Lwazi Maseko is a journalist writing for Jamlab and CTIN
Lwazi Maseko is a journalist writing for Jamlab and CTIN. She recently completed a short editorial internship at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg bureau. She subsequently joined Africa Check to support a pilot project, which was a WhatsApp fact-checking bot named Kweli, as a journalist.
Lwazi is a BA Honours in Journalism and Media studies graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand. She has an interest in learning and understanding news related topics or ideas that continue to shape society, especially the use of social media and how it’s changed the journalism space.
Yes, we are doing it! Growing Civic Tech Impact in Africa
African civic tech innovators are finding creative ways to address social issues that they are facing in their communities by leveraging data and digital technologies. And there are many issues to choose from - these range from poor health care, slow justice systems, poor service delivery, gender issues, digital divides, and many more.
Civic technologies have been redefining civic engagement and participation by allowing people to advocate, self-organise, and enabling digital communities and networks to engage and respond to many issues.
However, civic tech, whether in government or civil society, is often hidebound by conventional and unsuitable processes of design, procurement, implementation and support. Therefore people keep “re-inventing the flat tyre”, and producing technological solutions that either aren’t needed or fail to meet the needs they are aimed at.
The Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN) was established in 2018 as a response to these challenges, looking to support and grow the impact of these civic innovators. CTIN was formed to help the South African civic tech community grow and learn, overtime CTIN extended its activities to serve the larger African community due to increased interest and participation.
In the end, CTIN is enabling knowledge-sharing between civic tech innovators to stop recreating avoidable mistakes that their peers have already made as well as contributing to building up a body of shared knowledge and understanding that can inform others entering this field.
Since its establishment, CTIN has focused on several activities including tracking civic tech initiatives and case studies. The civic tech database currently has a total of over 180 initiatives and 60 case studies captured by CTIN. The database covers at least 30 African countries, covering advocacy, governance/democracy, media, gender, justice, education, health and more sectors. South Africa’s listing covers 46 initiatives, Kenya has 25 initiatives listed, Nigeria has 15, and Uganda has 15 initiatives, these numbers demonstrate traction and impact in these countries.
The CTIN team recently interviewed five African civic tech organisations to explore the impact each organisation has had in their respective countries. As the promise of civic technologies gains attention and investment in Africa, the impact stories of these organisations help to demonstrate the roles and challenges of civic technology on the continent.
Connecting the public with much-needed services
“Healthcare in Africa is very expensive, inefficient and could be done better”, says Ikechukwu Anoke, the CEO and co-founder of Zuri Health in Kenya. The mobile app, which launched in January 2021, provides certified, affordable and accessible healthcare.
When Anoke went to the hospital for the birth of his daughter, the doctor he had booked was unavailable and he was told that he could not get another doctor as his wife had to wait for the doctor that she had booked. Anoke said that though the hospital was in an urban area his wife, a doctor herself, was in urgent need of a doctor but was unable to receive one. “At that point, it would have been great for me to have an online consult with another doctor,” he said.
The doctor arrived late, and Anoke observed how “something as easy as this could have led to someone's death”. Anoke explained that even with money and access to the best healthcare, his wife’s needs were not met and it struck him how there was a need for online consultations and particularly for people in disadvantaged areas with a lack of doctors. “These first-level consultations are not available for people in disadvantaged areas,” he said.
The Zuri Health mobile app allows users to book laboratory tests, appointments with any medical professional or hospital within their region, talk to practitioners via text or video and request home visits. Users can receive prescriptions and order over the counter medication via the platform and have these delivered to their homes. The app has SMS functionality designed to reach a wide range of individuals who may not have access to the internet. “The app reduces the waiting time at the hospital because our research shows that 45% of those who go to the hospital do not need to be at the hospital,” says Anoke.
Today, the Zuri Health app has 80,000 subscribers, and Anoke says that people subscribe to the app because there is a need for a healthcare app that is easily accessible and efficient. People living in rural areas can get their medication easily without having to travel a long distance to a hospital and wait in long lines to be attended to. Anoke says that they aim to have two million subscribers in the next two years. They are expanding rapidly, and the app is now available in Kenya and within the next month it is to be available in Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana.
