1 August 2016

Uganda: ICT4D - 'Giving People a Chance to Speak Out About Bad Service... ' - Uganda Pioneers Different Approaches

There has been a wave of citizen engagement services in Uganda and they are all doing slightly different things. But they all want to give citizens the opportunity to complain about bad Government services and get something done. Russell Southwood looks at the some of the players in the field and speaks to Yogera founder Barbara Birungi.

Birungi was also the founding manager of start-up incubator HiveColab in Kampala and told me that the idea for Yogera came out of a hackathon three years ago:"We were looking for a way to speak out about bad service whilst protecting their identities. After voting, they don't listen to us... We did research before we launched. People said services are crappy but there's nothing we can do about it."

It has started as a web platform with a Facebook page but will add SMS functionality in a few months time. So how does it work? If a Ugandan goes to a hospital and is given drugs that are past their expiry date, they can take a picture with the doctor's slip and say I was given this at hospital X. The post will be anonymous so the complainant's identity will not be known.

This is the demand side and on the supply side Yogera (http://www.yogera.ug/) hopes to get the big Government organisations, regulators and civil society organisations on to the web site to answer the questions or respond to the issues raised. The civil society organisations are included so that they can take up issues with Government.

Each complaint will get an SMS saying that a solution has been found. It wants to get to the point where people feel that if they report things, something will happen. When I spoke to Birungi a month ago the site had only been operational for a month but had already attracted 2,000 likes on its Facebook page.

The biggest single topic in its first 50 e-mails was people asking for bribes:"If a single person reports someone asking for a bribe, it's hard to get evidence but if 10-20 people report on the same person, the police might investigate to find evidence.

Birungi wants to become the leading citizen engagement site:"We want to create a single space where civil society, Government and the public solve issues. If we all come together to create a single site, then leaders will have to come to it and it will yield much better results. Responses may not be solution but the leaders will know."

But how does this fit with an existing citizen engagement service like UNICEF's U-Report in Uganda (www.ureport.ug) which has been around for over five years?:"It has a few limitations but we will embed it into the platform. We want to be able to get solutions for people." U-Report has a network of young 320,970 U-Reporters (71% are between the ages of 20-30) who provide feedback and responses across a wide range of issues using tools like polls and petitions. The three most active areas for U-Reporting are Kampala, Gulu, Wakiso, and Arua.

So how will things look like in three years time for Yogera?:"We will have over 30 CSOs and all the major Government organizations on the platform and 100,000 citizens reporting... CSOs are interested in following up cases."

But what about citizens who are illiterate or who do not have Internet coverage or both?:"We want to be able to offer text and IVR so you'll still be able to report and we want to be able to translate it into your language."

Despite tremendous growth in Uganda's ICT sector, the uptake of new technologies is hampered by poor infrastructure, low literacy levels, high access costs and lack of local online content, particularly in rural areas. 80% of Ugandans live in rural areas and have very little access to information and decision-making about local service delivery, nor information about the performance of their leaders.

Now, residents in rural Northern Uganda, in districts of Apac (once dubbed Africa's malaria capital), Kole and Oyam will be able to use a new revamped version of the SMS platform, m-Omulimisa, to easily report service delivery issues, pursue the resolution of problems, and to hold their leaders accountable. Anyone can report a problem by sending an SMS to 8228 or visiting http://wougnet.org/ushahidi/

Whilst m-Omulimisa has existed since 2013, it has now been improved for easy reporting and receipt of feedback about issues of poor service delivery, via SMS. The platform is integrated with the crowd mapping platform Ushahidi. Messages submitted via the platform are forwarded to the relevant local authority. m-Omulimisa is an an initiative by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) who have worked since 2000 to promote and support the innovative use of ICTs among women as tools to collectively share information and address local problems.

Local resident from Chegere Subcounty in Apac district Grace Acheng, says "Our districts face regular service delivery problems, such as impassable roads, bridges that have washed away, absentee school teachers, low quality building construction at schools, and lack of medicines at our health centres. m-Omulimisa gives us a way to report these problems, as well as corruption issues."

Goretti Amuriat , Programme Manager Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy Program, Women of Uganda Network, says, "Historically, information about service delivery and accountability has been in the control of the district political and civil service leaders. We want to show how ICT tools such as mobile phones, radios and internet can be inclusively used as tools for engagement in which local communities hold their leaders accountable on service delivery and corruption. Via m-Omulimisa, sending stakeholders SMS messages about service delivery issues increases the pressure on local authorities/duty bearers and will stimulate action."

In recent years WOUGNET has already made substantial progress in fostering citizen engagement and government accountability, via various different projects. Just two examples include the repair of poorly maintained borehole pipes at Awiri Parish in Chegere Subcounty, Apac district and the construction of new toilets at Amilo Primary School in IIbuje Subcounty, both in response to community reports which were then escalated to relevant officials.

It has taken several years for citizen users to get used to using SMS health services. Most tech adoption is about behavior change and so it is hardly surprising that services based on tech should take time to be adopted. The challenge of whether there is coverage for SMS and data has over the past ten years become much less of a issue but still remains in more remote districts. The other challenge of illiteracy is not going to go away as quickly. Inevitably it will be the urban citizens who lead this kind of adoption but being able to establish that change does happen if you complain will be the key.

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