The ICT and Governance in East Africa study explores the various ways in which ICT tools can/have successfully facilitated or hindered two way interaction between government and citizens towards effective public service delivery, curbing corruption and increasing transparency and accountability. Further we are looking into the innovative ICT initiatives that have facilitated the interaction between citizen and government as well as the (de)motivations for utilizing ICT tools among the various stakeholders (citizens, governments, civil society).
READ MORE ON THE PROJECT HERE.
Uganda was the first country we visited to conduct fieldwork in July 2014. We visited four sites: Kampala, Fort Portal, Lira and Apac. (Find a brief article on how the study sites were selectedhere).
This article highlights some of the *findings from Kampala, the Ugandan capital, and Fort Portal, one of the towns in the Western part of Uganda. (In part 2 of this blog post series, preliminary findings from Apac and Lira in northern Uganda will be discussed).
We used semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) to collect our data. A summary of the methodology we are using for this study can be found here. In Kampala, we interviewed various Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Kampala, a government institution (Uganda Human Rights Commission) and various developers and managers of the ICTs used in governance in Kampala. Among the CSOs we interviewed were U-Report which is a UNICEF initiative, DevTrac which is also a UNICEF initiative, Parliament Watch Uganda and some of our partner organizations in the ICT4Democracy EA network.
Major Challenges The issues raised as being the most pressing on governance by the respondents in the focus group discussions, primarily ordinary citizens, were youth unemployment and corruption. These two issues were therefore the main drivers of any kind of engagement the FGD participants said they would engage with government, whether using ICT tools or otherwise.
Focus Group Discussion at Hive Colab in Kampala Governance is for ‘Non-Urbanites’ Despite Kampala being the capital of Uganda and therefore enjoying more ICT infrastructure, the participants at the FGD which we held at HiveColab (one of Kampala’s ICT hubs and a coworking space) were not as aware of existing ICT tools used in governance as the participants at Fort Portal (Western Uganda) were. The group of participants in Kampala have better access to ICTs given the fact that they frequent an ICT hub and live in an urban area which has better ICT infrastructure. On the other hand, Fort Portal, a small peri-urban town has less developed ICT infrastructure in comparison to Kampala, however, despite this fact, participants in Fort Portal were more aware of ICT tools used for governance in the country compared to the participants in Kampala. The group of participants in Kampala have better access to ICTs given the fact that they frequent an ICT hub and live in an urban area which has better ICT infrastructure. On the other hand, Fort Portal, a small peri-urban town has less developed ICT infrastructure in comparison to Kampala, however, despite this fact, participants in Fort Portal were more aware of ICT tools used for governance in the country compared to the participants in Kampala.
‘Toll-Free’ Governance One of the most dominant ICT tools for governance that we found in Kampala (second to radio in Uganda generally) was toll-free numbers, which are mostly government-led initiatives such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission’s toll-free number, the National Water and Sewage Corporation’s toll-free number, UMEME’s (Uganda’s power and lighting company) and the Police’s. The numbers are widely publicized in newspapers, on billboards, television and radio. The general feedback from the citizens who use or have used the numbers, however, is that the toll-free numbers work, but it is difficult to get someone to listen to one’s complaints or concerns.
De-motivation to using ICTs in Governance The key de-motivating force that prevents use of the ICT tools made available for interaction with government, is the lack of action on issues raised by the citizens. This was unanimous for both citizen respondents in Kampala and Fort Portal. Generally, the participants in both FGDs strongly felt it was no use trying to communicate with the government because nothing would change. We got a general sense of apathy and lack of faith in the effectiveness of citizen interaction with government from the citizens with whom we spoke.For tools deployed by non-government actors such as UNICEF’s U-Report, respondents were of the opinion that the tool is effective enough as far achieving its technical objectives, however they did not know which changes the tool had brought about in the country.
When ICT for Governance Works There are situations in which ICT tools worked to facilitate two-way interaction between citizens and government. Generally, these were cases in which citizens were taught how to use the technologies and situations in which simple and low-tech tools had been deployed. Examples of these include U-Report which uses SMS, community radio such as TracFM which has interactive talk shows and digital cameras to take pictures of the debilitating state of public service delivery like in the case of the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) project on Voluntary Social Accountability. WOUGNET’s social accountability project involves a group of 15 selected members in a district who are given digital cameras to report cases of poor public service delivery such as poorly maintained hospitals or schools, but they also share cases of successful public service delivery.
*Please note: These are not all or the official findings of our study. The final report which will be made available will contain comprehensive findings from our study from all the three East African countries.