The Impact of Social Justice Activism and Community Development Work on One’s Emotional and Physical Well-Being: Personal Reflections

Written By Lindokuhle Vellem and originally posted here.

It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half. (Wendell Berry cited by Macy & Young Brown, 1998)

Working with marginalised communities, what I refer to in this article as spaces of scarcity¹, is a fulfilling vocation, where one gets to witness and experience the liberation and emancipation of communities that have been forgotten and somewhat excluded from mainstream economic trajectories within society and even from political activities. As fulfilling as it may be, the job comes with its own challenges. Often, in building capacity, empowering, standing with and pushing against, as some of the activities one often engages in as we work in these spaces of scarcity, we have to make sure that they come out whole on the other side. That is easier said than done because the work takes a toll on one emotionally.

To read more, you can access the full article here.

Abductions and Disappearances of Government Critics Continue Unabated in Tanzania

By Tundu AM Lissu.

Once again, we must bring unfortunate and regrettable news from Tanzania. We must, once more, ask the world to focus attention on the deteriorating human rights situation in my country.

On Monday July 29, Erick Kabendera, a well-known investigative journalist, who has worked for some of the major news organizations in this part of the world, was snatched from his home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial and economic hub. He was taken at gunpoint by heavily armed men, who had been brought to the area in unmarked cars and without any identification.  Yesterday the Dar es Salaam Regional Police chief confirmed that Mr. Kabendera was being held for questioning in an undisclosed location. There was no prior information nor charge or arrest warrant against him; and the regional police chief did not give any reason for holding the respected newsman.

For all intents and purposes, it appears that Mr. Kabendera was abducted, and is now being held illegally.

Mr. Kabendera has been associated with some of the major exposés of human rights abuses and political repression in Tanzania in recent years. His investigative pen, for example, exposed the theft of Zanzibar’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015. How the Magufuli regime, and its henchmen, must have hated this courageous and principled man.

But Erick Kabendera is not the only victim of President Magufuli’s reign of terror. He is, on the contrary, one of the many in an increasingly long list of opposition leaders and activists, journalists, bloggers, businessmen and civic and religious leaders who have been targeted because of their political opinions. In this past month alone, a close associate of Zitto Zuberi Kabwe, a prominent opposition leader and lawmaker, was also abducted from his Dar es Salaam home. He was later found dumped in Mombasa, Kenya.

What is more, two weeks ago, a personal assistant to Bernard Membe, Tanzania’s former minister of foreign affairs (who is currently embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious war of words with Magufuli’s faction within the ruling party) was also abducted and disappeared for a few days before being released unharmed after a public outcry.

These abuses committed by the Magufuli regime will only worsen if left unchecked. The crimes of this regime must not only be exposed and denounced — they must also be deterred and punished. It is therefore high time for drastic actions to be taken. Financial sanctions, travel bans and visa restrictions should be imposed against all senior officials in the intelligence and security apparatus, as well as the ruling party political establishment and their families. Ideally, these individuals would be prevented or restricted from traveling or moving money and other assets abroad. These brazen human rights abusers would be made to understand that their state-orchestrated violence and terror against innocent civilians and the political opposition will not go unnoticed nor go unpunished by the international community.

The time to act is now, before it is indeed too late.

Honorable Tundu Lissu is a Tanzanian Member of Parliament, as well as the Attorney General and Central Committee member for CHADEMA, and the Chief Whip of the Official Opposition in Tanzania’s Parliament. Hon. Lissu is a longtime activist for democracy and human rights in Tanzania, and a practicing attorney. Between 2016 and July 2017, he was repeatedly arrested, unjustly detained and charged in court with arbitrary crimes due to his criticism of the ruling government. In September 2017, Lissu was targeted in a failed assassination attempt, suffering 16 bullet wounds The attack remains unsolved and no suspects have been identified nor any arrests made.

This article first appeared on Vanguard Africa.

Treasure Island: Leak Reveals How Mauritius Siphons Tax From Poor Nations to Benefit Elites

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has revealed a large scale investigation which reveals how multinational companies used Mauritius to avoid taxes in countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.

Mauritius Leaks is an investigation into how one law firm on a small island off Africa’s east coast helped companies leach tax revenue from poor African, Arab and Asian nations.

Based on 200,000 files, Mauritius Leaks exposes a sophisticated system that diverts tax revenue from poor nations back to the coffers of Western corporations and African oligarchs.

