Thursday, April 20, 2017

“Give LEAP beneficiaries investment capital for financial independence”- Prof. Emmanuel Debrah

Prof. Emmanuel Debrah has called for an investment mechanism for LEAP beneficiaries to make them financially independent. Lauding the program, he explained that even though the program had reduced poverty and debt levels among the poor, there is the need to make it more sustainable to fully alleviate poverty among the vulnerable in Ghana.

The Senior Political Science Lecturer at the University of Ghana made this call during the panel discussion at the Multi-Stakeholder Social Accountability Policy Advocacy Forum organised by Penplusbytes (PPB), in collaboration with the Centre for Democratic Development and SEND Ghana. The forum was to offer a credible platform for stakeholders to agree on common issues for advocacy and to increase contributions of civil society in promoting accountability on key social intervention programmes, particularly, the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP), the Labour Intensive Public Works (LIPW) and Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme being implemented by government.

He described Ghana’s LEAP programme as an important project that is improving the living conditions of beneficiaries in Ghana. “It has increased school enrolment, and reduced poverty and debt levels among the poor, especially households that have women as heads. It has also boosted the activities of peasant farmers,” he said.

“The stipend has increased the poor peoples’ confidence and status in the community,” he explained.
He asked that mechanism should be put in place to offer beneficiaries investment capital that could make them financially independent in the long term.

Prof Debrah also decried the inconsistency in payments to beneficiaries describing it as “a worrying situation that should be addressed as soon as possible” as some families who depended on the money face difficulties waiting for more than two months in some cases before they receiving lump sums.

The LEAP programme, which aims at alleviating short-term poverty and encourage long-term capital development is a social cash transfer programme that provides cash and health insurance to the extremely poor households across the country.

On his part, Dr Franklin Oduro, Deputy Executive Officer of CDD, said the LEAP programme is gradually moving people away from poverty and has had significant impact on families.
According to him, there was the need, however, to measure and know the actual effect on the people while effort should be made to increase the amount paid to ensure a more sustainable capital base for the people.

The Deputy Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Honourable Gifty Twum Ampofo, in a speech delivered on her behalf by Mr Mawutor Ablo, Director for Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, cited the overall fragmentation of social protection system, overlaps in programme coverage, duplications of effort and gaps between the various programmes as the key challenges confronting Ghana’s Social Protection efforts.

According to the Deputy Minister, “key challenges have been the uncoordinated institutional arrangements, the overall fragmentation of the social protection system, overlaps in programme coverage, duplications of effort and gaps between the various programmes.”

“Provisions have been made in the Employment and Social Protection project financed by the European Union to enhance capacity in monitoring and effectively managing our social protection Programmes,” she added.

Mr Ablo, on behalf of the Minister, lauded the efforts of Penplusbytes for the Tech Driven project to help analyse the critical social interventions of the state, and other civil society organizations (CSOs) and development partners currently undertaking various independent assessment of the various programmes, feedback from which has provided valuable information to the implementation of these programmes.

The forum which forms part of activities under the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) two-year funded project dubbed, “Tech Driven Social Accountability for Results" brought together representatives of key government agencies, CSO’s, Academia and the media.

The Executive Director of Penplusbytes, Kwami Ahiabenu II said the forum is providing the opportunity for social accountability actors to come out with common issues for a concerted advocacy on better service delivery in the selected social intervention policies by government.

Providing a brief over view of the project, Mr Jerry Sam, Project Director at Penplusbytes, said the Tech Driven Social Accountability for Results Projects, was being implemented in, Ellembelle District Assembly in the Western Region and Ashaiman Municipal Assembly in the Greater Accra Region.

He said the project, which has entered its second year of implementation, was helping monitoring the LEAP and School feeding programmes as well as “to help close the gap between what citizens want and what government actually do”.

According to him, the project’s implementation had revealed poor information flow among the citizens, on various social intervention policy and programmes with citizens having unrealistic expectations of the government.

