This is the most Effective Technology to Promote Accountability, and no it is not Facebook

In a recent survey of 23 non-profit organizations, working in 18 countries in West Africa, on making their government accountable, 86% affirmed that the radio had become a useful tool in mobilizing citizens to take action. 74% of the respondents also said that Radio is the most effective tool to use in getting a response from a government agency. Furthermore, in my case study of 9 non – profit organization in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, I found out that the most effective technology tool to mobilize citizens and also to get government response is the Radio. Its reach, cost-effectiveness, and popular culture set it apart from new technologies such as Facebook and Twitter whose growing penetration are stagnated by the accessibility and affordability of the internet in this region.

23 Non Profits working on Transparency and Accountability in West Africa told us the most effective accountability technology for mobilizing citizens.

Almost every household in Africa has a Radio, and it has become the most used medium to get information. In the four countries – Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia, 8 in 10 people have mobile phones. The proliferation of mobile phones is commendable, which has also led to the integration of the Radio, and the Internet. However, only 3 out of 10 are using the internet in West Africa according to the 2017 United Nations World Statistics Pocketbook. Although one might argue that access to the internet has been encouraging in the region, I think its effectiveness remains in the kind of usage. For instance, does the larger population use the internet to listen to music, mobilize themselves or use it for intellectual research or discussion?

A recent study of the report published by Cable UK on the cost of broadband internet in 196 countries showed that the average price paid for internet in 10 West African countries is $226 in a month. In this region, six out of ten people live under US$1.90 in a day, as such, it becomes difficult to afford US$50 for internet per month. It is only a few people living in city centres that can afford to pay for internet to access Facebook, Twitter or even read emails. On the other hand, with less than US$1 you can purchase a Radio, and get information from several channels. Nevertheless, one might not want to overlook the partnership initiated by Facebook with some mobile internet providers, in which Facebook is accessed free of charge on feature phones. Whether this will become a norm, we will see in the near future.

23 non – profits in West Africa told us their most effective technology tool to ensure government response

In Africa, it is not unusual to see people craving to listen to someone speaking in their local language. 22 out of the 30 most linguistically diverse countries in the world are in Sub – Saharan Africa. 7 out of them are in West Africa. It is a culture, and this is how Radio is used to take the conversation of citizens engagement to people in West Africa. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are put together in languages that are not inherent in West Africa countries. This might point to the cultural norms theory which indicates that media tend to establish the standards or norms which define acceptable behaviour in society. The use of local languages in radio programming is becoming more appealing to the larger population in West Africa as seen in countries like Nigeria, where stations using local languages have the highest listeners.

If it is true that technology is moving faster than the human race, then the potentials in early technologies like the Radio, might be revisited. Perhaps, several integrations to make it more responsive to 2 -way conversations might be a welcome idea. For democratic enthusiasts, if Radio is still the favourite media in which the bottom billion gets their information, it would be of interest to curate programming that promotes democratic values in local languages. Again, It is no gainsaying that social media is becoming popular among the young generation in this region, however, I can argue that only a few participate in governance issues on-the-ground. If you feel otherwise, or think something might be missing, please feel free to comment below.

These are some of the results of my research on digital tools used by civil society organizations in West Africa to promote democratic accountability.A more detailed version of this topic will be published in an online handbook titled Accountability Technologies.





4 Key Ways to Make Social Accountability More Impactful!

The Third most downloaded World Bank document is the 2016 World Development Report titled Governance and Law. Perhaps, for two reasons – There is a significant drop in trust for the government of countries (both developed and developing), as such citizens and government are curious about how to strengthen governance while upholding the rule of law. Secondly, there are now more people having access to the internet.