Some of the key findings:

  • Law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman and major audit firms, including KPMG, enabled corporations operating in some of the world’s poorest nations to exploit tax loopholes;
  • A private equity push into Africa backed by anti-poverty crusader and rock star Bob Geldof benefited from Mauritius’ treaties that divert tax revenue away from Uganda and elsewhere;
  • Multi-billion dollar U.S. companies Aircastle and Pegasus Capital Advisers cut taxes through confidential contracts, leases and loans involving Mauritius and other tax havens;
  • Officials from countries in Africa and Southeast Asia told ICIJ that tax treaties signed with Mauritius had cost them greatly and that renegotiating them was a priority.

For the full report and revelations go to the ICIJ website

 

 

Why Uganda needs new laws to hold police in check, and accountable

By: Sylvie Namwase, Post Doctorate Researcher under the DANIDA funded project on militarisation, sustainable growth and peace in Uganda., University of Copenhagen

In May this year Uganda’s Constitutional Court made a ruling that offered a welcome development for domestic justice for victims of police violence, as well as an opportunity for police reform.

The Court declared a provision of the Uganda Police Act unconstitutional and void. The provision allowed police officers to use unlimited force when dispersing crowds with no liability for deaths or injuries.

This is a big win for Uganda. The country has a record of police killings as a result of excessive force used during mass protests for which there is almost never accountability.

The decision is indeed a milestone. But it isn’t likely to have any major effect unless there is pressure for new laws in Uganda that set international standards on the use of force and firearms during crowd control. Previous milestone decisions by Ugandan courts have either been ignored by the state, or have been circumvented through other legislation.

The courts have acted before

In 2008 the Constitutional Court nullified a provision of the Police Act which granted powers to the Inspector General of Police to disperse public assemblies if he or she believed they might cause a breach of the peace. The Court ruled that the Inspector General’s discretionary powers were excessive and effectively rendered freedom of assembly under the Ugandan Constitution illusory.

But in 2013 the Ugandan Parliament passed the Public Order Management Act. This gave the Inspector General powers to regulate the conduct of all public gatherings. It also required all conveners to notify the Inspector General of planned public meetings in advance. And it granted the Inspector General powers to bar the convening of a meeting at any venue if it was in the interest of crowd and traffic control.

This effectively revived the Inspector General’s powers to limit freedom of assembly. The Inspector General has used this discretion to bar the public assemblies and activities of some political opposition and civil society groups. These decisions have been based on broad and unsubstantiated claims of security interests and crowd control.

For example, the Inspector General has banned music concerts by prominent opposition Member of Parliament and musician, Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine. This has included concerts on his private property.

When it comes to the excessive use of force, Uganda has a multiplicity of laws that empower the police and other security agencies to carry out arrests as well as to control and disperse crowds. The laws place no limits on the use of force or the use of firearms. This means that, despite the Court’s ruling, loopholes for the use of excessive force persist within Uganda’s legal framework.

For example, the provision of the Police Act nullified by the Constitutional Court exists in the same substantive terms under the Penal Code Act. This allows the police to disperse riotous assemblies by all means necessary without legal consequences for any deaths or injuries.

Other gaps in the law exist in the Criminal Procedure Code Act, The Prisons Act, and The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Act.

What needs to be done

Uganda needs a comprehensive regulatory framework to govern public assembly. This framework would balance law enforcement and human rights interests, including protecting the right to freedom of assembly. Without this framework the enjoyment of this right will continue to be subject to the political interests of the regime in power.

The same dynamics apply when it comes to excessive force used to disperse public gatherings organised by political opposition groups or those opposed to the regime.

A clarity and harmony of standards is especially important as there’s an increasing blurring of police and military roles in the country.

Uganda has an active civil society and a liberal constitutional provision for public interest litigation that can enable this.

As a practical way to ensure the Constitutional Court’s most recent decision doesn’t become another forgotten milestone, civil society organisations such as the Uganda Law Society can do two things. The first is to undertake a comprehensive mapping of all laws related to use of force in the country and determine where they fall short of constitutional and human rights standards.

The second would be to engage the police, parliament and the judiciary to map out a regulatory statutory framework. This would lay down more detailed standards on the use of force by all mandated to use force when controlling crowds.

These standards can be drawn from the wealth of relevant international guidelines. These include the 1979 Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials, the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of force and Firearms for Law Enforcement Officers, and the African Union Guidelines for Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa.

Reforms along these lines aren’t relevant only to Uganda. Recent civil uprisings in Sudan and Algeria show that people are increasingly seeking change through public protest. This underscores the need to get clarity on standards police should be obligated to apply against protesters. And to crystallise a legal basis of criminal liability for excessive force at both national and international levels.

