East Africa is Ready for Civic Technology

With each passing day, the topic of civic technology seems to intensify and get more interesting. We know now that data is the next big thing for both governments and citizens. In this vein, the Collaboration in International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with Outbox hosted a group of passionate and young citizens on July 4th, 2017 to showcase the most promising social and civic tech tools within the local Ugandan ecosystem.

But what made this event tick?

A topic that has largely been marginalized or ignored, civic technology is finally grabbing the attention of governments, CSOs, citizens and even the private sector. Still nascent, it is an area that needs more time and understanding to fully grasp and appreciate. This event was aimed towards creating awareness among civil society actors and push for the adoption of civic technologies through presentations, debates and networking opportunities.

The ICT For Democracy dialogue (#ICT4Dem), an initiative undertaken by CIPESA in Uganda has embarked on a series of events showcasing innovation in social and civic tech geared at increasing knowledge and awareness, and promoting opportunities for collaboration among technologists and actors in the transparency, accountability and human rights arena in the three East African. As access to information and communication technologies (ICT) has continued to grow across Africa, so have technology-based initiatives that enable social accountability and the participation of citizens in promoting transparency and accountability in government operations.

Among the initiatives that were discussed and presented by the various stakeholders, Mr Richard Zulu the programs head at Outbox threw a light on the many programs that have been put in play to help train data journalists to spread the ‘gospel’ of Civic Tech to the world that least understands it. In partnership with Code for Africa, Mr Zulu noted that there are many programs that are going to be rolled to the public and most importantly the citizens to make them know about civic engagement. Programs such as Hack/Hackers under Code Africa and led by Code Uganda have been made open to the public for learning opportunities on reporting the many civic tech initiatives that have been built to help citizens.

A program that particularly stood out is Parliament Watch, an initiative of journalists and activists tasked to keep the parliament in check by delivering accurate data and statistics from parliament and availing them to the public. They presented their findings on how they have made data more understandable through their social media platforms and encouraging civic engagement. Others presented included:

  • Yogera: A platform to link government and citizens, including a “wall of shame” for incompetent government officials
  • User.ug: A citizen feedback portal hosted by KCCA that leverages open data
  • m-Omulimisa: A mobile agriculture extension service platform that connects farmers and duty bearers based off of SMS and web
  • Huru Map: A tool that integrates census data on one platform for increased accountability
  • PesaCheck: A platform that helps to fact check online publications by encouraging media to police themselves

In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, there is a growing number of government portals for public sector information (PSI) provision, responding to complaints about quality of public services or for corruption whistle-blowing, and generally making PSI more readily available, such as open data portals and budget information websites. Mr Moses Ocero, the Assistant Commissioner at Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, also attended the event to represent the government and provided a succinct background on Ministry and what their contribution shall be in the next few years to ensuring an open data policy to the citizens.

The dialogue brought to life a number of issues both told and untold. There are people, organisations, groups of individuals who have brilliant ideas and are putting data to their best knowledge and use and this in itself is incredible! These movements are aiding the sprouting of citizen-side eParticipation initiatives in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — in social accountability including quality of public services monitoring, in political campaigning, parliamentary monitoring, and generally giving citizens platforms to debate issues of community and national concern, including democratic governance issues.

The #ICT4Dem discussion was signed off by a insightful panel that dissected the topic “What motivates anyone to do what they do”, especially for #CivicTech. The panel discussion included Urb founder Ray Besiga, Joshua Akandwanho from NITA Uganda, Gerald Businge and was moderated by Bryan Lamtoo, a developer.

Where we go from here is something we have to ask ourselves. The onus is on us to either take it on or sleep on it. One thing for sure is that East Africa is ready to take on the challenge.

Written by Pius Enywaru

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