Cross section of participants at the Global Partnership for Social Accountability Forum

“Corruption undermines development. We are committed to radical transparency to solve government problem especially in service delivery” said Jim Yong Kim, President of The World Bank Group at the opening of the 4th Global Partnership for Social Accountability Forum held between October 30 – November 1 at the World Bank Headquarters. 250 expected participants flew over 50 countries and attended ten plenary sessions. My initial thoughts were what can the bank do differently, especially with political distrust in governance, and the quest for people to survive, rather than hold government accountable by grassroots mobilization or the use of technology (where it is affordable and useable). Amidst networking and meetings, I pulled off these takeaways, while hoping the bank, its lenders and monitoring teams will take heed. If you are paranoid or feeling Jiggy like me, please feel free to add your comments as well, maybe relief will come, after our medicine.

  1. For citizens to trust the government, the government needs to become politically accountable, and it will not happen overnight. However, significant progress can be made if the bank can create new metrics to provide loans for its borrowers (government of countries who still live large at the expense of their poor citizens). If there is less trust in government, the resultant will also be in the Bank as well. Perhaps, it might be pertinent for the Bank to re-initiate its approach of giving more emphasis to building capacity and institutions within developing countries. The Bank itself needs to start talking to political power by proposing policies that must address the underlying conditions that create corrupt incentives as highlighted by Michael Johnston in the Syndrome of Corruption
  2. In some of the discussions regarding technology, it affirms my experience working with government institutions in Sub Saharan Africa, that capacity to implement remains low. In my last evaluations of four countries in Africa, only Cape Verde has government official email. That’s not encouraging. The government in Sub Saharan Africa still lacks fundamental skills relevant to today’s business. It means government response to citizens yet entails the traditional method. It means the ease of doing business with prospective investors and regulation of private sectors remain tasking for both sides. Metrics could be developed on ensuring performance metrics of government officials are made available by countries requesting financial instruments from the bank. Radical civil service reforms like the thoughtful reshuffling of personnel and recruitment practices could be encouraged.
  3. The Civil Society Space is becoming endangered. Only 26 countries in the world allow people to freely share opinions, robustly debate ideas and hold those in power to account. “Government are thinking social accountability noise is becoming more and more, and also it’s becoming uncomfortable to the traditional development enterprise” Tom Carothers, Senior Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace mentioned during the closing panel of the forum. We might want to think that when the civil society has more capacity than that of the government, the government gets frustrated, and resort to delegitimizing them  – a case we have seen in most countries coming up with new regulations to shut down civil societies. There are growing threats, more than before. Non-Government Organizations and Civil Society Organizations might need to strengthen their legitimacy while aligning their strategies to be more social movement focused, in a way where the marginalized they speak for, act as advocates for themselves. How can the international community help? Already there are international principles protecting civil society around the world, I will think international financial institutions should step up enforcement in this regards, so this instrument might not just serve as paper documents!
  4. Technology is a tool and not the end while Social Media is not Social. In Africa, only 3 out of every 10 people have access to the internet while 2 out of 10 are on Facebook. This means a larger percentage of the population are left out on access, and maybe, affordability. What this might mean to me might be that a significant amount of people that vote during elections, might not have access to these tools to mobilize themselves. But who mobilized them at first to go to the poll? How can we learn from that, and use the same way to mobilize citizens to hold their leaders accountable? Whether we still need to rely on offline technologies to mobilize people. Prints, radio and TV  – That’s the real work for civil society organizations. In sub-Saharan Africa, 8 in 10 people have mobile phones. Not smartphones. But the silicon valley has moved 100 times farther away from its bottom billion, failing to realize that the feature phones remain ubiquitous in the hands of these people that we need to move out of poverty. When we can mobilize more people, “living no one behind”, perhaps the government will respond.

    What Participants said was their favourite aspect of the forum

Meanwhile, we should not let it look like demanding social accountability is going to be easy. It is easier where the literacy level is high. I guess. We must start from somewhere! It starts with people exchanging knowledge and networking in a forum like this. I will like to read your thoughts as well, and I look forward to reading your comments below.

5 Big Takeaways on Technology from the Radical Networks Conference

Because the world needs a radical solution right now, accepting to attend the Radical Networks Conference in Brooklyn, New York City between October 19 – 22, wasn’t a bad idea. It was thorough days of examining the exegesis of technology, and I think many participants will accept we need to re-think how we are churning out technologies and how it is being used.

