28 December 2012

Africa: Using Mobile Apps to Spur Social Change

Rural woman using her cellphone.

Want to report a problem to an elected official in your community? There is a mobile application, or "app," for that. Want to bring attention to a pothole that needs fixing? There's an app for that too. With the explosion of mobile phones in Africa, Africans are catching the app fever. (An app is a piece of software that can run on electronic devices like mobile phones, computersor MP3 players).

In Kenya, under the slogan "fix my community," people are using an app named Huduma to denounce inadequate or missing public services. With it they can send a text message from their phones to alert elected officials and community activists to problems such as broken water pipes or report a doctor who is absent from a public hospital. Huduma's popularity has grown to the point that members have meet-ups, organized through the social-networking tool Facebook, to talk about pressing issues. The citizen-driven platform, created by the Kenyan-based company Sodnet-Infonet (Social Development Network Innovations), has recently been extended to Uganda, Mozambique and Nigeria.

Another app that is changing how ordinary Africans interact, connect and engage with their educational system is Not in My Country. The Ugandan-based user-generated platform, relying on data contributed by individual website users, is an untraceable and anonymous online space to report corruption at university campuses. Since reporting corruption can be risky, the founders of Not in My Country hide their identities, but remain active on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to encourage audiences to report incidents -- and thus improve the quality of higher education in Uganda.

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