Africa: Improving Governance and Accountability with New Media
Kwami Ahiabenu, II, is a team leader of International Institute for ICT Journalism, the co-ordination organisation for African Elections Project (AEP). With over nine years of experience in management, marketing, new media, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and development, Kwami was Executive Director of AITEC Ghana and a former board member of Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS).
He served as a key committee member for the organization of World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) African Regional Meeting 2005. He has undertaken several training sessions on new media across Africa. He is a Steve Biko and Foster Davies Fellow.
African Elections Project was established in 2008 with the vision of enhancing the ability of journalists, citizen journalists and the news media to provide more timely and relevant elections information and knowledge while undertaking monitoring of specific and important aspects of governance.
AEP has covered elections in Ghana, Cote d‟Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Togo, Niger and Liberia. African Elections Project uses social media tools and ICT platforms such as blogs, interactive maps, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.
L. Abena Annan (LA): What is your affiliation with the African Elections Project?
Kwami Ahiabenu, II (KA): I am part of [the] founders, currently serving as a consultant to the project, providing management support and serving as the training director.
LA: How long have you been involved with the project?
KA: Since the birth of the project in year 2008. We started the project by launching the coverage of Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea elections. Ghana elections did take place in 2008 but Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea took place in subsequent years.
LA: How would you describe this project for the average person to understand? What do you intend to accomplish with it?
KA: It is an online, SMS, mobile service which provides authoritative elections information and knowledge specifically news, analysis, elections powered by ICTs and new media. The service is brought to our audience by a team of dedicated journalists supported by civil society actors and citizen journalists
LA: What countries have you worked in? Do you intend to go to other countries as your website states only 10?
KA: We have worked in 11 countries to date, namely Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique, Malawi, Togo, Liberia and Niger working across English, French and Portuguese speaking countries. We currently cover each election happening on the continent on our homepage with Ghana elections 2012 being the current country we are covering. In addition to elections coverage, we have done some work in post-elections focusing on transparency and accountability issues and currently in partnership with Africatti we are monitoring health and education issues in two districts of Ghana under “Enabling Governance and Economic Transparency in Ghana using new media Project,” with plans to roll out to other African countries in the near future.
LA: How can people effectively use your website or information provided on it?
KA: Our audiences come to our website because of the high quality content which we generate and they consider it useful for themselves, so we can only improve our services by ensuring we constantly provide timely and relevant content to our audience base.
LA: Do you believe new technologies have improved democracy in Africa? Why?
KA: Democracy is a long journey, in this direction new technologies are assuming important roles in ensuring our people benefit from the fruits of democracy. That said, the journey is a long one; though we are recording some improvements we still have a long way to go to ensure that Africa as a whole nurtures its democracy.
LA: How empowering would you say technology has become to citizens of Africa?
KA: Technology can only play a role when the fundamentals are in place. If there is no true freedom of speech or free press, technology role becomes limited, though one may argue that technology can contribute to empowerment but it is important to stress the fact that technology plays a facilitating role and it works best when empowering environments are in place and protected to ensure technology’s role strive.
LA: What do you think the effect of technology on democracy will be 10 years from now?
KA: Technology roles cannot be discussed in isolation. Rapid growth of the tenets of democracy on the continent is a sure guarantee that technology impact on democracy is going to grow and become very important each passing day.
LA: What are your biggest challenges as an organization?
KA: We like to deploy cutting edge technologies in our coverage, but the high cost of ICT tools coupled by expensive bandwidth are always a challenge. Also user content generation is picking albeit slowly and our work will be made more interesting if the grandmother in the village can also contribute to our project.
LA: Any successes so far?
KA: The project has contributed significantly to building the capacity of journalists and citizen journalists in covering elections using new technologies, more importantly providing them with skills set they need to cover elections impartially thereby contributing to better elections which is a cornerstone of any democracy. One key achievement worthy of mention is the successful pilot of Ghana Post elections Project (”Because Accountability Counts”), where we contribute to the promotion of the culture of political accountability by providing a mechanism for citizens to match campaign promises and manifesto versus action and inaction of the ruling government.
The project incorporates citizen journalism mostly driven by mobile phones and has so far covered elections in 11 African countries namely Botswana, Cote d'lvoire, Ghana, Niger, Togo, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Liberia and Namibia. This is one of key result area.
The project has also contributed local content from an African prospective for the global market, thus, presenting the African story using African voices.
We have also contributed to the body of knowledge in African elections and democracy through our country specific countries and recently we contributed “A JOURNEY THROUGH 10 COUNTRIES - Online election coverage in Africa” article in the Journal of Journalism Practice.
At its innovation fair, “Moving beyond Conflict”, Cape Town, South Africa 2010, the World Bank ranked African Elections Projects as innovative in the area of improving governance and accountability through communication technologies.