Across the globe, access to critical laws, parliamentary information and locally relevant news and an informed and engaged citizenry contribute towards a thriving democracy. South Africa is no different. I came across a number of organisations which are contributing towards this process in very different ways.
I was fortunate enough to meet with Mariya Badeva-Bright from African Lii. They support legal institutions across Africa, with the main aim of ensuring that all legal data is Open, freely available and accessible to both the public and legal professionals. They have made all legislation and case law available online in 11 countries (SA, Kenya, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Seychelles, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and update the data regularly. All the data they put online is Open-modified under Creative Commons licencing (you just have to attribute them) and free. Currently they use HTML. They have plans to expand their work across the continent. We’ve recently funded them for work digitising laws in the Seychelles which you can read about here.
I met with Rasheed and Gaile at the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, one of the key organisations monitoring and releasing parliamentary information in South Africa. They sit in on parliamentary committees (where most decisions take place) and provide detailed reports on their websites as well as Audio recordings (in English). They also track all Bills, amendments and calls for public comments and provide MP contact details, lists of committee members, media and policy briefings etc. They are active on social media, with 51,000 unique viewers on Twitter per month.
I was also able to meet with Paul Graham of IDASA, the Institute for Democracy for Africa. It’s a large institution which is involved in a wide range of activities. They are interested in tracking State expenditure details, support an International Budget Partnership and run Afrobarometer in 30 countries which conducts polls over time on a wide range of social issues. They’ve run some Hackathons in the governance space and are also involved in projects around internet freedom, privacy, security and interoperability. Sadly, I recently found out that they are closing down!
At the grassroots level, I was able to meet with Donald Kgomotso from the Impilo Foundation. Based in Zandspruit, a community of 17,000 households they run an ICT training centre and have recently become involved in exploring ways in which to use technology for social activism. They plan to run a citizen journalism programme and they are currently using SMS to spread government announcements e.g. local meetings. They also have plans to enable citizens to submit questions to political representatives.
It will be interesting to see how such interventions contribute towards a better informed and more engaged public.