What is the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to support processes of democratisation and empowerment in developing countries? This report, prepared for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, outlines the theoretical background to discussions on ICTs and democracy, and presents case studies from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It argues for raising awareness and understanding of ICTs, and for making ICTs central to development cooperation and support for democratisation in the case study countries.
ICTs mainly refer to the internet and mobile phones, but also hybrid solutions such as combined use with conventional media like newspapers, radio and television. ICTs enable direct democracy and non-traditional forms of advocacy and engagement between citizens and the state. Access to and strategic use of ICTs promote free speech, human rights and the free flow of information.
However, there are a number of complex issues to be taken into account when using ICTs to promote democracy. These make it hard to formulate one set of recommendations. Important factors to be considered include the democratic, media and ICT context, sociocultural power, and support for existing democratic practices.
In Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania access to and use of ICT is limited and uneven. Civil society in Uganda and Tanzania lack sufficient awareness of processes for democratic participation, as well as knowledge, access and capacity for strategic use of ICTs and of constitutional rights. In all three countries government is not adequately equipped to deliberate with the public on issues of national importance. However, access has increased sufficiently to render ICTs – used with caution and consideration for local contexts – a powerful tool in democracy promotion.
- Democratisation in Uganda and Tanzania is thwarted by limited support for political parties. Political activism by CSOs is limited, and NGOs focus largely on service delivery.
- In Kenya, politically driven CSOs and NGOs exist, but they suffer from a lack of capacity, and there are still concerns around corruption and respect for individual rights.
- In all three countries mobile phones are the predominant means of communication in both rural and urban areas, but there is also inequality in access to ICTs: between rural and urban areas; between better educated men and less educated women; and between rich and poor.
- There has been slow uptake of the internet in all three countries. This is due to the high cost of internet connectivity, limited infrastructure, low internet usage by government, low ICT literacy and a lack of local content.
- The internet is likely to become more accessible and cheaper with the completion of several fibre-optic cable projects currently underway.
The combination of traditional and new ICTs can help facilitate inclusive public debate. Civil society organisations and citizens can use new technologies to circumvent geographical, financial, social and cultural barriers to voice and to erode monopoly control over information and communication channels. In Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, access to broadband must be prioritised. Recommendations include the following:
- Target both civil society and parliaments in their roles as representatives of citizens to stimulate the demand for democracy.
- Raise awareness of the potential for ICTs to enhance democracy: people need a practical understanding of the opportunities that ICTs represent
- Build leadership capacity in the institutions responsible for advancing democracy
- Strengthen community and citizen voice in public debate, especially that of marginalised groups and communities
- Ensure an enabling policy environment, especially through multi-stakeholder policy dialogue that addresses the use of ICTs for democracy
- Ensure mainstreaming of ICTs into efforts to support democracy, and of support for democracy into ICT interventions
- Promote evaluation and learning and develop methodologies for a ‘strategic communications’ approach to ICTs for democracy initiatives.