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Can technology help African women to fight corruption?

On 1 and 2 December 2012, the first Hacks against Corruption event in Sub-Saharan Africa was held in Nairobi, Kenya. The hackathon was jointly organised and hosted by Transparency International Kenya and Random Hacks of Kindness.

Previously, Transparency International has organised hackathons in several global cities, from Bogotá to Jakarta, with the aim of connecting hackers (programmers) to the anti-corruption cause. At these marathon events, hackers work on developing prototype solutions to challenging societal problems during an all-night software sprint.

So, what did the hackers get up to in Nairobi?

Complaints handling in Kenya

Hackers in Nairobi

According to Transparency International Kenya, inadequate complaints handling mechanisms currently exist in institutions in Kenya and East Africa. Institutions are not responsive to complaints and this is reflected by the latest East African Bribery Index Report, which shows that only 5.5 percent of Kenyans bother to report complaints. Many institutions do not have a proper complaints handling system, relying on manual systems which result in complaints not being handled or passed on effectively, or lost.

One of about 50 young hackers participating in the Nairobi hackathon, Accadius Ben Sabwa (Twitter: @Accadius) worked on a problem statement handed in by our Kenyan chapter: an automated complaints referral mechanism for humanitarian aid cases.

The solution Accadius developed won the first prize in the Nairobi Hacks against Corruption event. His solution system allows citizens to submit complaints via the internet or SMS. Once a report is submitted, the person receives a confirmation message including a unique tracking number. With this number, the person can follow up on their report and comment on the actions taken.

Accadius describes his experience at the hackathon:

I was meant to attend the event as a guest hacker and mentor to help the developers using the Ushahidi platform for their solutions. I got there a bit late and found that groups had been formed and hacking was about to begin. However, one problem statement was not taken and that is the one I chose and worked on solo. Until midnight I had not found group members. I worked on solo and was able to win. The prototype is live and can be accessed from and people can give feedback on the same.”
Increasing ICT coverage in Kenya

Kenya has one of the most promising and robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors in East Africa. For instance, the mobile phone sector is expanding rapidly and mobile phones have almost become a household tool. Kenya is also the pioneer of Africa’s very successful mobile money technology which allows people to send money and make transactions via their mobile phone. The Kenyan government’s Vision 2030 has identified ICT as a key pillar in social, economic and political development. The introduction of fibre optic cables have increased speed for data access in Kenya, and the UN’s International Telecommunication Union reports increasingly widespread internet penetration in the country: at the end of 2011, 24.4 per cent of Kenyans were internet users.

Do women have the same access to ICTs in Kenya as men?

The Hacks against Corruption in Nairobi event was attended by eight young female developers.

One of the hackers, Joyce Echessa – winner of the Most Outstanding Team Player Award at the event – discussed some of her motivation for joining in the hackathon. She also offered her views on the role technology can play in helping women in Kenya fight for more integrity and against corruption.

Well, I haven't participated much in the tech scene here in Kenya and a friend of mine told me I should start attending some of these tech events – especially the events hosted by the ihub. There was this girl hackathon that was held at the ihub, that I had signed up for but I couldn't make it, so I was waiting for the next hackathon to be held and RHoK came up. I'm glad I attended because it was a great learning experience, I had fun and it was for a good cause.

I think the reason corruption and abuse is so rampant is because of the silence – in that, these cases go unreported. And the biggest reason why they aren't reported is because of fear – fear of losing your job (if you reported someone at work), fear of being ostracised, or of any other consequence that might arise as a result. Also besides that, people also feel that even if they report a wrongdoing, nothing much will be done and so they don't bother with reporting. Technology can help here if it provides a way to report these incidents anonymously and if follow-up is provided to the 'reporter' so they know action was taken and they made a difference.

In the case of anonymously reporting corruption cases and getting feedback, I think technology does help women and men in the same way. Even if it is for issues that usually only affect women – like for example sexual harassment – I still see that technology could be helpful here if it enables women to make reports and have them acted upon.”

Hear more about Joyce’s experience in our short podcast.

Listen to Mary Kamau, a 22 year-old hacker from Kenya. Here she tells us why the recent anti-corruption Hackathon hit closer to home compared to other techy-geared events.

Can mobile phones make a difference?

According to the World Bank’s 2012 Information and Communications for Development – Maximising Mobile report, 65 per cent of households in Kenya had a mobile phone in 2010, as opposed to 21 per cent in 2005. The report does not state how many of the mobile phone users are female, or the divide between users in urban and rural areas.

Experiences in neighbouring Uganda suggest that who controls the mobile phone can impact the device’s utility for anti-corruption work. Simon Peter Ogwang, Project Coordinator at Transparency International Uganda, talked about the chapter’s ICT for Health Service Delivery project in the north of the country, which mainly focuses on stopping health workers’ absenteeism and on improving health services. The chapter deployed a toll-free call centre for involving communities in monitoring health services. Women are the main clients of the health services, accompanying family members or seeking treatment, while men usually only use the service when sick themselves. As women less often own mobile phones than men, they often depend on others to be able to use the monitoring hotline. Even if there is a mobile phone in a household, women might not be the ones controlling it. Often, they come together in women groups’ gatherings and make joint complaints.

How gender-sensitive are ICTs for good governance?

Annette Jaitner of Transparency International’s Sub-Saharan Africa department left the Nairobi hackathon feeling positive about the event’s vibrancy, but also wondering about the intersection of ICTs, anti-corruption work and gender sensitivity:

Will women from marginalised communities in Africa have to walk the extra mile to have access to ICT tools for better governance, just the same as they have to walk the extra mile for access to water and other basic services? Will women want to walk this extra mile when all the daily chores consume all their time and energy already? And what can we do to make ICTs for development and good governance more gender-sensitive?

All pictures by Milena Marin. Podcast interviews and editing by Catalina Vazquez


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