Hivos’ Southern Africa Hub is supporting an innovative project called ZimVoices that is taking advantage of the rapid growth of internet and mobile telephony in Zimbabwe to influence citizen participation in development and governance processes.
The Ushahidi-powered platform utilises the concept of crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability. Ushahidi, Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”, is open source software that facilitates information collection, visualisation and interactive mapping. The software was first used in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential election to collect eyewitness reports of violence sent in by email and text-message and place them on a Google map.
The web platform www.zimvoices.com provides a link between policy makers, citizens, institutions, office bearers, elected officials and the world at large to engage on issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of Zimbabweans.
The ICT-based project is being implemented by five non-governmental organisations including Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Musasa Project, Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), Radio Dialogue and Southern Africa Crisis Management Agency (SACMA).
Since its launch in February 2014, ZimVoices has grown significantly, attracting more than 300,000 Zimbabwean unique visitors and 200,000 from other parts of the world. As the web platform becomes more popular, citizens are actively reporting their concerns on service delivery, transparency and accountability, gender, and implementation of the constitution, among others.
Data generated from the platform is used to advocate for increased transparency and accountability by the different organisations involved in the project. The data is analysed and shared with policy makers, citizens and institutions through the web platform and social media.
“ZimVoices has created an opportunity for ordinary Zimbabweans to actively influence issues that affect them daily, such as governance and service delivery. The platform eliminates physical barriers that used to stand between citizens and office bearers. Now people can ‘meet’ virtually and resolve community issues,” said Gibson Nyambayo, SACMA’s Programs and Information Officer.
“The platform has empowered citizens to the extent that public officers, policy makers and institutions can now be called to account for their actions with ease online..”
To increase the web platform’s visibility, ZimVoices partners undertake outreach programmes to teach marginalised communities on the use of ICT their importance in developmental and governance processes. Headmen, society leaders, councillors and citizens have already been trained on how to use various social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and texting to advocate for better service delivery.
Hivos believes that free exchange of information, space for expression and opportunity for active participation of citizens are essential conditions for the development of a democratic society. Citizens are the drivers of change, the makers and shapers of society. This is why the road to democratic and accountable governance starts with their demands being heard and heeded.