Many thanks to Andy for insisting I must attend, and that there are radical people like us that will want to connect with my work. Likewise, this a core area of my work as a Reagan – Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).I liked the progressive but was the three days event radical enough, I think so. Aside from that, I enjoyed my stay in Brooklyn – bringing back memories of Biggie and the great poet rapper -Nas. At least a memorable get-away from the official life of Washington DC, and I would not have stayed without sharing this five big takeaways from the erudite presenters at the event.

Oludotun Babayemi at radical Networks
Cross Section of Participants
  1. It is more rewarding to create technology for community networks that meet the needs of its communities. For instance, a community might decide to build its internet and use the internet for sharing security alerts within its neighbourhood. An example is the Redhook Wifi in Brooklyn; Peoples Open Network in San Francisco; Commons Telecommunications Network in Catalonia, Spain. “Less is more, the initiation of technology need not be sacrificial, and should not be done by sense of obligation” Dave Evans mentioned as he relates technology networks to the medieval Europe where the monks have to abstain from sensual pleasure for pursuing spiritual goals. In essence, you can decide to opt out of Facebook and create your network of communication. I refer to it as your decolonization from “their internet”.

2. Technology is making us inhuman as described by Bret Victor in “The Humane Representation of Thought.” In the last twenty years, technology has been about the four rectangle screen, changing from computers, to mobile phones, to smartphones. The real representation of thoughts and knowledge remain in the print technologies, in the form of books. “The kind of connection you have with books is not same as the one you have on a computer” Noah Cawley, A Senior Software manager at Nike mentioned in his presentation. The rate at which silicon valley is churning out technology is inversely proportional to the way the human brain will adapt or adopt the technology. Consequently, we should be thinking of how to decentralize critical infrastructures of technology, so it will be easier for niche networks to co-operate, coordinate, identify and take consensus on their network.

3. The Internet Wave is not meant to protect you by default, and you must defend yourself and be tactical in using tools associated with it. “Social Media is cool, but Facebook is a fuss” Nick Briz highlighted. I think this is not far-fetched anymore with the revelations from the voting influence pattern of the 2016 elections in the USA, and how “powerful people” that can control the internet can make bots and trolls to pass false information to millions of people on the internet. Brannon Dorsey shared how he used bots to generate Terabytes of Data in 24 hours! Danja Vasiliev and Julian Oliver, known as Critical Engineers, defined the internet as a deeply misunderstood set of technologies upon which we increasingly depend.In as much as I agree with them, I also think there is the other edge, in which internet has allowed people to collaborate more than before, and it has taken more people out of poverty. However, in doing this, we need to pay attention to literacy, and those that do not have access.

4. Digital Literacy or Technology Education is Very Important. At the time of writing this piece, I have interacted with people in Washington DC and New York at three other conferences and meeting, and significant importance was attached to literacy and digital literacy. Between 2005 and 2017, individuals using the internet inhabitants has grown from 15.8 per 100 inhabitants to 43.7 per 100 inhabitants, while literacy rate in the world has stagnated at 80 per 100 inhabitants between same period. There is a new world order, as a community of practice, we must start to create space for digital literacy – how to tactically use online platforms, in a way that does not harm us. The greatest worry in scaling digital literacy might be Africa, where the literacy rate is lowest, but mobile technology penetration is rapid.

5. But if technologists or programmers are not paying attention to peoples core needs, how do we then reverse engineer technology that can change the society? “Technology can solve every problem we mention in the world” affirmed Alfredo Lopez of May First, who asked all participants to discuss what we can do better to make this happen. After a 30 minutes group discussion, out of the 17 outlined pertinent issue, we should be considering, education and governance of technology came out resounding. Maybe this might be the way to go, as technology alone itself remains a tool, but other factors like “edugovernance” might be worth focusing on. What do you think? I will like to read your thoughts on this.

Oludotun Babayemi
What the Radical Movement highlighted as Solutions