What evidence exists to support the argument that the mobile phone is an effective tool in the fight against corruption?

Re-print of an article written for Spider Newsletter 34, which had a thematic focus on corruptionin recognition of 9 December as the International Anti-Corruption Day.


A year ago, Spider launched the publication Increasing transparency and fighting corruption through ICT in which Spider wished to highlight the potential of ICT as an anti-corruption tool. This year, the number of ICT related initiatives and projects that address corruption (defined in its widest sense) have doubled if not tripled. The most visible development is the use of crowdsourcing methods by civil society organisations, making it possible for citizens to voice their concerns, demand improved service delivery and report corruption. Huduma in Kenya (and soon to be launched in Uganda), UsPeak and Ureport in Uganda, Ramani Tandale project in Tanzania all constitute good examples of the crowdsourcing trend.

Since the ICT/corruption report was launched, Spider has also engaged in the field by supporting a number of projects in East Africa aimed to increase transparency and accountability in public service delivery (see Box 1). In most of these projects the mobile phone constitutes an important component.

Box 1

The ‘SMS for Human Rights’ project by the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) make it possible for citizens to report human rights violations and bad governance. Similarly, Transparency International Uganda addresses the problem of corruption, absenteeism and inadequate social accountability in the health sector through mobile phones and a free call centre. Another service delivery monitoring project, run by Wougnet, aims to raise awareness on corruption and poor service delivery through ICT (mobile, radio and internet). In the run-up to the 2012 Kenyan national elections, Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHCR) will monitor service delivery at local level and encourage dialogue using social media and mobile phones.The ‘Chanjo’ in Tanzania uses music, social media and mobile phones in innovative ways to tackle corruption, selfishness and laziness. Another project directly targeting corruption is ‘Not Here’ who will develop web and mobile interfaces to rate performance of public servants as well as report and follow up on cases of corruption.

In order to understand the field more, both CIPESA in Uganda and iHub Research in Kenya, have conducted research on the mobile supported interface between government and citizens.

Read more about the projects here and about the ICT4Democracy network here.

These projects rest on the assumption that access to information is a critical enabler for good governance in the sense that if citizens have more (and access to) information about the activities of their government, then empowered citizens will put extra pressure on the government to be more transparent and accountable and public officials will be compelled to perform their jobs more competently. The hypothesis is that the ubiquitous mobile phone and the set up of various hotlines and crowdsourcing platforms facilitate this access to information and therefore play a role in the fight against corruption.

Unfortunately, the literature on this research topic is rather sparse and faces a number of important limitations. There is a growing body of evidence but the ‘evidence’ is uneven and scattered, partly because initiatives are new and impacts unknown. Evidence in one case and context is usually not corroborated by studies in another. Also, integrating systems and scaling up the mobile technologies into existing public administration structures is a complex procedure. Therefore, little research actually exists to support the argument that the mobile phone is an effective tool in the fight against corruption.

Analysing data from Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), suggests that the mere presence of mobile phones does not itself lower the levels of corruption. This contradicts Bailard‘s findings from 2009, which draws CPI and mobile phone penetration data from 46 nations over the period 1999 to 2006. The study claims that the very presence of mobile phones does lower the levels of corruption “by decentralizing information and communication, thereby shrinking the veil of secrecy that shields corrupt behaviour” (Bailard 2009 p. 350). However, in East Africa, despite the exceptional mobile phone growth in the region in the past decade, corruption levels are perceived to have increased in Kenya and Uganda since 1998, while Tanzania has only seen a slight improvement (see Table 1).

Table 1. CPI in three East African countries 1998-2011

Rank2011 Country


2011 2006 2001 1998
100 Tanzania 3.0 2.9 2.2 1.9
143 Uganda 2.4 2.7 1.9 2.6
154 Kenya 2.2 2.2 2.0 2.5

Source: Transparency International 2011

These figures suggest that access to mobiles phones alone is not sufficient. For mobile phones to be an effective anti-corruption tool, they need to be used in more targeted projects. For mobile phones to support feedback mechanisms to monitor corruption, basic data on government’s expenditures and performance must be available. To encourage citizens to continue to send in reports, incentives in the form of relevant feedback need to be built into the system. For citizens to report at all, they need to know about the existing initiative and trust its source and reliability.

One or two mobile facilitated anti-corruption projects will not solve the problem and make the difference. This said we might see a positive change when there are many initiatives and projects working together. The growing army of ‘citizen reporters’ deserve a better and more secure feedback mechanism, mash up maps need to be interlinked, and the open (government) data movement must spread. For this to happen, and for us to be able to answer the title question, organisations like Spider also need to open up: we need be transparent, share our knowledge, network more, and support innovative initiatives in the way we can.


