Tag Archives: ICT4Democracy
By Emily Mullins
In early July, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) met with members of the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) to discuss the Peace Recovery and Development Project (PRDP). First launched in October 2007, the PRDP sought to improve livelihoods in post-conflict Northern Uganda. Its stated objectives were to consolidate state authority, rebuild and empower communities, revitalise the economy, and to promote peace and reconciliation.
Individual projects to achieve these objectives included enhancing the rule of law, providing equipment and logistics to strengthen law enforcement, build and staff health centres, schools, and building roads, bridges, and market facilities. The plan also claimed that in the process, it would prioritise according to the concerns of the communities within which it was working.
To date, many feel that the ambitious program has not lived up to its hype and has instead been in a state of ongoing corruption and mismanagement of funds. NUMEC members presented cases of mismanagement and poor oversight, leading to devastating results. In particular, many of the contractors who were awarded construction projects implemented sub-standard work, with structures and roads crumbling after only a few years of use. NUMEC cited one example of a health centre that functioned as no more than an abandoned home once winds blew off the poorly constructed roof.
In other cases, contractors simply did not finish the project, cashing their cheques and abandoning the communities with half-built structures. In one such case, teachers at a PRDP-funded school are still living in overcrowded and poorly sanitised conditions, four years after permanent lodging was supposed to be built. One problem is that there is little or no accountability and oversight on these projects.
Another problem has been that of visibility. One reporter noted that citizens have difficulties knowing which programs are part of PRDP and which are non-PRDP development initiatives. The PRDP does not adequately advertise its proposed projects, so citizens may not even be aware that they should be expecting a service. When citizens are unaware of what promises the government is making to them, they have no reason to be upset when said services never appear. It leaves the government unaccountable for its actions, and wastes public funds. Without transparency on proposed projects, the people have no way to demand accountability.
The increased pushes for open data have, however, helped. For example, the PRDP has a website on which the Office of the Prime Minister – the initiative’s coordinating office – publishes budgets, workplans and reports. However, the danger in such pushes for “transparency” is that it can allow for complacency. Having marked the check box for open data, the government can avoid true accountability. Not all citizens posses the technological skills or resources to access the data and understand it. For many, the information might as well be in a different language, and in the most rural areas, where use of the English language is not as widespread, it is.
This is where the media can come in. The media serves as an intermediary between the government and the people. When the government provides the information, the media ought to have the tools to interpret the data, and turn it into something meaningful for its consumers. While rural populations may not have consistent access to the internet or social media, journalists have the opportunity to take the information from such sources and transmit it through more ubiquitous technology, such as print and radio.
With the availability of new technologies like geospatial analysis and infographics come new opportunities to tell simple, yet powerful visual stories with the data. Providing citizens with information empowers them to make better demands from public officials. As one journalist noted, “even if major news sources do not want to pick up a story, if the social media and grassroots sources generate enough buzz, they force the story to the forefront.”
This is not to say that the media should only focus on watchdogging. Reports on failures or mismanagements are important, but if the media only concentrates on the negative surrounding PRDP, it risks disengaging the public. For the public to be actively engaged, it needs to believe in the capacity for PRDP to succeed, and it especially needs to believe that its voice will be heard and that administrators will be responsive to demands. This necessitates, then, that the media seek out and also report on success stories. A hope for improvement is just as necessary to transparency as the recognition of failures.
The PRDP has the potential to help shape Northern Uganda’s recovery process, but it requires diligence from the government, the media, and citizens. It is within the power of citizens to force accountability from the government, but only if they have the right information. This is where the media can make a difference: by taking the data provided by the government, and making it relevant for the people, the media can keep the public eye on PRDP projects, both for its success and its shortcomings. The tools are there, it is only a matter of using them.
Members of NUMEC received training on the use of geospatial analysis tool, ArcGIS carried out by AidData Summer Fellow Emily Mullins who was stationed at CIPESA during June – August 2014. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from the George Bush School at the Texas A&M University, USA.
Growing the capacity of citizens and civic groups including human rights networks to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to foster free speech, human rights, access to information and open governance is one of the objectives of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network. Since April 2014, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) in Tanzania has conducted a campaign to raise awareness about the SMS for Human Rights system throughout Tanzania.
The system, which was launched on Human Rights Day in December 2012, has made it easier for citizens to report human rights violations to the Commission. In 2013, a total of 173,493 complaints were received through the system. Since then, the number of complaints filed with the Commission has averaged more than 100 per week compared to 10 per week prior to the system’s installation.
Given that CHRAGG has only four regional offices to cover a large country, the system has reduced the amount of time, inconvenience and cost to citizens for submitting complaints and following up on case progress, particularly for those in rural areas. The electronic case handling system has also eased the work of investigators by reducing their travel burden and enabling more efficient evidence gathering. Besides text message, the platform allows for video and image capabilities for complainants and informers.
The SMS for Human Rights System is a mobile phone based Complaints Handling Management Information System aimed at expanding CHRAGG’s case handling and tracking. An individual is able to file a complaint by texting the word ‘REPORT’ or ‘TAARIFA’ to the toll free number: +255 (0) 754 460 259. The individual receives a text message confirming receipt of the complaint. Thereafter, a follow up phone call is made by investigators at the Commission to obtain further information, authenticate the report and assign the individual a reference number. The same number can be used to track the progress of a complaint by texting the word ‘STATUS’ followed by the reference number.
However, although many complaints are received through the system, many citizens, particularly on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, were not aware of its existence. With an estimated population of 45 million people, Tanzania has about 28 million mobile phone subscriptions representing a teledensity of 61 phones per 100 inhabitants.
The system’s awareness campaign launch in Zanzibar in April was officiated by CHRAGG’s Commissioner Zahor Kharmis. CHRAGG’s Director of Human Rights Francis Nzuki and Wilfred Warioba, the Head of Management Information System Unit demonstrated how the system works and fielded questions from the attendees who included journalists, representatives from civil society organisations and ordinary citizens.
The event was televised live on Television Zanzibar (TVZ) and broadcast on Coconut FM radio station. It was also featured on Zanzibar Broadcasting TV and Radio, Independent TV, Radio Coconut, Radio Chuchu, Radio Hits, Radio Zenj, Radio Alnoor and two local print newspapers.
Since the launch, two public awareness meetings have been held in the North Unguja and Urban West regions of Zanzibar island. Furthermore, five similar events have been held in Mtwara, KilwaKivinje, Pwani and Dar es Salaam regions on the mainland.
In addition to the meetings, over four million print leaflets have been distributed encouraging citizens to seek redress for human rights violations particularly in the areas of poor service delivery, police brutality, corruption and employment rights.
The awareness raising campaign is expected to cover at least 18 more regions in the coming months. It is expected to incorporate nationwide TV and radio talk shows as well as social media as part of its outreach campaign.
Established in 2001 in fulfillment of Tanzania’s national constitution, CHRAGG plays the dual role of an ombudsman and a human rights commission for the protection and promotion of human rights as well as good governance.
CHRAGG is a member of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network whose work is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions (Spider). The network is coordinated by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).