Has technology boosted the ability of citizens in African countries to influence their governments? This week, I'm joined by Rakesh Rajani, founder and head of Twaweza, an initiative that promotes transparency and accountability in Tanzania and other countries in East Africa. His organization has made good use of both new and old technologies—cellphones, TV, and radio broadcasts—to expand the ability of citizens to access government information and hold their leaders accountable.
Rakesh tells me that cellphone use has exploded in the last decade in Tanzania, rising from perhaps 200,000 users to over 14 million today. Except for the most remote areas of the country, he says, just about everyone can access a mobile phone. That new connectivity, Rakesh explains, has opened new channels for reducing corruption in government.
"Government leaders now can no longer get away with lying to the public, because the public has different ways of getting information. The level of control that local officials can exert over populations is much more limited," Rakesh says.
Official development programs in Tanzania continue much as they have for decades: plenty of meetings to plan poverty reduction strategies and discuss new interventions designed to foster good governance. But, according to Rakesh, the real strides towards a better functioning society are being made in the explosion of new means of communication.
"You have the paraphernalia of development-- you have lots of new buildings, you have lots of new people hired. But you scratch the surface and not much is happening on that side of life. However, on this other side, this vibrant media ecology side, people are getting on and making things happen."
Twaweza (which, to be fair, gets quite a bit of its funding from donor agencies) seeks to promote and expand this new model of citizen engagement. Rakesh describes some of the ways the new organization is leveraging access to information. For example, Twaweza has persuaded Tanzania's major cellphone service providers to donate millions of SMS messages, which Twaweza is using to disseminate information on school funding and other government services. Twaweza is also helping radio stations to expand their ability to do investigative reporting, and has assisted them in broadening their reach into rural areas.
Rakesh visited CGD to participate in the launch of our new book, Cash on Delivery: A New Approach to Foreign Aid. Near the end of our conversation, you’ll hear his thoughts on how the COD Aid model could dovetail with Twaweza’s approach to citizen-driven development.
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