about campaign events, meetings, party manifestos amongst others.
However, the ugly side of ICTs was later to emerge after the Supreme Court validated the hotly contested presidential results.
With the ICC case hanging in the background, many say that Kenyans opted for “electronic” rather than the “physical” post-election violence experienced in 2007/8.
Social media tools were deployed to mount vitriol against perceived enemies, along the usual tribal contours that define our politics while degrading our capacities as a united nation.
This ethnicised use of ICT continues to be worrying as we move towards the 2017 elections.
ICTs have proved to be a strong platform for enhancing transparency and accountability. Many government agencies have deployed ICT platforms to share documents that were previously inaccessible in their “hard-copy” state.
Parliament’s website has regularly updated copies of the Hansard, the Treasury has recent copies of the Budget, with the Controller of Budget regularly reporting on how it is administered.
Publicly procured contracts are also frequently listed and updated by the Public Procurement Oversight Authority.
Various commissions have also adopted ICTs with the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, the body mandated to ensure that the Constitution is implemented deploying a bill tracker – a tool for monitoring proposed, pending and enacted constitutional bills.
The problem, however, is that Kenyans do not read or visit such useful sites, preferring instead the easier route of embracing, without filtering, whatever they get from their political, religious and so-called FM radio “celebrities”.
The report observes that due to the high penetration of mobile services, the government has been able to improve services.
Mobile money markets have also helped in making electronic payments and reducing the risks associated with handling physical cash.
Notable mentions go to the Kenya Revenue Authority’s iTax system, the government financial system IFMIS, the Huduma Centres and the eCitizen portal. Local governments have also not been left behind, with many of them adopting electronic revenue systems such as Nairobi’s parking system.
The challenge, however, remains, in that corruption persists both in the public and private sector. Just because money was paid electronically doesn’t mean it can’t also be stolen electronically.
Here is where Kenyans have excelled, particularly Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT). Using the power of social media, the report cites several instances where Twitter campaigns were mounted, leading to a change of action or policy.
#SpeechYa500K led the government to abandon flying the President’s Madaraka Day speech to far-flung counties at the cost of 500,000 shillings while #AngloLeasing got the government hard-pressed to explain why it was making further payments to shadowy contractors.
#SomeoneTellCNN has also been used to get CNN to apologise for negative publicity, while #TintedWindows spared Kenya’s middle class from a police directive that would have compelled them to remove their much-valued tinted film from their car windows.
In summary, ICTs have indeed come a long way and have played a significant role in the governance framework. We must be cautious, however, since ICTs cut both ways – they can be used positively or negatively.
This article was first published by the Daily Nation.

In Search of Local Knowledge on ICTS in Africa

By reviewing and comparing literature on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa, with a particular focus on neighboring Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, this paper examines whether the claims of the transformative power of ICTs are backed by evidence and whether local knowledge – e.g., traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution – is taken into consideration by ICT-based initiatives. Several key findings emerged, including: 1) empirical evidence on the successful use of ICTs to promote peacebuilding and statebuilding is thin; 2) few differences exist between scholarship emanating from the Global North and from Africa; and 3) the literature exhibits a simplistic assumption that ICTs will drive democratic development without sufficient consideration of how ICTs are actually used by the public.
Download the full paper here. New Portal on ICTs, State and Peace Building Research in Africa