In South Africa, Govchat, one of the country’s largest civic engagement platforms, enables citizens to communicate with the government directly. “Govchat enables the government not just to be a responsive government but to be a proactive government, by using data-driven insights to provide a better quality service for its citizens, says Eldrid Jordaan, who created the platform in collaboration with the South African government.
The platform connects citizens with the government, encourages public participation and active citizenry, says Jordaan. The platform can be accessed on their website or on a mobile phone; a user can add Govchat as a contact on WhatsApp and then communicate with a chatbot.
The most significant impact of the platform is that close to five million people registered for the social relief grant through the platform. “The impact that citizens have felt through Govchat has been enormous," says Jordaan. Adding that “in the first two days, we saw close to 2 million people sign up for the grant using Govchat’s WhatsApp, '' he said.
“The impact is massive for citizens, but the impact for the government is even better,” says Jordaan. He explains that the ability of the government to address problems in real-time is a game-changer that allows these problems to be tackled immediately by the government. Govchat has five features:
A ward council feature that enables the user to drop their location pin into Govchat, providing the user with a list of their ward councillors. The second feature allows users to rate and report their services from government institutions such as home affairs, clinics, or post offices. The user can first-rate the service they have received and secondly rate the institution’s infrastructure condition. The third feature allows users to report municipal issues such as burst pipes or potholes, and users will receive feedback on whether the problem is attended to. In response to Covid-19, the fourth feature allows people to receive the Covid-19 results and help people find the closest testing station. The final feature allows early childhood development practitioners (ECB) to apply for the relief fund through the chatbot platform. The app has registered 124,000 ECB practitioners.
Jordaan says that Govchat aims to provide services to the most vulnerable citizens.
In Nigeria, Nelson Olanipekun is founder of Gavel, an organisation that uses technology to accelerate the delivery of justice in Nigeria. “We are able to provide a user-friendly platform that allows people to reach us online [for legal assistance] regardless of where they are,” said Nelson Olanipekun, founder of Gavel. He said his personal experiences with the slow justice system, inspired him to become a lawyer and later founded the organisation.
In just three years Gavel has solved 1,500 cases and has reached 6.5 million Nigerians using online and offline tools to educate the public on the law. The organisations “We simplify the law in such a way that people can understand and we share it on social media
Olanipekun leads a seven-member rapid response team and over 160 volunteer lawyers across 24 states in Nigeria.
He says that “digital technologies will help accelerate the transformation of the justice system and will help people quickly get access to justice”. However, he emphasised the importance of citizen engagement by educating people on their rights and interrogating Nigeria’s traditional justice system.
The Cause list which is a tool used by Gavel digitalises public prosecutions. The digitalisation enables Gavel to measure the performance of Nigeria’s court system by identifying areas of inefficiency and advocating for an improved system. “We make the cases public which is open justice, so people can know which cases are being tried in court each day”.
The civic tech organisation also provides free legal support by linking disadvantaged people with lawyers through Podus. It is a tech platform that enables victims of pre-trial detainees to connect to a lawyer nearest to their location. Olanipekun said it is an “uber for justice” as it allows remote access to lawyers.
Gavel created tech tools, the Justice Clock which tracks time spent by people awaiting trial in prison and the Timeline of cases which monitors and tracks cases in court and provides information to the public on these cases. These tools have been integrated and adopted by governmental departments in Lagos and Ogun state. Olanipekun explained that the “justice clock is time-related”, whilst the timeline of cases, “helps to display the milestone reached in each of those cases, it informs the public on what has been done or achieved in a case”. He said that the tools are complementary and work with each other.
“Our impact has been far-reaching and one of our most prominent intervention has been #EndSars which had led to panel inquiries on human rights violations by police across the justice system in Nigeria,” said Olanipekun. In October 2020, Nigerians protested against police brutality, which resulted in the #EndSars social movement. During the protests, people were arrested, and Gavel provided free legal services to those in need. However, Olanipekun had presented recommendations to the Senate Committee on Police Affairs to include human rights principles in the Police Bill before the protests. Gavel has played an important role in advocating against police brutality.
