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Has Kenya’s ICT revolution triggered more citizen participation?

Date added: November 30, 2016

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Much of the literature on citizen accountability focuses on citizen voices. This research briefing is one of four which turn the spotlight on the how the state behaves in instances of accountable governance. Each examines a landmark social justice policy process in Africa, asking when and how the state listened, and to which actors; and why, at times, it chose not to listen.

How far does Kenya’s information and communications technology revolution transform e-government – implementing decisions with the help of ICTs – into e-governance – using ICTs to help make decisions?

Most of the Kenyan government’s ICT policy initiatives are structured around its Vision 2030, a long-term planning blueprint which rests on three pillars: social, economic and political. The political pillar envisages a democratic system that is issue based, people centred and results oriented, and accountable to the public. Kenya’s ICT revolution is contributing to attaining the goals of the economic and social pillars, but there has not been parallel progress in the political pillar.

Case study research interviewed young people in Nairobi, the hub of most of Kenya’s ICT initiatives, found that most respondents were not aware of the government’s efforts to provide online services – which includes 41 public services that can be accessed online, and 12 one-stop shops for online access to basic services – and that two thirds had not accessed them. They also said that their engagement with their leaders through e-platforms was minimal.

Interviews with politicians found that in their view, citizens were using e-platforms only to complain, or request assistance. There was not strong interest among the politicians and bureaucrats interviewed in citizens’ voices or what they were saying.

The findings suggest that the government needs to focus on ensuring parallel progress in the three pillars of Vision 2030. Few people know about the e-government platforms that do exist, and many do not have the skills needed to use the public services that are provided online. Policies that enable the inclusion of the majority without ICT skills are imperative.

Day by day, young Kenyans are finding their critical voices on social media. If the government chooses to engage with this civic awareness and public participation, it is more likely to be able to steer the voices of the masses towards constructive dialogue.

This Research Briefing is part of the When Does the State Listen? series.

Read Nyambura Salome’s blogs on whether e-government platforms in Kenya actually mean more responsive government – and what it’s like to try and use them.

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