ICT 4 accountability in Uganda

Personal research approach
ICT 4  Accountability in Uganda

This research will focus on the emergence of new media as an organizational and informative tool to empower people into more active and contributing political roles. Politically active groups or individuals, who use new media to express, organize or educate themselves in a political manner, will be the main target group.

During a period of 2.5 months, starting the 11th of april, I will be conducting research in Uganda on the potentials of new media and how it can be used as a tool for democratization.

‘Accountability is crucial for democracy’, these are the words of the writer of the globally discussed book ‘Dead aid’ (Dambisa Moyo: 2008). Development aid is keeping Africa as it is; a ‘limited access society’ (Douglass North). In these societies political and economic structures are build on personal relationships and ruled by a patronage system. These states exist by the virtue of ‘rents’, income generated by the government and distributed among the members who keep the system in tact. The recent article by Marcia Luyten (2009) describes the consequences of aid on schools where teachers will not show up at work, children will not be given breakfast by their parents and classes are filled with 200 children at the same time. According to Luyten, this happens partly because there is no one held accountable for the situation. Free education, made available by development aid money, does not stimulated parents to guide their children in their education. 

At the same time, government is not held responsible for the failing education system because it is offered free of charge. Furthermore, people living in the limited access society have no faith in the free market competition strategy because individual efforts are, more often than not, less effective than the patronage system. Why would you educate your child if all the good jobs go to the family of power holders (Luyten)? The patronage system is keeping African countries in a stranglehold which is strengthened by foreign aid money. Solutions seem to be vested in monitoring those who take part in this system by holding them accountable for their actions.

-This thesis will cover the concept of accountability and see what new media technologies can do to tackle problems concerned with the topic. By talking with politically engaged people I will try to understand what thresholds exist between political power brokers and civilians and why civilians fail to become politically concerned members of their society. Respondents will include student activists, social entrepreneurs, bloggers, local MP’s and expats.

-Secondly, I will try to find out why some people will rise up to the status quo and how new media technologies can help in this effort. Because of the networking ability of the web and mobile telephones people can organize in a more efficient way. Furthermore, censorship of information by authorities is difficult and the growth of the ICT sector in Africa offers a great potential. I will analyze running projects and politically active groups or individuals and see in what way they employ new media in their endeavors. I will try to isolate the biggest challenges and best practices; Furthermore, I will try to find explanations for these failures and accomplishments by looking at cultural and traditional factors within the sphere of accountability.

-The main topic of this thesis will deal with lateral and inverted panoptic surveillance and will build on theories by Foucault and Andrejevic. It will try to uncover the way in which Ugandan society is using these democratic tools to empower themselves. It aims to find out what the major challenges are for civilians to get their complaint or suggestion heard and acted upon and how new media can offer technical solutions. The terms ‘lateral and inverted panoptic surveillance’ roughly translate as ‘a Foucauldian approach towards accountability’. Because these terms are related to contemporary new media theorizing, they will hopefully prove themselves valuable in the analysis of African engagement with new ICT’s.

I will update this blog with post on my research in Uganda, feel free to react or send links. I will be in Uganda untill the 20th of June. After this I will travel around East Africa to report on projects and initiatives related to media and development.