For preliminary findings in the other Uganda study site, click here.Lack of information brought about by high levels of poverty is one of the major challenges facing the society in the two regions (Apac and Lira); according to the participants of the focus group discussion in Lira district (Uganda), poverty remains a ‘killer disease’ affecting many people in the society. Poor people are ignorant even of their rights. A poor person has no access to a radio or the phone which means that access to information is also limited. Poor people cannot go to school. Service delivery is poor because people are poor; “The police complement the little salary they get by asking for bribes”, commented one of the FGD participants. This is in relation to the poverty levels experienced by the police officers and the fact that the citizens lack information on their rights. Figure 1: A section of participants during the focus group discussion at The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition (TACC) offices The importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in solving issues affecting the society cannot be overruled. ICT has been raised as a new feature in Northern Uganda in sectors such as education, health and agriculture. Radio is one of the popular and quickest means of reaching the wider public with information. Many NGOs such as The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition (TACC) and Transparency International Uganda have exploited the use of radio to reach a critical mass with anti-corruption messages given that it is the only electronic form of communication that is widely accessible and affordable for the rural communities to access information. Figure 2: A section of participants during the focus group discussion at Amach Health centre in Lira Daniel Okello from Lira NGO Forum notes that ICTs are important tools in promoting good governance in the society; however, they have to be made cheap and affordable for access. “I have observed that people tend to make calls on the radio stations at night when call rates are extremely low. This has prompted us to start a toll-free line in order to enable everyone to raise complaints and compliments on issues affecting them without fear of running out of credit”, says Mr. Okello. Scenarios where ICT has been useful:
- The Government of Uganda started an initiative to develop Northern Uganda through a project dubbed Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) where goats were bought for the locals with an aim of supporting livelihood investment. “At one time some officials bought a goat and exaggerated the price to be 500,000 UGX while in the real sense the goat would have cost 3 UGX!”, exclaimed one of the FGD participants. Through ICT (use of radios and TV) the matter was brought to the limelight and the culprits had to face the rule of law. This is after the citizens raised complaints over the radios. The president received the news of the malpractices going on and commanded that action be taken against the perpetrators (those involved in the goat scandal).
- According to the respondents in Apac, the use of ICT in governance has borne some fruits; problems have been minimized through the use of ICTs; there is transparency and power has been brought closer to the people e.g. the use of toll-free lines has elicited courage and strength among the citizens in reporting issues to do with service delivery in the hospitals, schools and other important sectors. (See ‘Governance is for Non-Urbanites’, from part 1 of this blog post series for an interesting contrast). At the same time ICT has created fear among teachers, health workers and other government employees and as such majority try to do their best not to be caught by the ‘hook’, a fact that was attested by one teacher who was part of the FGDs in Apac.