The “Tech Driven Social Accountability for Results" therefore aims at equipping ordinary citizens with usable information, online and mobile-based platform to ensure their purposeful participation in demanding accountability and responsiveness from decision makers for effective public service delivery, he explained.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Social Media Report Reveals Radio Stations’ Dominant Influence on Facebook and Twitter

In a bid to enhance the work of the media using technology in Africa, Penplusbytes has released its latest social media ratings on Ghana’s Radio, Television and Print media; reviewing the performance of traditional media by gauging how they use Social media, Facebook and Twitter, to engage the ever growing numbers of online audiences looking to consume news faster and on the go.

With collected data remaining valid as at the 31st March, 2017 snap shot, this study measured how media entities utilize and manage their online platforms by employing a quantitative research module which provides relevant numerical figures - the number of ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ - which informed the rankings.

Providing an update on the performance of Ghana’s electronic and print media brands on social media as captured in previous indexes, this study was conducted on over 60 newspapers, over 350 registered radio stations and 34 TV stations guaranteed operations in Ghana and on air; from which a rank of the best 10 performing media brands in each category is highlighted.

With the focus on assessing activities and performances of well over 350 radio stations, 60 Newspapers and 34 TV stations guaranteed operations in Ghana and on air to find out the extent to which they are harnessing social media as a News generation and dissemination tool, this report endorses the Facebook’s status as the more popular social media tool in Ghana with greater patronage and use than Twitter. There are, indeed, more Ghanaian radio, TV and newspaper presence on Facebook than there are on Twitter.

Highlights of the report’s findings, which is downloadable here, places Joy FM as the most followed Ghanaian radio station on Facebook and Twitter; crossing the 1 million mark with 1,008,733 Facebook ‘Likes’ and above Citi FM who lie a competitive 2nd  with nearly a million Facebook ‘Likes’ as well (999,388 ‘Likes’).

The Social Media Index (SMI) report also provides detailed on indices for TV and Print categories as well, and draws up a rank of the best 10 performing media brands in each category. It reveals notably impressive performances by media entities such as Joy FM, Citi FM and Starr FM who, without any surprise, have their Twitter accounts verified. They represent a small percentage of best managed pages that are easily identified as official on social media with up-to-the-minute post updates and interaction with audience.
This report indicates that many media houses do not exist on social media or exist but have failed in efficiently and effectively managing their accounts with most pages left without updates for many months and even years in some cases; thereby defeating their purpose.

Kwami Ahiabenu II, Executive Director of Penplusbytes, said the SMI, among other objectives is aimed at providing a regular scorecard on the performance Ghana’s media. “We expect that we would, by this quarterly report, be encouraging more media houses and newsrooms to commit a lot more to building quality online presence to engage their online audience via social media,” he added.

The best performing media houses on social media, according to this report, are those with the most up-to-date posts and interactions while a worrying number of them are yet to realize the potential harm to their brands by the poor manner in which their social media accounts, created in their names, are managed.

Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilisation of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Featured Member for the Month of April: Bob Wekesa

Bob Wekesa is a Kenyan Media and Communications expert who is currently a postdoctoral fellow, School of Literature, Languages and Media Studies, Department of Journalism and Media Studies, University the Witwatersrand. He is also a Research Associate at Wits Africa-China Reporting Project.

Bob obtained a PhD in international communications at Communication University of China and is founding research coordinator at the African Communication Research Centre at Communication University of China. In 2002, he became a Commonwealth Press Union fellow in the UK (Harry Brittain Fellow).

His journalism experience spans reporting, editing and leadership including: editorial director, Kenya Today Newspaper; managing editor, Global Village Publishers (2008-2010) where he helped establish the influential Diplomat East Africa magazine and the Best of Kenya book series; political reporter/features writer, The Standard newspaper, Kenya (1999-2003); correspondent, Reuters African Journal television (2003 – present).

