Paper: Strengthening citizen agency through ICT: an extrapolation for Eastern Africa

This is the summary of the paper “Strengthening citizen agency through ICT: an extrapolation for Eastern Africa” by Giacomo Zanello and Paul Maassen

It deals with ICT in support to citizen agency which includes to involve & inform communities and interact with and influence authorities

The paper focuses on what is already happening and where the potentials lie – how can active citizens interact with society & authorities with the use of ICT tools

The geographical area covered is Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda)

The research is based on an open questionnaire by Hivos

Key questions:

  • Which conditions enable citizen agency in developing countries?
  • How can ICT support citizen agency in order to influence the authorities?
  • Based on technological projections, how will ICT support the efficiency and effectiveness of citizen agency in 5 years time?



Civil society: seen as essential actor for promoting democracy in developing countries

Citizen agency: broader definition of civil society including NGOs, labour & student unions, …

The main reason why new ICT can help citizen agency

  • Bi- (or multi-) directional tools
  • Real time

The two main uses of ICT

  • Information and monitoring of authorities
  • Organize citizen actions

Examples for information and monitoring

  • Ushahidi: crowd-sourcing information on incidents and violence
  • Bunge SMS: tool to report to members of the parliament about the actions of the local government
  • Behind the mask: communication initiative for LGBTI activists
  • Global Voices Online: participatory news platform for developing countries
  • volunteer run project to keep an eye on the Kenyan parliament
  • East African platform for debates on various issues

Examples for organization

  • provides groups working in international development with email lists and webspace
  • Tactical Tech: international NGO providing human rights advocates with consultancy, tools, trainings & toolkits to increase the impact of their campaigns
  • FrontlineSMS: free software to turn a mobile with a modem into a communications hub
  • Nabuur: links online volunteers with local communities

Generally there is a big and vibrant civil society in East Africa and ICTs have huge potentials to assist these initiatives to reach their aim

It is no longer a question of technology – as technology is already there – but imagination, adaptability and time

The key is not complex devices, but usable and easy to understand technology – therefore it is important to focus on grass roots development instead of importing solutions

The prerequisites for a spread of ICTs in the next 5 years are

  • Energy – there is a need for alternative sources of energy such as solar power
  • Connectivity – the forecast in this study predicts a rise to about 70% coverage in Eastern Africa
  • Literacy – easy to use systems, voice command and local languages in applications can overcome the current problems
  • Income – new devices will cost less and be therefore better affordable

Another vital prerequisite is the need to find out about the desired use of ICTs for East African citizens – technology has to address the needs of the people

Therefore an interdisciplinary approach including anthropology would be useful

As seen above, for democracy and transparency ICTs have large potentials – including citizen journalism or election watch

The challenges of ICT in the near future are twofold

  • Networking between people with similar goals and for sharing experiences on a national or even global level
  • Give voice for global leaders and visionaries to give them visibility and connectivity


The original article Strengthening citizen agency through ICT: an extrapolation for Eastern Africa

I think the article is a good overview over the issues of civil society initiatives in East Africa in particular and the conclusions and predictions of it can even be extended to a larger geographical area.

It is once again underlined that real innovation always comes from bottom-up and ICT can release huge potentials when meeting the needs of the people.

I also definitely support the call for more interdisciplinary research on the ground to find out the real needs of the people – combined with collaborating with grass roots initiatives and empowering people by giving them possibilities to access to the world and connect with like-minded people.

I feel like the international research scene has given up the top-down approach already a while ago – but still there are way too many projects out there preaching not fitting imported solutions to citizens in developing countries and driving them into dependence of Western assistance.

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Paper: Strengthening citizen agency through ICT: an extrapolation for Eastern Africa
was published on 17.06.2009 by Florian Sturm. It files under east africa
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