The clarity of legal standards would ensure that citizens can advance democratic and human rights in Africa using peaceful means.The Conversation

Sylvie Namwase, Post Doctorate Researcher under the DANIDA funded project on militarisation, sustainable growth and peace in Uganda., University of Copenhagen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Defending Civic Space: Four unresolved questions

Article By Thomas Carothers, Director, and Saskia Brechenmacher, Associate Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The trend of closing civic space crystallised at the beginning of this decade. In response, concerned international actors — including various bilateral aid agencies, foreign ministries, private foundations and international nongovernmental organisations — are working to address this problem. They have carried out many diagnostic efforts and gained greater knowledge of the issue. They have initiated a wide range of measures to limit or counteract it, from setting up emergency funds for endangered activists and supporting national campaigns against new civil society restrictions to pushing international bodies, like the Financial Action Task Force, to take better account of the issue.

Despite these efforts, the negative trend persists. Every year, more governments take formal and informal measures to reduce the space for independent civil society. Attacks on the legitimacy of international support for civil society continue to multiply. Shared learning amongst those actors intent on closing space seems to be increasing at a faster rate than learning amongst those fighting back. Furthermore, new dimensions of the problem keep emerging. In some countries, a rise in nationalism or religious fundamentalism has led to new attacks on minorities and progressive civil society groups by both state and non-state actors. Autocratic governments are now using new technological tools to amplify their repressive tactics and illiberal narratives, both domestically and across borders. More generally, while the issue of closing civic space initially appeared to be a discrete challenge, consisting primarily of restrictive NGO laws and a backlash against cross-border civil society funding, it now appears to be just one part of a much broader pattern of global democratic recession and authoritarian resurgence.

This sobering reality requires the international community of concerned actors to think hard about how to strengthen their responses. In some ways, relevant actors already know a lot about the types of efforts that are useful, such as the value of supporting national coalitions to resist restrictive measures. But on a surprisingly wide range of issues, considerable doubt and debate persists. Some of the uncertainty concerns small to medium-sized issues. For example, some civil society funders feel that making their assistance more transparent will help reduce suspicion and pushback, while others fear that greater transparency will only facilitate repression. And while some hold that pushing local partners to build wider constituencies for their work is key to resisting attacks on the legitimacy of civil society, others argue that constituency-building will always be a limited strategy as many civic causes inherently appeal only to certain communities.

Beyond these important operational and programmatic debates, a number of larger questions remain unresolved in the minds of many funders:

Closing or changing? Is the overall phenomenon best understood as a global trend of closing civic space, or of changing civic space? In other words, should it be understood as a more multidimensional and politically varied development than implied by the closing space narrative? Some critics argue that the “closing space” discourse assumes a largely homogenous civil society that primarily consists of professionalised NGOs and, in so doing, misses how civil society is changing but not necessarily shrinking in many places. Such changes include an expansion of space for conservative civic movements, a transformation of activism into more fluid and informal forms, the multiplication of large-scale protest movements, and the emergence of new types of digital activism. If change, rather than simply closure, is the more accurate lens, what does this mean for how international actors should adjust to this new global environment?

Symptoms or root causes? Is it more effective to focus on a relatively bounded agenda of promoting a positive enabling environment for civil society, or should funders approach the issue at a much higher level, and more broadly fight backsliding on democracy, pluralism and human rights? Some concerned actors have the sense that responses to date have been mostly reactive, and that simply anticipating, resisting and adapting to new restrictions risks missing the root causes of the problem. Yet, if root causes and drivers are to be addressed more proactively, do we agree on what these are, and how to ensure that a broader focus does not end up diluting action or having a paralysing effect?

Global versus local? How can funders most effectively support local-level responses to the problem while taking into account its transnational and global dimensions? Many concerned international actors agree that effective responses need to be primarily located at the national level and be driven by local civil society. At the same time, the problem of shrinking civic space has clear transnational and global dimensions. Governments worldwide are using a similar playbook and engaging in repression across borders. Certain illiberal narratives also appear to be spreading transnationally through concerted cross-border actions. For funders, this raises the question of how to best integrate the global dimensions of the trend with their country-specific strategies and ensure their various efforts add up to a coherent whole.

To blame or not to blame? Lastly, have aid providers done enough to ensure that they are not contributing to shrinking civic space? Aid providers continue to debate the extent to which they are exacerbating the problem by imposing, for example, certain organisational models on the civic sector in aid-receiving countries that make civil society less domestically rooted and sustainable. Local civil society organisations still often cite current funding models — especially the ever-growing pressures for detailed monitoring and evaluation — as one of the biggest barriers to do their work effectively, independently from government restrictions. Some funders have made concrete changes in their funding practices to try reaching a wider range of more informal civil society actors, rather than the same usual suspects. Others face internal bureaucratic barriers that make greater flexibility difficult.