He has also been a leader in the Kenyan media having served as executive chairman of the Kenya Journalists Association (2007-2008) and as deputy secretary general rising to secretary general position at the Kenya Union of Journalists (2003-2007).

Bob Wekesa serves on the boards of the Kenyan Paraplegic and is a member of the ‘Chinese in Africa Africans in China Research Network’ among others.

With research interests in the China-Africa relations generally; focusing on the intersection of international communication and international relations, he has published thoughtful opinion articles widely in newspapers such as Daily Nation (Kenya), The Citizen (Tanzania), The African Daily (USA), China Daily (China), and The Herald (Zimbabwe) among others.

Bob Wekesa is presently current affairs commentator on China Radio International. He has authored two books and chapters in various other books and is currently finalising a China-Africa book project. He has also published in peer reviewed academic journals on the China-Africa communications theme in addition to many conference presentations.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Press Statement: The Civil Society Platform on Ghana’s IMF Programme’s Assessment of the 2017 Budget

The Civil Society Platform on Ghana’s IMF Programme commends Government for committing to adhere to and maintain good economic governance principles of fiscal discipline, accountability and transparency in this year’s budget which is very much in line with the IMF Programme objectives. The Platform presents the following views on the 2017 budget:
Macroeconomic Targets
  • The Platform holds the view that government’s end of year macroeconomic targets; Budget deficit of 6.5 percent of GDP, Inflation rate of 11.2 percent, GDP growth rate of 6.3 percent and Gross Foreign Assets of at least 3 months of imports cover could be achieved, provided government commits to fiscal discipline, ensure a favourable economic environment, stable currency, reliable electricity supply and decline in the cost of credit, among others.
Enforcement of the PFMA, 2016 (Act 921)
  • Government’s strict enforcement and compliance with the sanctions regime of the new Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921) would effectively deal with the persistent structural defects in the management of the country’s public finances.
  • Given that Act 921 has useful provisions to ensure efficient and effective use of public resources; ranging from Assignment of Responsibilities, Budget Preparation and Management, Cash and Asset Management, Public Debt Management, Strengthening Parliamentary Oversight and a Sanctions regime for non-compliance.
  • It is welcoming that the maiden Annual Debt Management Report for 2016 has been submitted to Parliament in accordance with Section 72 of PFM Act 921.
  • Government should quicken the engagement process with stakeholders and come out with regulations to fully operationalize Act 921 even as the IMF programme has set a March 2017 timeline for the adoption of the regulations.
Establishment of the Fiscal Council
  • The government’s decision to establish a Fiscal Council is laudable given that this independent body would strengthen commitments to sustainable public finances through various functions aimed at setting up medium-term fiscal policy anchors to guide fiscal policy as well as monitor compliance and ensure credibility of budgetary forecasts.
  • Government should come up with timelines for the establishment of this Council and also engage extensively on the modalities.
Expenditure Management
  • The Platform believes the measures in the budget to contain and rationalize public expenditure if strictly adhered to could plug the many leakages in the system; including efforts to continue the payroll clean-up using the SSNIT database as filter, enforcement of provisions in the Public Procurement (Amendment) Act, 2016 (Act 914) with emphasis on sole sourcing should be embraced and supported by all to protect the public purse.
  • A critical tool for citizens to demand accountability from public officers on the use of public resources is the Right to Information law. The Platform urges government to ensure passage of this law before end of year to give real meaning to the government’s commitment to fight corruption.
  • The fight against corruption would also be given the needed boost should government implement the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP). In addition to the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor and strict application of the provisions in the PFM and Public Procurement Amendment Acts, as well as the proposed amendments to, sections 3, 151 and 239-257 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), which will make corruption a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Pro-Poor and Social Development Spending
  • The Platform also welcomes the government’s intentions to safeguard pro-poor spending in the 2017 budget. Hence, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection should review and strengthen the social interventions (such as the School Feeding Programme, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty, etc.) to ensure that funds allocated reach their intended beneficiaries, the poor and vulnerable across the country.
The Extended Credit Facility Arrangement with the IMF
  • The Civil Society Platform welcomes government’s decision to continue with the IMF programme. The current programme (2015-2017) aims to restore debt sustainability and macroeconomic stability to foster a return to high growth and job creation, while protecting social spending.
  •  The Structural Reform Benchmarks for 2016-2017 has seen some delays while others are due. These include; benchmarks on enhancing mobilization of non-tax revenues, human resource management, to strengthen control of the wage bill regarding the payroll of subvented agencies, adoption of regulations for the implementation of PFM Act 921 and also strengthen resilience and stability of the banking system.
  • Government and the IMF would have to engage on some of these issues to ensure the programme remains on track and programme objectives realized.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Penplusbytes Engages Community Members on “Tech Driven Social Accountability for Results” project

