Promoting Civic Technology In Rwanda

The term “civic tech” in a broad sense means any technology that is used to empower citizens or helps make government more accessible, efficient and effective. Civic tech is not a new concept. People have been using technology to empower citizens and improve government operations.

There is an abundance of examples we can point to where outside parties develop solutions on top of government provided or maintained data – to fill a role or address an issue that would ordinarily fall or delay under the official responsibilities of a government agency. The ingenuity, pushed in part by collaboration between young private-sector startups and government officials brave enough to experiment for the public good, has given rise to an emerging market of “civic tech”.

Rwanda has achieved a lot in the aftermath of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. The current administration is determined to place the citizen at the centre of every national agenda to therefore regain trust, lost for a multitude of decades. A couple of home grown initiatives have been launched to enforce how citizens held to account leaders from community to national level. To promote government transparency and accountability towards citizens, interesting and unique homegrown programmes have been designed.

Below are a couple of them:

Umushyikirano or national dialogue, a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Umushyikirano is an annual event chaired by the President of Rwanda that gives Rwandans the opportunity to ask questions directly to their leaders. Those unable to attend in person at Rwanda’s parliament building can participate via telephone, SMS, Twitter and Facebook as well as follow the debate live on television and radio.

Citizens outreach whereby the President of the Republic tours the country/districts to discuss with citizens on a wide range of issues. Citizens are given time to ask questions or suggestions on governance or any other pertinent issues.

Imihigo – a homegrown practice in Rwanda whereby every elected or nominated authority sets targets or goals to be achieved within a specific period of time. S/he must achieve the set goals while in office and can be questioned by superiors or citizens via community meetings or any other open discussion channels.

Talking about tech, one couldn’t leave behind the – becoming a leader’s practice – weekly Twitter sessions. Leaders from The Prime Minister and many others via Twitter run weekly sessions for 1 -2 hours answering questions raised by citizens.

The cited examples are few among many showing how accountability, transparency and open governance are not taboos in Rwanda. In terms of technology or ICT usage, Rwanda is among few African countries to have a clear plan on how ICT will transform citizens’ life as cross cutting enablers. If you don’t agree with me, how many countries do you know have laid fibre optic on all their territory? Forget about fibre optic, globally our president is called “the digital president” by those who understand the tech revolution happening in Rwanda. If the topic is new to you – please Google it.

To me, in a country where; good governance, accountability and governance are core to all designed programmes, and ICTs are perceived as cross-cutting enablers. This is a green pasture for civic tech. That’s a belief that motivates and drives us at Tumenye. We foresee Rwanda as a country where more than 80% of the population will be connected to the internet. As internet penetration increases citizens will be able to use thousands of tech tools to monitor for example; how “imihigo” are implemented, how elected parliamentarians influence laws being passed. They can also monitor or question how the national budget is spent and so on.

At Tumenye we tap into open source tools and develop solutions that foster transparency and openness around: national budget, tenders, election promises tracking or imihigo, parliamentarians’ actions, access to information and so on. And consequently strengthen the relationships between citizens and government. Whilst internet is critical to launch mentioned initiatives, we also consider using other most used ICT channels such as radio, SMS, IVR, etc.

Currently the whole world is discussing about the upcoming sustainable development goals. The big question around the seventeen goals is how to track the progress/implementation at each country level? Should we rely on national statistics offices only? How about massive data produced by NGOs and CSOs? At Tumenye, we’ve joined multiple worldwide discussions/initiatives calling for better access and use of data to support countries to fight corruption, address global challenges, and achieve development goals.

Tumenye wants to raise awareness about tech tools than can be easily used and also continue to work with local organizations in promoting the usage of technology to promote open governance, accountability and transparency.

This post was originally published on Tumenye.

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