People First - New technologies promote democracy, participation and accountability

Photo: Linda Essner

Facts

Mobile phones as a tool for democracy

Published: 12 September 2012 Updated: 23 June 2014

Kenya's new constitution, adopted after a referendum in 2010, focuses on the citizen’s social and economic rights. Questions concerning the management of public finances are also an area of high importance. These priorities are well aligned with those of the UN Millennium Campaign. With only three years left until 2015 it is vital to ensure that the MDGs retain their central place on the political agenda.

Half of Kenya's more than 40 million people are between 15 and 65 years of age and the country has more than 25 million mobile phone subscriptions. This means that virtually all teenagers and adults have their own cell phone and that the country has more than 25 million potential whistle blowers. In close collaboration with Sodnet – a Kenyan NGO that works to mobilize and channel social activism – the UN Millennium Campaign has therefore developed a technology platform that can receive and record complaints on failed service delivery, sent in the form of ordinary text messages.

The platform, as well as the project, is called HUDUMA (“service” in Swahili) and the ultimate goal is to strengthen the interaction between the state and its citizens and thereby contribute to increased participation, democracy and accountability. So far, most people have complained about health, education, water and sanitation – key areas of the MDGs. Many local organizations have been involved in the project, testifying that HUDUMA has given them a new advocacy arena.

Before the project was launched a baseline-survey, mapping how the basic service delivery was perceived, was conducted. The survey, covering 8.000 households, found that nearly 50 percent of the citizens were familiar with their social and economic rights, but at the same time they did not have a clue where to turn if their rights were violated.

The UN Millennium Campaign is now about to launch similar projects in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda.

Results

  • To date, hundreds of reports have been received by Huduma. It has led to, amongst other things, efforts to provide one of Kibera’s schools with functioning toilets.
  • Many local organizations feel that they have a new channel for their advocacy work. One example is KETAM, Kenya Treatment Access Movement, which promotes the right to health care and treatment for people living with HIV / AIDS. By using HUDUMA they managed to stop a ban on cheaper anti-retroviral drugs, and ultimately ensure that more people get the medicine they need.
  • Some 80 doctors have received information about the platform, and have been trained in how to use it. They have brought attention to problems in hospitals around the country, such as a lack of drugs and other resources.
  • The UN Millennium Campaign is now planning to start similar projects in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda.

Page owner: Department for Africa

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