Although the use of Information and Communication Technologies by citizens and governments in Africa is growing exponentially, there is limited evidence of how these technologies are affecting statebuilding and peace building on the continent. Where such evidence exists, it is often in diverse locations and hard to reach for researchers, practitioners, the media and government bodies.
In order to increase access to information on ICTs in Africa, the Centre for Global Communications Studies (CGCS) at the University of Pennsylvania has launched a new website that offers news and updates on research and events related to ICTs, peace building and governance. The portal features a repository of reports and articles with empirical evidence on the role of ICTs in peace building and governance.
In addition, the website offers access to articles typically blocked by journal paywalls by obtaining pre-print versions of articles from authors.
As a partner in CGCS’s project titled “Reframing Local Knowledge: ICTs, State building, and Peace building in Eastern Africa”, CIPESA undertook a review of literature on the role of ICTs in governance, peace-building and state-building in Africa, with a focus on three neighbouring countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
An increasing number of Africa’s estimated one billion people are accessing modern communication technologies. According to the International Telecommunications Union, as of 2013, internet penetration stood at 16% and mobile access at 63% of Africa’s population.
It follows that online service provision, placing a wide array of information in the public domain, an empowered citizenry that holds leaders to account and smartly embrace ICT, could potentially catalyse peace, democracy and good governance in Africa.
There is a considerable amount of research by scholars, government agencies, civil society, development partners and many more on the use of ICTs in governance in Africa, covering a broad range of definitions and dimensions. A central place to find this research has hitherto been lacking, which is why scholars, practitioners and public officials will find the new portal a vital resource.
The work for the project is being carried out in collaboration with the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at the University of Oxford, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology at Strathmore University (Kenya), the School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), CIPESA, The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies and SIMAD University (Somalia).
Read more about the project here.

Towards an African Declaration on Internet Rights

As internet usage continues to grow in Africa, so does the interest by governments to monitor users’ online activities. This has led to a clash between internet rights promoters and governments in some African countries.
On February 12–13, 2014, participants from several African civil society organisations involved in promoting human rights and internet rights convened in Johannesburg, South Africa to draft an African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. The meeting was organised by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Global Partners Digital in collaboration with the Media Rights Agenda, Media Foundation for West Africa and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Many countries justify their tough stance on internet freedom as necessary to fight cybercrime, promote peace and maintain national security. Whereas some of these policies and practices have been adopted by authoritarian regimes to retain power, others were in response to national crisis contexts such as hate speech and terrorism. Ultimately, the measures have often had chilling effects on access to information, freedom of expression, privacy and data protection.
Participants in this meeting called for the promotion of an open, free and accessible internet. Issues identified as the most crucial and still hindering internet growth in Africa that need immediate action were: improving access to internet including the development and promotion of localised multi-lingual content; addressing internet infrastructure obstacles; capacity building for users; and the need to create a balance between freedom of expression and privacy of users.
Others identified were data protection, addressing gender inequalities and gender-based violence against women online, and adopting supportive ICT policies that promote freedom of expression online and equitable access to information.
Due to increased internet freedom violation incidents coupled with regressive policies being made in many countries, the need for a well-defined Internet Intermediary Liability (ILL) regime has also become increasingly apparent. Another meeting held on February 10-11, 2014 organised by the APC with support from Google Africa discussed the responsibility that may be placed on intermediaries in implementing monitoring and control mechanisms laid down by the laws.
At the regional level, there are legal and regulatory frameworks like the Africa Charter on Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which provide limited protection for internet rights and the liability of internet intermediaries. It was noted that such frameworks could act as building blocks for individual countries to draw up best practices on ILL regimes.
There was consensus that such existing frameworks should be the basis for adopting a general guide with definitions of terms on Internet intermediary liability. This guide would act as central referencing document on which individual countries would base their national IIL regimes.
During the discussions, participants charted their thoughts on a best practice guide for an IIL regime for Africa by asking the below questions:
While responding to these questions, participants recognised that intermediaries can play a crucial role in promoting Internet freedoms in Africa.
Meanwhile, the meeting also reviewed recent policy and practice developments in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria since the 2011 Intermediary Liability in Africa research. It identified a need to increase awareness among different stakeholder groups of the importance of clear regulatory frameworks for intermediary liability to secure rights on the internet; and for stronger collaboration to advocate for best practice internet intermediary regulatory measures in Africa.
The outcomes of both these meetings will form the basis for the draft civil society Africa Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, which will be launched at the ninth global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul, Turkey September 2-5, 2014. The declaration will be available for public input throughout the period leading up to IGF 2014.