The role of ICT in citizen and government engagements in East Africa

iHub Research, today presented a report on a study they undertook in 2014 to assess how ICT tools are being used, for and in various aspects of governance in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This study, with an aim to bridge the research and insights gap on ICT use in East Africa, sought to answer the following:

  • Which ICT tools are used in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania addressing these four aspects of governance,
    • Access to information
    • Service delivery
    • Tracking corruption
    • Citizen participation
  • In which ways are ICT tools used in the above four areas?
  • What successes and challenges exist in the use of these tools?

The presenter Ms. Varyanne Sika from iHub Research Kenya said that In Uganda 1Government agency, 11 Civil Society Organizations, 2 Developers and 36 Focus Group Discussion Participants were interviewed and the rest from Kenya and Tanzania.

General Findings

There exist numerous websites, mobile phone and web applications for governance which are not used as often as the developers expected because of two key reasons:

Successful uses of ICTs in governance have been found in cases where nonInternet based ICTs such as radio and mobile phones (feature phones) are used, or in areas where forums exist for citizens to physically meet then follow up on issues raised using ICTs. Mobile and web applications, which are created mostly in tech hubs and tech competitions such as hackathons, are popular and hyped only among people who are particularly interested in technology and applications. Few people are reached through the app creators’ marketing strategies, if at all there are any such attempts. Radios are the most common ICT tools in many rural areas; many success stories were reported among the organizations which use radios to make information on various governance issues accessible to citizens.

Citizens are motivated by the ease provided by ICT tools to interact with government and CSOs. The use of ICT is increasingly diminishing the fear of getting victimised thus boosting citizens’ morale to leverage ICTs in reporting issues affecting them in society.

A key demotivation in the two-way interaction between citizens and government using ICTs is the belief by citizens that nothing will come out of the interaction. A demotivating factor for using ICTs in interacting with citizens on the part of government and CSOs, is costs involved in setting up and running ICT initiatives, limited expertise and a lack of incentive to use ICTs. High illiteracy levels have been a big hindrance towards successful implementation of the ICT tools especially in rural areas. Many organizations lamented about inadequate knowledge and basic ICT skills, which would allow them to use the tools appropriately, as major obstacles that limit many of the citizens from using the existing ICT tools.

Overall, citizen participation is the most dominant use of ICT tools from the interviews and focus group discussions we conducted. Citizen participation exists in forms such as, using mobile phones to share and receive information with CSOs that run governance programs, toll-free numbers, radio shows, social media platforms by both CSOs and Government ministries and departments. Participation by citizens is in reporting cases of poor management of public resources and sharing opinions on governance issues. Monitoring service delivery by the citizens is especially dominant in areas away from cities. Monitoring service delivery is through using an integration of innovative methods such as using digital cameras for evidence based monitoring, and simple ways such as using SMS to report cases of poor service delivery. Social media is mostly used by organizations interviewed to push out information to citizens with an aim of increasing access and raising awareness. This was particularly prevalent with civil society initiatives targeting youth.

When ICTs for Governance Work:

The cases in which ICTs are successful in promoting citizen participation possess two characteristics:

  • Involving low cost and non-Internet based ICTs
  • Involving physical meet-up of citizens

Combining two or more ICT tools has proven to enhance two-way interaction between citizens and government.

Ashnah Kalemera, the Programs Associate at the Collaboration on International ICt policy in East and Southern Africa talked about several tools that CIPESA which promotes effective and inclusivity in ICT Policy, Says OpenNet Africa was established in 2012 to monitor internet freedoms in Africa with a primary focus on East and Southern Africa. is a centralised platform for information on African internet freedoms and cyber security, including research materials, censorship incidents, laws on internet freedoms, online safety tools and advocacy materials.

OpenNet Africa is driven by a small and dedicated group of individuals who work in partnership with organisations from across the continent and beyond with the shared goal of promoting internet freedom in Africa.

Limitations of ICTs in Governance:

The report highlights the following limitations

  • User experience considerations are rarely made when creating ICT tools. In most cases government websites are found to be user-unfriendly.
  • “Those websites are ugly, it discourages me from going beyond the home page, so I don’t. ” – FGD Participant, Nairobi.”
  • Lack of involvement of citizens (who are the primary target/end users of most of the ICT tools for governance) in the development of ICTs for governance leads to poor prioritization of the citizens’ needs. Awareness creation about the existence of these tools, why and how they should be used is not done by the implementers of the tools.

Combining two or more ICT tools has also proven to enhance two-way interaction between citizens and government. In instances where no action is taken after making follow ups, the station publicly calls out the ‘culprits’ on air to put a spotlight on their failure to take action. This has induced fear among government officials who do not want their corrupt ways made public. When these incidents of corruption are reduced, citizens are motivated to use ICT tools to report corruption, as their contribution does not go in vain.


Despite the investment in ICTs in Governance by the East African governments, evident in the established policies for ICT and e-Government, the implementation of ICT-related projects in governance has not yet been effective in promoting two-way interaction between citizens and governments.

The underlying reason for challenges in implementation of ICTs and ICT initiatives in governance is majorly the design-reality gap yet to be effectively addressed by governance stakeholders. This means that decisions on which ICT tools and initiatives to deploy in governance lies squarely with governments and organizations running the initiatives. Since the initiatives are created for the two-way interaction between citizens and government, more successful implementation would be achieved if citizens were involved in the design process. The design process of applications, which are made for citizens, should involve comprehensive needs assessments and user experience design, which require adequate time and resources. Mobile and web applications that are created or developed in competitions such as tech hackathons do speed up the design process such that within a few days or a few weeks, an app is created. The short time taken to create apps in these hackathons does not allow enough time to involve citizens in the design process; the design-reality gap in these apps is therefore maintained.

Low-cost and non-Internet based ICTs are a natural fit for promoting citizen participation in the East African countries with respect to governance. A big proportion of the East African population lives in rural areas which, as yet, do not enjoy extensive ICT infrastructure as the urban areas do. This therefore makes it imperative that ICT initiatives match the infrastructure available and tech-savviness among citizens in rural areas.

The high investment of ICTs in governance is informed primarily by the potential and promise of their effectiveness in governance. To meet this potential, investment in ICTs for governance needs to shift from developing the ICT tools themselves, to efforts and strategies that reduce the gap between design and implementation of ICT tools and initiatives

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