Increasing political participation during elections through civic tech in Africa

The use of online and digital technologies in many African democracies is growing at a steady rate, enabling citizens to engage and hold their governments to account. The emergence of these technologies is often instigated by citizens who want to be heard and see a change in their communities.

CTIN interviewed three founders of African civic tech initiatives, two from Uganda and one from Ghana to get their views on the role of civic tech in the recent national elections in their respective countries. Ghana held its presidential elections on the 7th of December in 2020 and Uganda held its elections on the 14th of January in 2021.

The role of civic tech platforms during the Uganda elections

Story by: CivicTech Innovation Network.

“The role of civic tech is to sensitize the masses especially the rural citizens about their rights and expectations of them during the elections”, said Ivan Louis Pinno, co-founder and chief operations officer of Digital Women Uganda. Digital Women Uganda is a civic tech and digital rights advocacy organisation for women development.

The organisation used an online radio platform, to communicate with people in rural communities about the elections along with a shortcode which is a form of SMS to communicate information with the community members. The challenges the organisation faces in increasing political participation through technology is that “citizens are still digitally illiterate in these areas of use of technology let alone embrace it,” says Pinno. He also said that due to restrictions around policies, government and the internet, there was a lack of accountability and transparency during the elections.

Pinno admits that there aren’t enough people participating in political matters using civic tech platforms. Pinno explained that the engagement between citizens and political leaders was great but came to a halt with the shutdown of the internet. On the eve of the Ugandan presidential elections, the Ugandan government shut down the internet and when it was restored, all social media platforms remained blocked. Bobi Wine, the presidential candidate for the opposition party accused President Yoweri Museveni of voter fraud.

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