Ultimately, mounting a larger, more effective and more coordinated response to the still-growing trend of closing civic space is a fundamental challenge for international aid and policy actors committed to democracy and human rights. Facing these various unresolved questions and working together to arrive at consensus-based answers to them is one part of the task.

 

By Thomas Carothers, Director, and Saskia Brechenmacher, Associate Fellow, Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Originally published on the OECD Development Matter blog

South Africa needs a functioning parliamentary budget office: now’s the time to fix it

Article by Seán Mfundza Muller, Senior Lecturer in Economics and Research Associate at the Public and Environmental Economics Research Centre (PEERC), University of Johannesburg

South Africa’s Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) is in complete disarray. In the 10 years since it was established by law, and the five years it has been in operation, the Office has failed to adhere to key principles of institutional and political independence, technical credibility and transparency. For these and other reasons it has failed to give parliamentarians, and the public, a credible alternative analysis of South Africa’s public finances.

With the swearing-in of a new Parliament and president, there is a chance to change this for the better. The first six months will be crucial. They will determine whether the Office can be set on a path that will lead to a proud institutional legacy. If not, the institution will be a waste of public money that generates mediocre and politically compromised analysis – in which case it should be euthanased.

South Africa’s parliamentarians may look further afield for inspiration. For example, the history of the American Congressional Budget Office illustrates what’s possible. Its founding director, Alice Rivlin, who died last week, was not just an accomplished bureaucrat. She was also an economist of calibre in her own right. And the legacy she left in the form of the US Congress’s budget office is one of a technically and politically credible institution that plays an important role in that country’s democracy.

Parliamentary budget offices have been established in many countries. They can play a valuable role in any democratic system by providing impartial, expert advice to parliamentarians about public finance issues in a transparent manner. This strengthens oversight of government’s public finance decisions by parliamentarians and civil society.

South Africa’s is in urgent need of reform. The Constitution envisages a fundamental role for Parliament in holding the state to account and ensuring the voices of citizens and civil society are heard beyond elections. With the current state of the economy and public finances, there are few areas more in need of credible, robust oversight.

The Parliamentary Budget Office could play a major role in ensuring that this happens. But to do so it must be a technically credible institution that is entirely independent of political influence. Unfortunately, the first opportunity to do this was squandered – resulting in 10 lost years.

Dysfunctional

The creation of South Africa’s own parliamentary budget office by the Money Bills Act in 2009 was an important step. But the process of its establishment was flawed from the start. And those failures have recently been compounded and concealed.

One thing that is clear is that since its establishment the PBO has been in thrall to political influence – most notably from factions within the majority African National Congress (ANC). Such political influence also appears to have obstructed any clean-up of the office.

The problems around the appointment of a credible director illustrate this well.

In 2018 the ANC in Parliament rushed through, with no public consultation and no serious consideration of his performance, a reappointment of its first director. A few months later, shortly after the completion of a forensic investigation into a range of alleged irregularities, he resigned.

The director’s post has now been vacant for almost nine months with no attempt to fill it. Initially Parliament said a series of acting directors would be appointed to give internal deputies a chance – a terrible argument. But even that has reportedly not been done, leaving the post vacant and Parliament arguably in violation of its own law.

The committees responsible argued that they wanted to let the new Parliament choose its own director, but that implies the post will be filled based on political considerations which it should not be. Furthermore, while the reappointment of the previous director was brief, it allowed him to reappoint staff whose contracts would have ended. This deprived any new director of the opportunity to appoint staff untainted by the institution’s recent history.

Meanwhile, the Parliament spokesperson has sought to obscure the existence of the forensic investigation. The final report is yet to be placed in the public domain and there is no indication that any action has been taken.

Another big challenge is the fact that under the previous director an informal advisory board was created that was composed of only ANC MPs. This was arguably illegal at the time. Recent amendments to the Office’s founding legislation have ill-advisedly formalised this politically homogeneous structure in law and given it the power to appoint an acting director.

Concerns were raised about this during the public consultation process, but inexplicably ignored. The implications of that are now becoming apparent.

The former house chairperson who oversaw the original, invalid board, Cedric Frolick, was expected to be replaced by Nomvula Mokonyane. Both have been implicated in corruption during the State Capture Inquiry.

While it has recently been reported that Mokonyane has withdrawn from Parliament of her own accord, it remains to be seen who will replace her. If anyone deeply implicated in corruption oversees the appointment of an acting director it could sound the death knell for the Office.

On the positive side, under law the multiparty committees of finance and appropriations retain responsibility for recommending a new director. Who the ANC appoints as chairpersons of these four committees will be important – for the Office and public finance oversight more generally. Another potential positive is that the new Speaker, Thandi Modise, has a better reputation for non-partisanship than her predecessor.