Deutsche Welle: Technology lets developing nations fight corruption

This is a reprint of the article written by Chiponda Chimbelu for the Deutsche Welle published the 19th of October, 2011. The report to which the articles refers to is available here.

Technology lets developing nations fight corruption
Technology can be used to spur business growth in developing countries, a UN agency says. The Internet, computers and mobile phones facilitate banking services and improve access to market information.

Information and communication technology (ICT) enables private sector growth in developing countries, according to report published Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The African ICT sector is growing rapidly. Last year, there were close to 500 million mobile phone subscribers.

But there are wide disparities across the African continent. In 2010, less than one in 10 Ethiopians had a mobile phone compared to more than seven in 10 Ghanaians, according to the International Telecommunications Union. This year, Ghana was reclassified by the World Bank as a lower middle income economy.

Enlarging the market by taking it to the poor
Despite Ghana’s high mobile phone usage, ICT has yet to make a substantial contribution to the country’s private sector development, according to the World Bank. It estimates 80 percent of the business sector is informal.

“The IT revolution [in Africa] is enabling smaller farmers to have access to information which they didn’t have earlier, but not much has changed for larger companies,” said Sebastian Kahlfeld, a senior fund manager at DWS Investments, Deutsche Bank’s investment arm.

Mobile phones in particular are enabling access to services like banking and information, according Sebastien Dessus, the World Bank’s lead economist for Ghana.

“In theory, [ICT] can play a role in enlarging markets because access to information improves and transaction costs are reduced,” he noted.

Farmers now use mobile phones to obtain market information on the latest prices for their crops. In Ghana, cashew nut farmers can use a phone application to compare trader bid prices. And since 2008, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange has granted farmers access to real-time information via text messages, electronic display boards and a website.

Kenya’s mobile banking system, M-Pesa is bringing banking services to millions. The service has 20,000 agents in the country compared to 400 for the largest bank, according to UNCTAD ICT analysis chief Torbjörn Fredriksson.

Apart from providing banking services, ICT has also helped create employment for thousands since it was launched in 2007. The service, which was developed for person-to-person transactions, is now being used by small entrepreneurs to carry out payments, Fredriksson said.

Technology helps but is not the only solution
But technology is not only good for enlarging the market and empowering small-scale businesses, it can also be used to fight corruption, according to UNCTAD. ICT improves transparency and accountability, said Johan Hellström, a researcher at Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions.

“The very presence of mobile phones decreases corruption and secret activities because it leaves footprints and audit trails,” he added.

Corruption is third leading constraint to doing business in a country after electricity and tax rates, according to a 2010 World Bank survey.

Crowdsourcing techniques like Kenya’s Ushahidi can be used to report incidents of bribes or corruption. Similar initiatives are springing up all over Africa; with stopthebribe in Nigeria, and No bakshish in Cameroon. Through such initiatives and global ones like bribespot and corruption tracker, ICT is empowering people to take a stance against corruption, according to Transparency International (TI).

The platforms are providing means of discussing corruption and mobilizing people while providing them with ways to avoid paying bribes, said TI spokeswoman Natalie Baharav. But challenges remain.

“An integrated approach that includes an offline approach is needed,” Baharav said, noting that Internet access was still very low in most countries.

For Hellström, the challenge is changing people who are corrupt.

“It’s the users who are corrupt and they are the part of the corruption that is hard to address,” Hellström said.

Experts can only speculate on the extent that ICT will have on private sector development in Africa or other developing countries. For investors, it is the current financial climate that matters.

“If you aren’t certain about European banks, then you are not going to invest in a Nigerian bank,” said Kahlfeld of DWS Investments. “Global stability is essential for investors to invest in African markets.”

Author: Chiponda Chimbelu
Editor: Sean Sinico

Meeting on mobile innovations and local governance

Looking forward to attend the “Expert Meeting on mobile innovations and local governance” on Tuesday, October 25th 2011, that will take place at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. The objective is to “discuss and define key conditions that need to be taken into account for mobile innovations to contribute to strengthening citizens’ participation and local governance in Sub Saharan Africa” and to create opportunities for further knowledge sharing and concrete collaboration on particular mobile innovations. Questions that will be discussed:

  • What is the role of mobile technology for citizenship and local governance?
  • What happens when mobile consumers become citizens, organize themselves and participate in politics, public decision making, monitoring and reporting?
  • What are the impacts of these mobile innovations on political and social change?
  • In particular on behavioral and institutional changes regarding voice of citizens and accountability of public and private institutions?
  • How can mobile phones support inclusive democratization processes and what are the related risks?
  • How can we overcome the ‘pilot‐then‐die’ syndrome characterizing many ICT4D initiatives?

