In Africa good governance has been very elusive, it is one major reason Africa is under developed. In a continuous effort to enhance participation and direct communication between citizens and their elected representatives in Africa, the Botswana Speaks project was launched on recently at the Parliament of Botswana. The project aims to enable the National Assembly enhance work efficiency and increase policy responsiveness with constituencies through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). SIDA (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) co-funds this project with a consortium of multiple partners: the Parliament of Botswana, eGovlab at the University of Stockholm/ Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV) and Gov2u.
Botswana Speaks is an eDemocracy project that will enable citizens, traditional leaders and local kgotla assemblies in four constituencies of Botswana to share their views and policy concerns with their elected representative. During the official kick-off meeting, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Dr Margaret Nasha showed her full support to the initiative. She pointed out the lack of participation of the youth in the democratic process: “Young people do not attend kgotlas. They are hardly ever there as they feel out of place.” Therefore, she sees in the use of new technologies a way of engaging the youth more systematically in politics: “We want to take our young people on board.”
The project will run for 18 months, with a pilot phase scheduled to start in four constituencies in April 2013. Four Members of the Parliament are involved in this pilot project in the constituencies of Hon. Rayner B. Makosha (Nata/Gweta), Hon. Slumber Tsogwane (Boteti North), Hon. Odirile Motlhale (South East South) and Hon. Tawana Moremi (Maun West). These MPs will be able to gather citizens’ views and input on issues and policy discussed in the Parliament via text messages and via a web platform.
Widely praised for its long established practice of popular consultation and levels of social cohesion, Botswana’s case constitutes a prime example of the way in which traditional structures can be successfully integrated within contemporary administrative structures. Financial allowances have put a strain on the interaction between Members of Parliaments and their local electorates through consultation missions. But what if there is a tool that can be used by citizens to express policy preferences and provide feedback on policy implementation instantly and at minimal costs? According to Vasilis Koulolias, Programme Director of Botswana Speaks and Director of the eGovlab, Stockholm University, the project aims to build trust between elected representatives and citizens by fostering communication.