While the Speaker has little direct responsibility for the budget office in law, within the political structures of Parliament they can either hamper, or enable, committee chairpersons in acting in accordance with their legislated duties to oversee a functional and nonpartisan Office. But at this point it is unknown whether Modise was complicit in past inaction and the active shielding of the Office and its director from accountability.

If the new Parliament is to do better, the appointment as director of a technically credible economist who is robustly independent and of the highest ethical repute will be crucial. Implementation of amendments to the Money Bills Act, which explicitly establish the Office as a juristic entity, will also be important.

Civil society and the public at large should pay close attention to both matters in order to ensure that the institution is not compromised a second time. The experience of other countries suggests that if the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa ensures the Office is established credibly, it could turn out to be one of his most valuable democratic legacies in decades to come.The Conversation

Seán Mfundza Muller, Senior Lecturer in Economics and Research Associate at the Public and Environmental Economics Research Centre (PEERC), University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Promoting Social Accountability in Southern Africa – What Works?

The report Best Practices in Strengthening Social Accountability in and Oversight Capacity for Rights-Based Public Resources Management in Health (SRHR) and Agriculture (Food Security) in Southern Africa’ documents and analyses key approaches undertaken by the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance in each of its four target countries (Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) during the first phase (2016-2019) of the regional project.

PSA Alliance consortium member SAfAIDS utilised its comprehensive and widely respected best practice documentation methodology to assess one intervention in each of the four countries. Recognising the innovative design of the project, the exercise sought to draw upon and deliberate ‘what works’ and what the ‘picture of success’ looks like, as well as identify unintended outcomes and recommendations to inform future programming, policy decisions and funding, both for the next phase of the project as well as other similar projects in the region. Between September – November 2018, the PSA Alliance interventions were assessed using a participatory documentation process. Selected interventions were assessed against a seven-point criteria, including effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, relevance, ethical soundness, replicability, innovativeness and sustainability.

The report concludes that the PSA Alliance has realised notable achievements in strengthening capacity for social accountability among parliaments, media, local government, traditional leadership, CSOs, and farmers organisations. The four (4) best practices provide evidence that through the project interventions communities are now more structured to exercise their accountability roles through health committees in Tanzania and Mozambique and, for women smallholder farmers, to critique and effectively raise concerns on the farm input support programme (FISP) in Zambia. Additionally, the unique facilitation approach employed by the project led to the establishment of the parliamentary budget office (PBO) in Malawi where other efforts have failed. Overall, the report indicates the strength of the PSA Alliance approach is in its creation and work through multi-stakeholder partnerships, which have effectively generated trust, buy-in and sustainability.

Tanzania: Supporting social audits and community interface towards re-establishment of Health Facility Governance Committees in Kilosa and Mbozi districts of Tanzania

The PSA Alliance project in Tanzania facilitated the re-establishment of Health Facility Governing Committees (HFGCs) in the districts of Kilosa and Mbozi. Community score cards previously conducted in the two districts identified that health funds at facility level were not properly managed, due to a lack of functioning HFGCs. The project supported the local government to organize public meetings for citizens to confirm or elect HFGC members. Twelve HFGCs were re-established (5 in Kilosa and 7 in Mbozi). After the reestablishment, all members were trained on their roles and responsibilities with clear linkages to the social accountability monitoring (SAM) model.  Success in establishing the committees was realised through facilitation of community participation in social audits and interface meetings and engagements.

  • Watch a documentary explaining the impact of the committees in the Kilosa District.
    Read the Tanzania section of the best practice Report.

Zambia: PSAM as Transformative Tool to Improving Agricultural Service Provision: Case of FISP in Zambia

Through the PSA Alliance, smallholder farmers, particularly women, were trained in social accountability and advocacy at the community level, with the aim of promoting their effective participation and contribution in public engagements on the delivery of the Farm Input Support Programme (FISP). Thereafter, the project supported the hosting of community interface meetings, where community members and the duty bearers discussed concerns with the FISP design and delivery. Through the interface platforms, the assertiveness of women smallholder farmers has improved, enabling them to mobilize their communities to raise issues directly with duty bearers.

  • Watch a documentary highlighting the approach in Zambia.
    Read the Zambia section of the best practice Report.

Mozambique: Establishment of Health Committees in Chibuto District of Mozambique 

The PSA Alliance led the establishment of health committees in four communities in Chibuto district, Gaza province. The project provided the committees with capacity training on social accountability, followed by support to engage in community awareness raising events on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and monitoring of service delivery within health facilities. Communities are now demanding change based on their monitoring and promoting positive change in SRH service delivery.

  • Watch a documentary on the actions of the health committees in Chibuto district.
    Read the Mozambique section of the best practice Report.