Technology for Social Accountability Expo

This is a video from the Technology for Social Accountability Expo (www.tsa-expo.com) organised by NDI and IRI in May 2011 in Kampala. The objective of the one-day expo was to bring together the Ugandan civil society working with accountability and transparency, and government institutions responsible for service delivery with technology service providers who have tools and skills to make those efforts more efficient and effective. The event included a trade show offering networking opportunities as well as panel discussions on technology in social accountability. The video was filmed using my mobile phone (Nokia N900).

Sophisticated technology and refined rigging in Uganda’s 2011 presidential election

Version available here too.

This is the old man with a hat, THANK U for voting for me & the NRM. Let’s work together for a better Uganda. Congratulations on the NRM victory.”

This short message service (SMS) was sent by ”YKMuseveni” to millions of Ugandan mobile users the week after the presidential election in February 2011. The SMS more or less tells the whole story. Not only does it tell us that the long lasting President Museveni usually wears a hat; it also states that the 25-year rule is set to continue for another 5 years and the SMS also indicates that those in power have understood the value in using new technologies to campaign and reach the masses.

Rap and robocalls
The ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM) used all technical means available to convince voters to cast their votes on them. It all started when Museveni, during a speech in 2010, started to rap. It was recorded, remixed and given a beat with back up vocals. A music video was produced and uploaded on YouTube. Rest is history: the song became viral, spread as a ringtone and via Facebook, and functioned as NRM’s anthem during the whole campaign.

Mass SMS broadcasts were widely deployed by all major candidates and parties and some had also  developed interactive websites and social network functions to communicate with voters. NRM might have had the highest budget for this and presented the most advanced approach with a website and a SMS subscription service where registered users could receive updates regarding rallies and debates. The NRM secretariat had set up a toll free call centre for queries, a social networking site and a Museveni Fan Page on Facebook with thousand’s of “likes”. A week before the presidential election, people’s phones started to ring. Using an automated “robocall” system (Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP) the President delivered a pre-recorded message telling voters: “Hullo, I greet you. Thank you for your support. As you go to vote, please vote for Museveni, the man in a hat.

Voter registration, election monitoring and parallel vote tabulations
Information and communication technology (ICT) was not only used in campaigns, it was used extensively throughout the election cycle. The Electoral Commission made it possible for anyone to check the details of the register down to parish level via the web. Registered voters could also check their details via SMS by sending their voter identity number to the dedicated short code 8683.

During election day, the traditional media did an achievable work in reporting from all over the country. However, Facebook and especially Twitter (#ugandavotes) was undoubtedly the best source for instant (although unverified) information.

Ushahidi has become a well known crowdsourcing crisis information tool. It makes it possible for citizens to report incidents via SMS, mail, twitter and other channels depending on configuration, and plot these on an online map. In Uganda, the organisation Citizen Election Watch – IT (CEW-IT) set up a customised version of the Ushahidi platform called Uchaguzi, which was used to monitor incidences of electoral offences. However, another organisation called DEMGroup, a coalition of four civil society organisations, had developed yet another platform (Ugandawatch2011) built on top of Drupal.

The two organisations CEW-IT and DEMGroup made an agreement so that all the messages sent from the crowd was sourced into Ugandawatch2011. In total, more than 10’000 messages was sent via SMS to 6090, reporting on various issues such as voter buying, registration hiccups, inappropriate campaign conduct, cases of violence or just general complaints of positive feedback.

The Electoral Commission are the only ones authorised to announce the official polling results. Historically, a lot of the rigging takes place in voting process, i.e. when counting the votes and submitting the results to the headquarters for recount. As a response to this, the Electoral Commission launched a system for communicating and handling the results from the almost 24’000 polling stations nationwide. Using a much lower budget, the open source project Mulika set up their own system that allowed any citizen to report election results at their polling station at the end of voting. The aggregated results were than accessible via http://ug2011.com/. The basic idea behind the initiative was to make rigging at counting nearly impossible as the results officially declared then would have been already known by the public. However, only data from 104 polling stations out of almost 24’000 was submitted to Mulika.

DEMGroup, with technical assistance from the American organisation National Democratic Institute (NDI), had a more rigorous approach and had mobilised almost 6’000 nonpartisan citizen election monitors countrywide. Using SMS to gather data from the monitors, the parallel vote tabulations provided an independent vote count as a check on the Electoral Commission.

All good or…
There is no doubt that ICT played a key role in Uganda’s 2011 elections. Hopefully it helped voters to be more informed about the process, candidates and issues than during previous elections. No doubt the digital version of the register was cleaner than any other version publicly available before. And it seems like the counting of votes and display of election results accurately represented the ballots cast, partly thanks to CEW-IT, DEMGroup and NDI’s efforts.

