Policy change in Africa: Networks are key to communicating for influence

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By LC for APCNews

PUERTO GALERA, Philippines, 22 December 2010

CICEWA is a multi-dimensional project, which sought to link research, research communications, network-building and advocacy in an innovative way to encourage the development of networks of civil society and other organisations to work for political change at regional and national levels in Central, East and West Africa.

Participating countries included Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda in East Africa, and Senegal, Cameroon, Benin, Niger and the Republic of Congo in Central and West Africa.

Two networks were set up, one for the East African, English-speaking countries, and another one for the French-speaking countries to the West. The East African ICTD Network (EAICTD) focussed their advocacy work on internet governance, while the francophone GOReTIC network focused its advocacy on the need to establish and efficiently manage universal access funds that would allow recipient countries to develop infrastrcutre neessary to rolling out broadband in more remote areas.

Networks advocate for local and national policy change

The EAICTD network focused on internet governance by organising and hosting national and regional Internet Governance Forums (IGFs), where members advocated to bring down the high cost of connectivity, the need for affordable content and applications, the need for capacity building for government staff to spearhead e-government initiatives and the need for policy frameworks related to ICT laws and cyberlaws. CICEWA helped the EAICTD network in its capacity to advocate for these things, as well as network buildilng.

This allowed them to develop a better understanding of internet governance issues, and by extension, their capacity to advocate for changes. Through increased involvement in discussions and the East Africa IGF, opportunities to collaborate closely with ICT policy makers and legislators were created, said Ugandans Lilian Nalwoga of CIPESA and Goretti Amuria of WOUGNET.

Both the East African regional and national IGFs placed strong emphasis on the need to focus on local priorities rather than following the global IGF agenda or ways of working.
One indication that civil society has developed the capacity to adapt and advocate on new issues as they arise was their capacity to identify new issues such as the need for the inclusion of youth and entrepreneurs in ICT policy consultations and planning. “Those have become the new buzz words, the business development solutions,” says Lilian Nalwoga.

However despite the interest from government and business, the EAICTD network has struggled to find support from donors traditionally supportive of ICT4D for the national and regional IGF processes.

Despite increasing awareness to the issues promoted in the IGFs and larger networks, these donors have shifted to other issues such as the MDGs, poverty alleviation and climate change, and suggests a divergent understanding of the the importance of ICTs and internet governance for development.

Networks help organisations become more capable

Representatives from both networks noted the difference that advocacy skills-building workshops made in catalysing organisational growth and capacity, which were supported by CICEWA. The EAICTD network held its advocacy training workshop to plan the CICEWA second phase advocacy phase, on 25 – 28 May 2009, Lenana Center, in Nairobi, Kenya. While the GOREeTIC network convened an advocacy workshop from 2-4 September 2009 in Douala Cameroun, under the leadership of Sylvie Siyam and Coura Fall.

Members of the GOREeTIC network also reported an increased confidence in doing research and advocacy. Some, like Cameroonians Protege QV, had never been involved in research projects before. “In terms of organisational capacity, we worked on a Universal Access Funds study. This increased our research capacity skills as well as our ability to present research. This required us to learn how to do this type of work as we had never done this before,” said Sylvie Syiam, Protege QV director.

Protege QV used their participation in the CICEWA project to build a new skill that has since led to new opportunities for conducting research – in an IDRC-funded project where they will study the impact of education in rural areas – and with that the potential for ongoing engagement with a new Minister of Communications.

“Research certainly raised our awareness about what is going on. The government has already installed 34 telecentres and will install 300 within Cameroon. The fact that we worked on CICEWA made us question their approach and how effective it will be at improving access for the population. It is at this point that we proposed this research to the IDRC,” concludes Sylvie Syiam..

Accessing necessary information a big challenge

Access to information was a major problem and often hampered the research and advocacy.
In Benin, staff within Benin Telecom would only speak on condition of anonymity, making it difficult to substanciate the information they received, and were not willing to make any public appearances on radio debates or other media..

In Senegal, Coura Fall complained that bribes were demanded “every time we needed to speak to someone from the government or a journalist.” “The information we needed was always hard to get hold of,” she said.

There was a significant lag between the understanding of the advocacy networks who see access to information and knowledge through the internet as a human rights or development issue and the current understanding of the media and local think-tanks.

“In the Congo, it is difficult to get the media to go beyond simply reporting an event and get them to present an in-depth analysis of the underlying issues related to ICTs,” observed Sylvie Niombo of Azur Développement, member of the GOREeTIC network in the Congo.

CICEWA legitimises organisations

Despite the challenges, many GOREeTIC members felt that their profile in the national ICT sector – and for some in the region – had increased as a result of their participation in the CICEWA research and advocacy on universal access funds.

This increased legitimacy allowed them to pursue relationships in other sectors such as education, health, agriculture, making them therefore able to better promote the value of ICTs, the role of information in development and internet governance.

For Oridev in Benin, the partnerships within the regional GOREeTIC network are as valuable as those with national partners.

“The organisation has come out of the project much more strengthened and able due to the fact that new partnerships were formed with other organisations with similar objectives that all worked on the CICEWA project. Oridev’s network and support base has grown simply by working with other organisations who now know and support our cause even if they are not ICT related organisations, such as Créaction Bénin and Nouvelles perspectives Afrique which is a civil society organisation that does advocacy work on many issues,” reported Barnabe Affoungnon.

An increased and more legitimate profile also facilitates access to political leadership and policy-makers, which are key to advancing positions and issues “The fact that we met with the minister of telecoms amongst others has changed our place in the ICT sector. It legitimised us and gave us more importance within the sector, and people took us more seriously because our research had new and precise numbers. We spoke to the old and new minister, and were asked to share the information with them. It also allowed us to get support by the minister for our new projects” noted Sylvie Syiam of Protege QV.

Adaptability and flexibility are key

In Niger, a coup d’etat required GOREeTIC to change their focus and strategy and to work more closely with women and youth. “We went through political unrest and the authorities were more concerned with [broader] political issues than what we were concentrating on, so we really focussed our work on youth and women. […] Our biggest success was training the youth and getting the youth engaged. For me this was the most rewarding and interesting work – to see the enthusiasm this generated in them, ” explains Wilfrid Mama of Alternatives Niger.

This decision to refocus the policy advocacy – and to include a capacity-building component targeting women and youth – demonstrates the strength and confidence of the GOREeTIC partner to change direction when the political situation made it impossible to implement their original advocacy plans which had focused on universal access funds. The Niger GOREeTIC partner still managed to raise awareness nationally about ICT access issues but had to go to a target audience that were at the margins of the original advocacy strategy.

Online networking remains a challenge

Yet the combination of long distances and poor infrastructure, high connection prices and lack of ability to meet face to face with ICT network members made it difficult to maintain working relationships at times.

The very nature of online work in Africa is in and of itself a challenge, noted Coura Fall of Senegal. She explains “networking was difficult because we were all spread out over a large geographical region, and working virtually in Africa is less than ideal.”

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

(END/2010)

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