Malawi: Supporting the Establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in Malawi

The PSA Alliance undertook an innovative approach, based on a thorough power analysis, to generating support for the establishment of a parliamentary budget office in Malawi. In partnership with the Speaker of Parliament, the project’s efforts led to the formation of an inter-ministerial and parliamentary task team to coordinate and lead the establishment of the PBO. While previous efforts to establish a PBO have failed over the past 16 years, the PBO finally became a reality in 2019.

  • Watch a documentary on the strategy to establish a PBO in Malawi.
    Read the Malawi section of the best practice Report.

With the audience in mind: Turning research into film

Original post by Vibeke Wang  accessible here

Making a film about their research project made Vibeke Wang and Ragnhild Louise Muriaas rethink how they talk about their research. -The editing revolves around cutting information to a bare minimum. The process itself contradicts everything you believe in as a researcher, they say. Still, they would not hesitate doing it again.

Several times a year, Vibeke Wang and Ragnhild Louise Muriaas are invited to give presentations about their ‘Money talks: Electoral financing of Women’project. And it is not only academics who would like to know more. The invitations may just as well come from local branches of NGOs and civil society organisations, or high school teachers. Talking about research, theory and methodology to a broader audience inspired them to think differently about how they communicate their research.

 

Vibeke Wang and Hannah Swila (research assistant from IPOR) interviewing Rosemary Mkandawire at a rally while being filmed by Atle Kold Hansen and director Eli Kristin Muriaas (Photo: Ragnhild Muriaas)

 

Rethinking research communication
Wang and Muriaas are researching electoral financing among female candidates in Malawi, a costly country to do politics in. There is no public funding of parties and candidates normally sponsor their own electoral campaign. Politicians are expected to give handouts to members of their community, and to contribute financially to local projects. Political rallies are supposed to be organized according to a certain format, where professional dancers, musicians and campaigning material in abundance is provided, all to entertain the crowd. Money contributes to credibility, authority, and ultimately, the chances of being elected.

-In many countries, like Norway, the public has faith in the electoral system. We believe that true political talent will be picked up on and let onto the stage, independent of personal wealth. In other parts of the world, politics is a very different endeavor, says Muriaas.

Being invited to talk about their project, Wang and Muriaas know by first-hand experience that there is an engaged audience with a big interest for research on politics. But talking to a broader audience, it also became clear to them that the actual costs of running for an election is an issue very few think about.

-We started asking ourselves how we could communicate this in a way that the audience can relate to, says Wang.

The answer was to show people how differently this works around the world. They joined forces with a film crew and set out making a storyboard. The learning curve was steep, both for the researchers and for the film crew who had never cooperated with researchers before.

-How do you make your information and data fit into the structure and narrative of a film? We had to rethink how we deal with our data, says Wang.

Using first and foremost qualitative methods in their ‘Money talks’ project, they depend on open questions, and many questions, designed specifically to capture depth, nuances and context. Working with a film crew and creating a film taught them that not only can short questions answered with a simple yes or no be informative, they can also be necessary.

Deciding what to include in the film or not was a nerve-wrecking experience for Wang and Muriaas. The film format forced them to step out of their comfort zone, into a world where you mercilessly kill your darlings and where you have to work hard not to succumb to the fear of ‘dumbing down’ your research questions and research findings.

 

Ragnhild Muriaas at work interviewing Jean Sendeza, with photographer Atle Kold Hansen following every single step (Photo: Eli Kristin Muriaas)

 

The film crew, on the other hand, were more stressed about the unpredictability of filming in an environment where you are not in full control of your surroundings. Having worked in Malawi on numerous occasions, Wang and Muriaas were well aware that plans can change and that appointments made can suddenly be cancelled.

Money talks
The researcher/film team decided on filming three different candidates at three different rallies. They ranged from newcomers to more experienced politicians, and from government to opposition to independent candidates, but all campaigning to win a seat in the May general elections.

The interviews with candidates talking about the cost of running for an election and a funding programme designed to make campaigning achievable for more female politicians highlight the challenges women face trying to make their way into Malawian politics. And the footage from the rallies do not only serve the purpose of bringing the audience closer to a different world. It makes it clear to everyone who sees the film that engaging in politics in Malawi really can be costly, and that relying on pure talent will not necessarily take you anywhere. The drums, the dancers, the poets chanting, they all come with a price.

 

Running for an election can be a costly affair in Malawi. Professional dancers are often hired to entertain the crowd. (Photo: Ragnhild Muriaas)

 

-Money really does talk, and there is no better way of illustrating this than by letting everyone see with their own eyes. The actual physical surroundings and the atmosphere, the bumpy bus rides, the colourful t-shirts and the music at the rallies, that is all part of the information we want to get across, says Muriaas.

