Cell Phones for Citizen Engagement in the DRC | World Bank Institute (WBI)

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Much of the DRC’s infrastructure is still weak and most of the country has poor access to electricity and utilizes portable generators and charging stations.
  • Cell phones are helping increase citizen participation and positively transforming the relationship between citizens and their government.
  • The program uses mobile phones for four purposes to help citizens stay informed and engaged.
(c) ICT4Gov Team. A budget voting assembly in South Kivu.

 

February 28, 2012—The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is located in the heart of Africa with nearly 70 million people and the second largest land-mass on the continent. Citizens of the DRC have experienced a series of armed conflict through the 1990s and have been recovering since 2001. Much of the DRC’s infrastructure is still weak and most of the country has poor access to electricity and utilizes portable generators and charging stations.

As the country rebuilds itself, citizens need a voice and a larger role in helping the government provide bridges, roads, electricity, and water in the places with most need as efficiently as possible. A new trend is that mobile phones are helping increase citizen participation and positively transforming the relationship between citizens and their government.

The usage of mobile phones has been estimated to reach 47% in 2013. Also, 55% of the country’s population resides in areas currently covered by mobile networks, including most rural areas from the Eastern province of South Kivu. 

“Our realities are African realities,” said Thomas Maketa, a DRC-based member of the World Bank Institute’s (WBI's) ICT4Gov team. While many citizens in the province don’t have access to water or electricity in their homes, they do have mobile phones.

Engaged in the Budget Process
WBI's ICT4Gov program is introducing mobile technology to enhance participatory budgeting processes in DRC’s South Kivu province. Using mobile technology, citizens can now vote on the priorities that are most pressing for their communities.  When they have reached an agreement the local government devotes a percentage of the local investment budget to the project selected by the citizens.

open-quotesIn South Kivu, citizens are now empowered to participate in the decisions that impact their community through processes that are more transparent, more inclusive and more effective than ever before.close-quotesBoris Weber, ICT4Gov Team LeadThe program uses mobile phones for four purposes. The first is to invite citizens to the participatory budgeting assemblies through geo-targeted SMS messages. These messages reach all the phones receiving signals from a particular tower and announce the date, time, and location of the assemblies.

The second is to vote on the priorities citizens would like to see addressed in their community. Citizens can use their cell phones to send a text with the priorities of their choosing. Thirdly, mobile phones are used to announce the voted decision, making the process more transparent and inclusive than ever before.

Finally, mobile phones are being used to ask citizens about the projects that are chosen. Citizens are able to offer feedback and monitor the projects through text messages. More than 250,000 text messages have already been sent throughout the different stages of this initiative.

An Approach Leading to Results

“Beyond creating a more inclusive environment, the beauty of the ICT4Gov project in South Kivu is that citizen participation translates into demonstrated and measurable results on mobilizing more public funds for services for the poor,” said Boris Weber, team leader for WBI’s ICT4Gov program.

Since the program began, communities involved have already seen an increase in the transfer of funds from the provincial to the local level.  The preliminary results of an external evaluation suggest a reduction in tax evasion at the local level. Citizens are now more willing to pay taxes as they link government spending to improvement in the delivery of services.

“For the first time, communities such as the one in Ibanda have gone from not having any investment budget to having 40% of their budget devoted to investments,” said Maketa. In 2011, the Ministry of the Budget started the institutionalization of participatory budgeting in South Kivu province.

The increase in the transfer of funds from the provincial to the local level has benefited communities, which now have more resources to deliver public services to the poor. For example, the process has allowed to begin repairing 54 classrooms and a bridge in Luhindja, creating a health center and repairing the sewage system in Bagira, and building a water fountain, as well as toilets, in local markets in Ibanda.

“In South Kivu, citizens are now empowered to participate in the decisions that impact their community through processes that are more transparent, more inclusive, and more effective than ever before,” Weber said.

Through the use of mobile phones, citizens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are changing the way they engage with their governments, with their communities, and with one another.  
 

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