Digital Activism and How Tech Helps the Push for Government Accountability

By Florence Sipalla

Eve Muthoni, a Code for Africa software engineer showcases some of the tools developed by the team. Photo: James Kahoi.

Kenya is one of Africa’s technology hubs. It only makes sense that this proliferation of technological innovation would result in using tech for public good. The November Hacks/Hackers Nairobi #HHNBO meetup focused on this topic, where we had a hack, and a hacker share insights on how technology can and has been used to hold government to account. Patrick Gathara, cartoonist/blogger and Conrad Akunga, a software architect, engineer and tech-entrepreneur were the guests leading our fireside chat on this topic. Both guests are influencers on Kenyans twitter sphere.

Increasingly, governments are beginning to share information on social media to reach the public that is already using the same platforms for diverse purposes. Despite the fact that many citizens are using technology on a daily basis, there is still a gap in the manner in which they are harnessing the tools to communicate with government to demand for accountability.

Kenyans are often told their online activism does not result in tangible results offline. This view was challenged by Gathara who cited Nanjira Sambuli, who in one of her newspaper columns said digital activism also plays a role in holding the government to account. “However, we can and must do more with our digital citizenship,” argues Nanjira who says technology can be used amplify the voice of the people.

Participants, drawn from the journalism and tech community, during the November Hacks/Hackers Nairobi meetup. Photo: James Kahoi.

Akunga together with Ory Okolloh co-founded Mzalendo an initiative geared towards enhancing public participation in governance by providing relevant information on parliament and senate. Through Mzalendo, citizens can access the Hansard.

The importance of localizing information, by tapping into issues that are of concern to people was cited as one way that enhancing citizen engagement with government. The important role of journalists as infomediaries was highlighted, as were tools developed by the Code for Africa team to help journalists enhance their storytelling.

Eve Muthoni, one of the software engineers at Code for Africa demonstrated how some of the tools like Tax Clock, Biscuit Index (compares county spend on catering/hospitality vs other services) and Wazimap (find, visualize and contextualize census and other data) work.

During the meet-up, a member of the #HHNBO community John-Allan Namu used the Tax Clock (which calculates how much time you spend working for the government) and tweeted his findings:

The community also discussed how tech can also be used to address the impact government policies and actions have on citizens.

Follow #HHNBO on Twitter, Facebook and join the Hacks/HackersNairobiGoogle Group for updates.

The worlds of hackers and journalists are coming together, as reporting goes digital and Internet companies become media empires.

The worlds of hackers and journalists are coming together, as reporting goes digital and Internet companies become media empires.

Journalists call themselves “hacks,” someone who can churn out words in any situation. Hackers use the digital equivalent of duct tape to whip out code.

Hacker-journalists try and bridge the two worlds. Hacks/Hackers Africa aims to bring all these people together — those who are working to help people make sense of our world. It’s for hackers exploring technologies to filter and visualize information, and for journalists who use technology to find and tell stories. In the age of information overload and collapse of traditional business models for legacy media, their work has become even more crucial.

Code for Africa, the continent’s largest #OpenData and civic technology initiative, recognises this and is spearheading the establishment of a network of HacksHackers chapters across Africa to help bring together pioneers for collaborative projects and new ventures.

Follow Hacks/Hackers Africa on Twitter and Facebook and join the Hacks/Hackers community Nairobi community group today.