The film, which will be used for teaching students at the bachelor level as well as for public events, will be launched in June, but the launch will certainly not be the end of it. The process has sparked a lingering interest, and even though the experience has been challenging, their budgeting in new research projects will take a different turn from now on. More than anything, they have learnt to approach their topic from a different angle, one that takes the public’s perspective.

Can social media help anti-corruption drives? A Nigerian case study

Tolu Olarewaju, Staffordshire University

Corruption can have a crippling effect on a country’s economy. This is why African businesses have described ending corruption as “priority number one”.

Take Nigeria, where the basic infrastructure deficit is huge but funds to improve its infrastructure always seem to end up missing or misallocated. In addition, projects are started and never finished. As a result the country’s roads, rail and ports are in a deplorable state.

Nigerians also suffer from persistent electricity shortages. They lack pipe-borne water and proper sanitation facilities. Housing provision is a problem too.

The country has spent billions of US dollars to resuscitate its power and transport sectors. But it has very little to show for it. Nigeria is not alone. Researchers often report that infrastructure spending is regularly used by public officers and government officials across the continent to misappropriate funds.

Tackling corruption is notoriously difficult. Once it’s embedded in a country’s systems it’s difficult to weed out. But a fresh approach is being pursued in Nigeria – with some startling results. Ordinary citizens are mobilising the use of technology and social media to produce evidence that’s used to hold officials to account.

Our research set out to discover whether the use of technology and social media by ordinary citizens to monitor infrastructure projects could result in more infrastructure projects being completed – and could also lessen corruption.

A version of this approach has been tried in countries like Peru and South Korea. Nigeria seems to be the first – at least on the African continent – to monitor infrastructure projects in this way.

Our research found, for example, that the camera feed showing the construction of the second river Niger bridge, and similar schemes by Tracka gave citizens the power to monitor infrastructure projects. It also increased transparency and could be used to hold the government and engineering firms that build infrastructure to account.

But we also found that there were challenges. For example, citizens needed data and power to monitor infrastructure projects. Neither was always available.

The approach

Monitoring projects has been used by firms and the government as a way to provide more transparency.

For example, research from Uganda shows that corrupt government officials were less able to siphon money for their own enrichment when citizens knew where money was supposed to go and could therefore monitor spending; the diversion of funds fell by 12% over six years.

Research from Kenya also showed that public monitoring of government projects reduced corruption by 20%.

In Nigeria, we investigated infrastructure projects that were monitored by citizens and compared these to infrastructure projects that weren’t monitored. We found that there was a positive link between citizens using technology and social media to monitor infrastructure projects and better completion rates and standards for the infrastructure projects.

Generally, when government officials and infrastructure building engineering firms knew that they were being monitored, they didn’t want to get caught out. In certain cases, citizens were able to engage with the ministry of works and their state governor and use social media to engage in discussions about the project.

By taking pictures of the proposed infrastructure sites and tagging their state governors or representatives in regular posts about the infrastructure projects, civic participation was encouraged. Although there was no often response in the first instance, the high visibility generated by social media and the threat of losing forthcoming elections often resulted in the infrastructure projects being completed. But this was only for projects that citizens could monitor – and there are too few of these. Even we struggled to find many.

Our investigations also revealed that frequent offline and online discussions created awareness about the infrastructure projects and helped citizens to suggest projects that would be useful for their communities.

Challenges to this approach

This approach is not without its challenges.

For example, citizens needed key information to monitor infrastructure projects properly. This included the type, cost, key stages and duration of the projects. Only then would they be able to compare what was actually happening before their eyes to what had been budgeted for so they could alert the relevant authorities as soon as there were discrepancies.

Mobile network technology and access to social media platforms are also needed to make this work.

There were also social and cultural issues. Some citizens didn’t want to engage with social media and technology for personal reasons. In addition, when evidence of corruption was reported by citizens, some saw this as a politically motivated attack. The result was that they lashed out instead of trying to solve the corruption being exposed.

Other challenges included:

  • a lack of clear penalties for individuals involved with monitored infrastructure projects that not completed, or not completed to a decent standard;
  • a lack of follow up by the relevant anti-corruption authorities; and
  • not enough being done when there were clear cases of standards not being met.

Implications

Technology and social media can be used as effective tools by citizens to monitor infrastructure projects. But this isn’t enough on its own. It can only be effective if budgets are also made fully visible.

This would enable citizens to know what they are monitoring and what to look for. Citizens would be wise to demand such transparency: honest governments will have nothing to fear.

This points to the need for a comprehensive approach to tackling corruption. This would need to include transparency and offline and online citizen engagement. In this context, technology and social media could be used as complementary tools.