So was the election free and fair? Not exactly, the elections were rather very expensive and rigged. Not only were new boundaries and new districts set up since last election to favour NRM. State resources were used to campaign and there are several alleged cases of bribery of voters and voter buying. How could NRM (and other parties too) control bribed voters? Firstly, design the ballot paper so that there is a distance and easy to differentiate between the two main rivals (the portrait of Museveni wearing a hat appeared at the bottom on the ballot paper and the main opposition leader second from the top). Secondly, place the plastic basin where voters tick their candidate low so that it is impossible to do it secretly and can easily be observed from a distance.

By putting the register online, citizens could scrutinise and alert the Electoral Commission cases of deceased, under age or ghost voters. However, it seems like the register used during election day was not identical with the digital one. Many voters were missing on voter register, others were in different polling stations, others had names but no photographs or the reverse and could therefore not vote. This partly explains the rather low voter turn out (below 60%). Another explanation to the low voter turnout is the heavy presence of military during election day which could have affected the results by discouraging opposition voters from voting.

So, despite all the innovative use of ICT mentioned above, the election outcome was just as expected. Technology is not the sole solution to all problems in the fight for deepened democracy and in running free and fair elections. The use of sophisticated technology did not stop the rigging, it only forced those in power to make it more refined.

M4AC at M4D2010

Second day of M4D2010 , the Swedish ICT4D NGO SPIDER organised a workshop on the theme “Increasing Transparency and Fighting Corruption through ICT”. The workshop was exploring the potentials of mobile technology in increasing transparency, as well as curbing corruption (M4AC). During the workshop, the latest issue of the SPIDER publication in the ICT4D series was officially launched.

Bo Göransson, Chair of SPIDER gave an introduction. Others speakers were John Mary (Democracy Monitoring Group, DEMGroup, Uganda), Muguzi Henry (Transparency International, Uganda Chapter) and I did another walking around in the hall interactive presentation “Mobile technology as a means to fight corruption in East Africa”.

Got some great feedback from the audience which I hope I can use in another article on the topic. Some of the tweets (#m4d2010) that the presentation generated are here:

Really pumped for this one. RT @ugali Day2 of #m4d2010 starts with a workshop “Increasing Transparency… Great to hear!!

#m4d2010 Uganda will be actively using mobiles to assist in ensuring the upcoming elections are fair, open and transparent.

#m4d2010 “corruption” is part of culture in Uganda. Are there good practices of corruption or could it be seen as source of creativity?

Day 2 at #m4d2010 tackles ICTs in “the fight against corruption”. Like the term “quiet corruption” (non-delivery of services).

#M4d2010 in my opinion, mobile projects that fight corruption will have larger, immediate impact in countries w/ more “quiet corruption”

#m4d2010– can the #mobile #phone be used to fight corruption in #Uganda?

Uchaguzi Tanzania http://bit.ly/dfjCj3 and uchaguzi Kenya http://www.uchaguzi.co.ke #m4d2010

#m4d2010– a reporting system with #mobile #phoneswhere doctors that violate human rights are tracked

#m4d2010 mobile application by http://www.kfighters.com/ empower citizens fighting kleptocratic government officials using mobile and web

#m4d2010 As Johan slide is saying – anonymity is key I believe – whistle blowing without been afraid of repercussion et cetera.

#m4d2010 agreed. Anonymity must be guaranteed for crowd sourced, anti-corruption projects to be embraced and succeed.

Projects alrdy in e. africa: attendance monitoring at schools, donor budget tracking, & monitoring elections, fraud, & malpractice #m4d2010

“The presence of a decentralised information & communication network produces demand for better public services” – Johan Hellstrom #m4d2010

“The very fact that we have communications tools increases public demand for better public services” – Johan Hellstrom. #m4d2010

#m4d2010 – can mobile phones/ are mobile phones used for surveilling citizens?

#m4d2010– IT can be used for much more to fight#corruption

#m4d2010 mobile application by http://www.kfighters.com/ empower citizens fighting kleptocratic government officials using mobile and web

#m4d2010 @Johan: that was a good presentation! other challenges are: Acceptence and education (we nologer know what corrupting is)

Mobiles as a means to fight corruption

The report “Increasing Transparency & Fighting Corruption through ICT – Empowering People and Communities” is now available here.

My chapter explores the role of mobile technology as a means to promote good governance, increase accountability and fight corruption. It gives a general overview of governance in relation to mobile services looking into the specifics of mobile technology as a way to fight corruption. For a better understanding of both the potential and challenges in using mobile technology, it analyses relevant cases with a focus on Uganda. The study draws from data generated through desk research and in-depth interviews, meetings and discussions with key stakeholders in East Africa.

Other chapters are written by Åke Grönlund, Rebekah Heacock & David Sasaki and Walid Al-Saqaf.