Digital Women Uganda uses digital technologies for socio-economic development and advocates for digital rights and literacy of women and girls in urban and rural areas. Ivan Louis Pinno, co-founder and CEO of Digital Women Uganda, said that the organisation provides digital literacy training, advocacy and research in the digital space. “We are trying to get a strong inclusion of women in the online space,” said Pinno. Digital Women Uganda has reached 208 women and 100 girls in 100 districts using online and offline tools to educate and provide women with the necessary skills to participate in the digital space.
“The women cannot send a text message, all they know is how to receive text messages,” said Pinno. He added that “the women are unable to withdraw their mobile money, some may not even know that they have received the mobile money”. Pinno explained that these are the skills that the organisations provide women with. The organisation has created tools such as a free SMS which allows women to interact with community leaders online, an internet radio which is used to educate women on digital literacy. “We built an internet-based radio which informs the public about digital technologies,” said Pinno. He added that “the internet radio model was beneficial during covid as we could not move”.
The organisation also created their own digital tools that “can be used by different human rights defenders in the digital space,” said Pinno. The organisation uses a ‘village agent model’, which uses community leaders to help mobilise community members, which allows the organisation to run their digital literacy training. At these training, agents are supplied with equipment needed to facilitate the training. The organisations provide radios and phones, which digital women use to upload their content and can be listened to by the women offline.
Pinno said that the impact they have had in Uganda is creating advocacy around the importance of digital tools and ICT’s. “The impact is so immense that we are building tools for the rural people in Uganda,” he said.
In Egypt, *HarassMap was a volunteer-based initiative founded in 2010. The organisation used a geographic information system that captures and analyses geographic data to tackle sexual harassment in Egypt. People were able to lodge their report through social media, the HarassMap website and via SMS. Rebecca Chiao, who co-founded the organisation, said sexual harassment was a topic that could not be discussed in Egypt; it was taboo. “When HarassMap started we were the only group that focused entirely on sexual harassment and we were a younger group compared to the established NGO’s,” said Chiao.
She said they aimed to change the social norm, “we wanted people to be aware of the issue, but then we also wanted them to change their behaviour”.
HarassMap combined several approaches to increase public engagement: the mapping and reporting system, an anonymous system that allowed people to report sexual harassment or sexual violence. They took these responses, and an auto-response report was created, which provided a list of organisations that the victim could contact or seek help from. “These organisations were already offering these services, but there was low awareness,” said Chiao. The second feature was that they shared the stories of sexual harassment or sexual violence on social media to create public awareness. Ciao said at; first, people did not take it seriously, but it resulted in a change when they read the reports in the first person.
The third feature was community mobilisation, and volunteers would go into neighbourhoods and inform people about sexual harassment/violence. This resulted in a “safe areas programme”, whereby various organisations, universities and businesses, would take responsibility for their space and enforced a policy against sexual harassment. Chiao said that the safe area’s programme made a “big difference” as the organisations met with companies and drafted an anti-harassment policy. HarassMap helped set up an anti-harassment unit in Cairo University, and “in the first year they brought 38 professors under investigation through this policy” said Chiao. Eighteen other universities in Egypt replicated the policy. Chiao said that HarassMap collaborated with Uber to train drivers and its service centre employees on sexual harassment. The group worked with Uber in seven countries to train drivers on sexual harassment.
The organisation played an essential role in changing the narrative of sexual harassment in Egypt, inspiring other organisations to create their groups. Chiao explained that HarassMap was decentralised and offered support to other organisations and initiatives. “A year after we launched, there were Facebook groups where people were telling their stories, with their names,” she said.
HarassMap has inspired other organisations and has provided these organisations with support and skills. HarassMap’s mapping and reporting model has been adopted by many organisations around the world. The crowd mapping tool has been widely used such as in Turkey, Sen de Anlat, an organisation that report on sexual violence and harassment and Wise4Afrika, which reports and creates awareness on gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa.
*HarassMap de-registered in 2020 because Egypt clamped down on civil society and many were forced to shut down by the government therefore Harassmap has since shut down due to safety issues stemming from the government clamp. However, this was not the end of Harassmap, as its work continues to inspire organisations around the world.
These distinctive civic technologies may provide different services however the organisations share the same goal, finding solutions for the most vulnerable in their communities. We believe that CTIN can play even more of a role in sharing the stories, offering platforms for addressing shared opportunities and challenges, strengthening ecosystems, and ensuring that we are also fostering accountability in this community.