Regional ICT advocacy in Africa: Key lessons from the CICEWA project

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By Natasha Primo for APC

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 04 January 2011

In 2008 the APC’s policy team took on a new project which aimed to link advocacy, research, network-building and action related to regional ICT development. The Communication for Influence in Central, East and West Africa project (CICEWA) “sought to advance and support calls for universal affordable access to broadband information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in Central, East and West coasts of Africa” according to Natasha Primo, who coordinated the research and evaluation components of the project. The participating countries included Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda in East Africa, and Senegal, Cameroon, Benin, Niger and Congo Brazzaville in Central and West Africa.

One of the main benefits of undertaking such a project, are the reflections on advocacy strategies and lessons learnt during the process related to project design and running an advocacy campaign. Five categories were used to asses the success of two networks – the East African ICTD network and GOREeTIC – respectively operating in East Africa, and West and Central Africa – from which learnings were drawn. The categories used for evaluation are drawn from Barbara Klugman’s evaluation framework and aim to identify what changes have occurred within the organisation and in general. Evaluation using these criteria provide a better understanding of the political dimensions of the implementation of telecom reform through its practices of governance. Areas include:

  • Strengthened organisational capacity (did the organisation gain new skills?)
  • strengthened alliances (has the network increased?)
  • increased data and analysis from a social justice perspective (did the research contribute to knowledge in this area)
  • increased support for a specific problem definition and solution or policy option (are others more aware and supportive of the issue at hand), and
  • increased visibility of the issue in policy processes resulting in positive policy outcomes.

While both networks had different strengths and lessons, the summary below offers an overview of the results by both networks.

East Africa:

  • If one had to pick the outcome category best achieved by the members the EAICTD it would be the visibility they brought to internet governance issues.
  • One sees a significant shift in the policy posture of governments in the East African region towards the internet governance issue and participating in multi-stakeholder processes involving civil society and private sector stakeholders. This is evident in the increased visibility of internet governance issues especially in Uganda and Kenya, and the credibility EAICTD partners gained from launching an advocacy campaign that is well rooted in research. The Kenyan governments decision to host the 2010 ICANN meeting, the offer to host the 2011 global IGF, and the Rwandan government’s offer to host the 2011 EAIGF are all testament to how the governments have shifted their positions.
  • Supported by the research findings there is a convergence of opinions between governments and civil society (and to a lesser extent the private sector) on the key internet governance question of how to deliver more affordable access to the citizens/consumers. This has also led to different stakeholders seeking closer collaboration. Civil society advocates are co-opted onto government task forces.
  • There is good collaboration between civil society organisations within the ICT for development sector. There is however a lot of work to be done to bring the non-ICT sector based organisations into the process and to advocate for affordable access to ICTs as an enabler of development and citizen participation.

West and Central Africa:

  • It is difficult to assess the influence of the GOREeTIC member – and consequent shifts in the policy positions of politicians – because of the changes in and unpredictability of the political contexts in which they had to function over the last year: elections in Benin, a coup d‘État in Niger, and a change in the political leadership of the Communications Ministry in Cameroon. In Benin, the GOREeTIC member could not gain access to politicians in order to advance an advocacy position.
  • The one outcome category where the GOREeTIC members can be said to demonstrate their ability was their capacity to adapt to a politically unpredictable and changing environment where their campaigns came up against the political realities – as for example in Niger and Cameroon.
  • From the reports of the GOREeTIC members in Benin and Niger, it appears some progress has been made to foster deeper understanding among civil society organisations of the value of ICTs in enabling delivery of development dividends. However, in the absence of a sustained advocacy campaign and media statements from other civil society organisations about ICT4D and UAFs, it is difficult to make an independent judgement.
  • The unpredictable political landscape also makes it difficult to judge the behaviour of boundary partners when the GOREeTIC members were constrained in their ability to implement an advocacy campaign.

The key lessons on advocacy one can extract from this project are that:

  • Strong regional coordination is imperative for multi-country projects, and more so when they are implemented over multiple years.
  • Advocacy plans can bump up against political realities which can deflect attention away from the advocacy issue and make it difficult to discern the impact of any of the advocacy activities. It is important that civil society organisation have the capacity to adjust the campaign as best possible and still attain some of the advocacy goals.
  • Advocacy campaigns can shift focus, starting with one issue and ending with another. This project was conceived as an opportunity to advance access to broadband by examining why national level telecoms reforms did not yield the expected benefits – increased competition, costs reductions, etc- but then shifted in the advocacy phase from telecoms reform to internet governance (in East Africa) and universal access funds (in West and Central Africa). Such shifts are linked to how network members read the political and policy landscape, and their judgements of what what synergies they can exploit and follow the most strategic way to advance the advocacy agenda.

Photo by Make_Change. Used with permission under Creative Content licensing.

(END/2011)

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