If African governments and infrastructure building engineering firms on the continent are really concerned about corruption and want to show that they have nothing to hide, they can use this approach to gain more trust from the citizenry.The Conversation

Tolu Olarewaju, Lecturer in Economics, Staffordshire University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can digital really revolutionise health and education in the Global South?

Post written by Elizabeth Stuart, executive director of the Pathways for Prosperity Commission on inclusive technology. Originally published here

One of many puzzles in development is that increasing spending on health and education doesn’t necessarily deliver expected results.

To turn this on its head: Madagascar, Bangladesh and South Africa all have similar child mortality rates, but South Africa spends 19 times more than Madagascar and 13 times more than Bangladesh on healthcare.

Indeed this apparent paradox is one of the reasons why so many countries rushed to be part of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project, as they sought answers to precisely this question.

The Pathways to Prosperity Commission’s latest report is in part an attempt to provide a way through this puzzle by asking: what can technology do (if anything) to improve effectiveness and efficiency in health and education?

And because we’re a commission on inclusive technology, we also looked at whether tech can increase equity of access and outcomes.

This is what we found: there are lots of sensible reasons to be deeply sceptical about technology in this area. History is littered with pilots that worked for a while, but weren’t sustainable, such as the One Laptop per Child initiative in Peru, which 15 months after it started, had no measurable effects on maths and reading scores, in part because teachers hadn’t been trained on how to incorporate the laptops into their teaching. And this isn’t limited to developing countries: there are also cautionary tales from the US.

In other words digital can’t be just seen as a simplistic fix to analogue problems.

But, where policy makers started with a proper understanding of problems that need to be resolved, and assessed delivery obstacles and constraints by analysing the whole system, rather than just asking why a tablet in a classroom is not delivering results, we found clear evidence that technology is already significantly boosting outcomes

In India, a study of a free after-school programme that introduced Mindspark, a digital personalised learning service, showed improvements in mathematics assessment scores of up to 38% in less than five months.

In Uganda, the web-based application MobileVRS has helped increase birth registration rates in the country from 28% to 70%, at the very low cost of $0.03 per registration – thus helping decision-makers track health outcomes and improve access to services. And mental health patients in Nigeria who received SMS reminders for their next appointment were twice as likely to attend as patients receiving standard paper-based reminders.

But – and this is where it gets even more exciting – we also found evidence to suggest that in the near future, digital technologies will offer the promise to transform not just results, but the entire system.

For example, careful and deliberate low-cost data collection will make it possible for health and education systems, supported by digital technologies and artificial intelligence, to continuously learn and improve both standard practice and decision-making by creating feedback loops at every level. Projects such as BID (Better Immunization Data) in Zambia and Tanzania give us a glimpse of how, with the right tools and training, frontline providers can use data to improve their work.

By capturing and processing large volumes of individual data, technology will make personalised diagnosis and intervention possible in both health and education. It takes skill, training and time for a doctor to develop a personalised treatment plan or a teacher to personally coach a student, but algorithms can use test scores and patient records to design and implement individual plans at little cost.

Systems could also become more proactive to ensure services get to the people that need them most. In the health sector, this is starting to emerge in programmes that use community data to identify high-risk patients for active outreach. In education, it will allow more precise targeting of pupils whose learning is lagging.

Source: World Bank (2019d), Gapminder (2019), Pathways Commission analysis. Note: This figure uses data from 2013. Expenditure is adjusted for purchasing power parity, and is reported as 2011 international dollars. The size of a circle represents a country’s population.

 

And digital technologies also offer the means to explicitly focus on those who are left behind by current service delivery models. In Mali, a proactive community case management programme initiated by the NGO Muso contributed to a remarkable 10-fold decline in child mortality; the success of free door step health care is amplified with a dashboard and devices for community health workers. In Uganda, a portable ultrasound device, called Butterfly iQ allows healthcare workers to use their mobile phone as a scanner, anytime and anywhere.

But these visions will not come to fruition automatically. For most, the right digital infrastructure will need to be in place. This means access to electricity and the internet and digital skills, as well as clear rules for data governance and privacy will be essential. New regulations, protocols and rules will need to be established to guard against privacy violations, data misuse and algorithmic bias. And most importantly, even the most effective system will not frontload outcomes for the poorest if there is no deliberate effort to do so.

Urging caution on deployment is perhaps counterintuitive for a tech commission, but having seen many of the quick fix mistakes of the past we know for sure what doesn’t work. But what we also know is that, done right, and delivered at scale, technologically-enhanced health and education systems and the right digital connectivity, could unlock benefits that could be genuinely distributed to all – and that would be revolutionary.

This article was originally published on the From Poverty to Power blog