By Albert Otieno,
This is a brief summary of our preliminary findings from interviews and focus group discussions on thoughts of ICTs in governance from the CSOs, NGOs and the citizens in general in Apac and Lira, two towns in northern Uganda. One of the research questions sought to understand the challenges facing the society and how ICT tools can be used to address them.
Among the CSOs we interviewed were Citizen Action Platform (by The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition), Kubere Information Centre, Concerned Children and Youth Association, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, Corruption Brakes Crusade and Lira NGO Forum
For preliminary findings in the other Uganda study site, click here.
Lack of information brought about by high levels of poverty is one of the major challenges facing the society in the two regions (Apac and Lira); according to the participants of the focus group discussion in Lira district (Uganda), poverty remains a ‘killer disease’ affecting many people in the society. Poor people are ignorant even of their rights. A poor person has no access to a radio or the phone which means that access to information is also limited. Poor people cannot go to school. Service delivery is poor because people are poor; “The police complement the little salary they get by asking for bribes”, commented one of the FGD participants. This is in relation to the poverty levels experienced by the police officers and the fact that the citizens lack information on their rights.
Figure 1: A section of participants during the focus group discussion at The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition (TACC) offices
The importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in solving issues affecting the society cannot be overruled. ICT has been raised as a new feature in Northern Uganda in sectors such as education, health and agriculture. Radio is one of the popular and quickest means of reaching the wider public with information. Many NGOs such as The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition (TACC) and Transparency International Uganda have exploited the use of radio to reach a critical mass with anti-corruption messages given that it is the only electronic form of communication that is widely accessible and affordable for the rural communities to access information.
Figure 2: A section of participants during the focus group discussion at Amach Health centre in Lira
Daniel Okello from Lira NGO Forum notes that ICTs are important tools in promoting good governance in the society; however, they have to be made cheap and affordable for access. “I have observed that people tend to make calls on the radio stations at night when call rates are extremely low. This has prompted us to start a toll-free line in order to enable everyone to raise complaints and compliments on issues affecting them without fear of running out of credit”, says Mr. Okello.
Scenarios where ICT has been useful:
- The Government of Uganda started an initiative to develop Northern Uganda through a project dubbed Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) where goats were bought for the locals with an aim of supporting livelihood investment. “At one time some officials bought a goat and exaggerated the price to be 500,000 UGX while in the real sense the goat would have cost 3 UGX!”, exclaimed one of the FGD participants. Through ICT (use of radios and TV) the matter was brought to the limelight and the culprits had to face the rule of law. This is after the citizens raised complaints over the radios. The president received the news of the malpractices going on and commanded that action be taken against the perpetrators (those involved in the goat scandal).
- According to the respondents in Apac, the use of ICT in governance has borne some fruits; problems have been minimized through the use of ICTs; there is transparency and power has been brought closer to the people e.g. the use of toll-free lines has elicited courage and strength among the citizens in reporting issues to do with service delivery in the hospitals, schools and other important sectors. (See ‘Governance is for Non-Urbanites’, from part 1 of this blog post series for an interesting contrast). At the same time ICT has created fear among teachers, health workers and other government employees and as such majority try to do their best not to be caught by the ‘hook’, a fact that was attested by one teacher who was part of the FGDs in Apac.
The citizens are motivated by the fact that one does not need to travel to go and report-”You can report the case wherever you are”, says one of the FGD participants. The use of ICT has further washed away the fear of getting victimised; this has boosted the morale of the citizens to continue using ICT in reporting issues affecting them in the society. The fact that the organizations mandated to oversee transparency in service delivery are quick to respond also motivates the citizens a lot to continue reporting the cases whenever they come across issues that require attention of such organizations. This was true for both the citizens in Apac and Lira. The idea of using toll-free lines is also serving as a motivation to many of the citizens across Apac and Lira. Many organizations have realized the need for the same (toll-free lines) and have either implemented or are in the process of implementing them.
De-motivations to using ICTs in Governance
The key de-motivating factor when it comes to the use of ICTs in Governance is in regard to the cost. This was unanimous for both citizen respondents in Lira and Apac. Generally, the participants in both FGDs strongly felt it was somehow expensive to maintain the phone regularly. This is caused by the fact that many houses are not connected to the grid and as such majority of the citizens are compelled to charge their phones from the shops which costs 500 UGX. Toll-free lines have been a motivation to many citizens to engage with various initiatives. However, not all the organizations have rolled out this system; citizens are therefore compelled to use their airtime in order to engage with some of the initiatives (SMS and phone call-based ones). This, therefore, limits the ICT engagement levels between the citizens and the organizations since many citizens can’t afford the extra airtime cost.
Having successfully conducted our first round of fieldwork in Uganda we are now planning similar fieldwork in Tanzania (Dar-es-Salaam and Mwanza) where we hope to engage with citizens, government officials and the CSOs/NGOs on ICTs in governance.
*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.