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We are Watching You! Tech helps Africans hold Governments to Account

By Loren Treisman Special to CNN | 8/12/2013, 10:39 a.m.
In Nigeria, a simple application created by developer Pledge 51 enables citizens to access their constitution by mobile phone and has been downloaded more than 750,000 times.

CIPESA has created a platform populated with information on health programs being implemented in the region and citizen journalists are able to submit reports, photographs and audio footage describing the real situation on the ground, whilst Voluntary Sector Accountability Committees established by WOUGNET are utilizing a similar platform to report on corrupt practices and poor governance. The data collected is being used by the NGOs to hold government to account and advocate for improved services.

In many African countries, youth often feel excluded from the political process. As young people are the biggest consumers of technology, platforms are being developed that enable them to become more actively engaged. In Kenya, Youth Agenda is utilizing an SMS platform to encourage youth to vet their leaders according to policies and attributes instead of along tribal lines. The platform is also used to gauge political opinion. The feedback is collated into reports which are fed into government, giving youth a voice and allowing them to contribute to the development of policy.

Until 2009, Kibera -- one of the world's largest slums and home to more than 250,000 people -- appeared only as a blank on online maps. This made it easy for government to ignore the needs of its citizens. Map Kibera has equipped young activists with GPS-enabled phones and has supported them in creating a map of the region, part of a wider program that empowers youth to raise awareness of the challenges faced by their communities and advocate for change.

Plan Cameroon has taken this process a step further in three districts. Once youth have mapped their area, they populate the map with data on service delivery such as access to water points, clean water and hygiene facilities. Local councilors and activists are utilizing this data to mobilize the involved communities to demand better services and advocate for change.

Technology applications can be developed anywhere and what's exciting about many of these initiatives is that they're being devised locally. Technology innovation hubs are springing up across the continent. These state-of-the-art facilities enable technologists and social activists to access high-speed internet, events and mentoring, as well as creating a collaborative environment that galvanizes the tech community. This is beginning to have a significant effect on the number and quality of projects being developed locally.

Homegrown solutions are often most effective, as local communities are best able to understand the complex local needs, behaviors and nuances. Some of these hubs such as Jozi Hub in Johannesburg and Co-Creation Hub in Lagos, Nigeria, have targeted programs to support transparency initiatives, thus catalyzing this process.

Undoubtedly, technology isn't a panacea for all social problems. And at times, such as when the technology utilized isn't locally available or where governments lack capacity to respond to issues being reported it can be entirely inappropriate. However, when combined with well devised programs, their power to reach the previously unreachable and to bring the voices of citizens closer to government makes them a significant contributor to the process of ensuring that government's best serve the interests of their citizens.