Using Tech to Support Human Rights and Good Governance in Tanzania

Overall Tanzania is an interesting country to work in. Tribalism has been virtually eliminated thanks to Nyerere’s early policies and freedom of speech is improving.  High levels of poverty, challenges in service delivery and political processes remain hindrances to development.  However, there is a large civil society, particularly in terms of international NGO presence and I came across some fantastic organisations which are using technology in interesting ways to encourage civil participation, support human rights and good governance.

The Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) is a large government funded institution (240 employers) whose aim is to promote and protect human rights and good governance principles. They are responsible for dealing with complaints which come through from the public and this currently relies on a paper-based and extremely limited computer based system.  They tackle a wide range of issues including unfair compensation for land acquisition, internal displacement of persons, child abuse, mismanagement of government funds etc.

SPIDER has awarded them with $68, 000 for an SMS and web based system which enables citizen reporting of complaints remotely and avoids the significant time and money which citizens have to devote to filing a complaint, which puts many off.  The system will enable citizens to receive notifications to manage cases e.g. requests for documentation, acknowledgements, meeting notifications.  To date, a feasibility study has been carried out and they are still ascertaining the system specification.

The Tanzania Gender Networking Programme were a hugely inspiring local NGO which aims to achieve  gender equality and female empowerment through the transformative feminist approach (a holistic approach which identifies oppressive structures and looks at how they have differing effects on different groups and how all oppressive forces are connected).  They look at the grassroots, international and national struggles and try to show how they are connected in order to encourage people to see how wider problems affect their lives.  They mainly focus on empowering communities to speak out regarding issues that are affecting them and also communicate to the international community to inform them about human rights violations.  They do this through the coordination of women’s CBOs and NGOs.  They run campaigns, workshops and network events.

In 2010 they realised that they needed to more effectively coordinate dispersed women groups in order to amplify their voice.  They set up community based knowledge centres in Kisarawe and Tibatu as pilots.  They are now exploring ways to centralise their SMS campaigns and coordinate messaging from different women’s groups to amplify their message.  Their Jamii voices project will focus on the message ‘Making Resources Work for Marginalised Women is a Constitutional Issue’.  The main aims will be to build capacity of feminist groups to use ICTs for campaigning and citizen reporting purposes, improve access to communication and information resources including events, resources, policy decisions, etc, improving communication between groups using traditional and non- traditional media and to strengthen the feminism movement through online analysis, sharing and campaigning.  They hope to build an SMS platform which will help to coordinate these efforts.

During my trip, I was also fortunate enough to go on a fantastic field visit with Action Aid Tanzania.  As you may know, we are funding a project which is using Ushahidi for reporting on land grabbing issues by SMS.  The platform is not being deployed yet, but the crucial purpose of this visit was to get a sense of the communities which they were serving and their mode of operation.  One of the elements that attracted Indigo to support this project was the well devised offline programme which the tech component will be embedded into.   We believe that a tech solution is only likely to generate an impact when the right infrastructure and ecosystem is in place to ensure that for example, reports are responded to, significant awareness raising and training is provided and communities are supported in their mobilisation.

I attended a meeting under a tree in Kariaka (26km from Bagamoyo) where community members discussed land dispute challenges, which highlighted how frequently they occur are and how complex they are to resolve.  I stayed overnight in Chalinze, with an incredibly remote Masai community (pastoralists) which borders a game reserve.  Their hospitality was incredible and I felt instantly at home despite surroundings that couldn’t be more dissimilar than the hustle and bustle of London.

It will be interesting to see how these communities adopt to new technologies, which will undoubtedly be challenging given their remoteness.  For example, they are some distance from mobile charging facilities (electricity) and tech literacy is low, but Action Aid has a well-established relationship with the communities it works with and will support them through the process.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the Action Aid Tanzania team for giving me this opportunity and especially to the family in Chalinze for their generous hospitality.  They told me that they had never seen a ‘Mzungu’ (foreigner) before and we certainly had a lot to learn from each other in my broken Swahili!

It is exciting to see civil participation growing in Tanzania and I am particularly impressed by the grassroots mobilisation taking place.  Technology has the potential to amplify citizen voices, aid coordinated efforts, increase transparency/access to information and bring people closer to their leaders.  It will be interesting to see how this space evolves in the coming decade.