In a bid to empower citizens to demand accountability from elected officials in public service delivery using new digital tools, Penplusbytes with funding from the Open Society lnitiative for West Africa (OSIWA) is delivering the 2-year “Tech Driven Social Accountability for Results” project.

Social accountability under this project is defined as a process in which the ordinary citizen participates directly in demanding accountability and responsiveness of decision makers: Government (local, district and national); Parliament; and other groups that deliver public goods and services.

There are a number of mechanisms for ensuring citizens are empowered to participate in efficient public service delivery, albeit inadequate, especially with the use of ICTs at the grassroots level.
Evidence suggests ICTs can create a cost effective and efficient interface to engage multiple stakeholders, including social intermediaries, interest groups, citizens and even governments to demand greater accountability especially in service delivery.

According to the executive director of Penplusbytes, Kwami Ahiabenu II, “Our proposed solution to this problem is to equip citizens with usable information, methods, online and mobile based platform which will enable them to monitor health and education sector policies, indicators and programs while actively engaging duty-bearers to demand for better service delivery. It will also ensure that citizens hold public officials to account pushing them to deliver high quality public goods and services.”

The project will be focusing on three government social intervention programs which are the Labour Intensive Public Works (LIPW), the Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP) and the Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP).

As part of project activities, 9-member community monitoring groups have been formed in the two project districts, Ellembele District in the Western region and Ashaiman Municipality in the Greater Accra Region.

On Thursday February 9th, the Project’s implementation team will engage citizens in the Ellembele District where a Community Monitoring Group will be inaugurated in Nkroful, the district capital.

The Community-based Monitoring approach is centered on drawing in, activating, motivating, educating and enabling community members to directly give feedback, suggestions and recommendations about the functioning of public services through active monitoring.

Emphasis will be laid on the developmental spirit of participatory monitoring, and ‘feedback for improvement’ rather than ‘fault finding'. Their core mandate would be to monitor delivery of the three government policies in their districts and report which would be transmitted to program managers and policy makers both at local and national levels.

The project has a long term objective to create a culture where citizens are equipped to actively engage in policy implementation and demand accountability.

About Penplusbytes
Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and enhancing media oversight for effective utilization of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.

The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) is active in 10 countries in the region (Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone) and focuses on law, justice and human rights, and economic and political governance. The initiative pursues the development of open societies by supporting and building partnerships with local and regional groups that promote inclusive democratic governance, transparency and accountability, and active citizenship.

Friday, February 03, 2017

OPPORTUNITY: Media Capacity Development Officer

About us
The Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) helps people to realize the benefits of their countries’ endowments of oil, gas and minerals. We do this through technical advice, advocacy, applied research, policy analysis and capacity development. We work with innovative agents of change within government ministries, civil society, the media, legislatures, the private sector, and international institutions to promote accountable and effective governance in the extractive industries. For more information, please see
Funded by philanthropic organizations and national governments, we are headquartered in New York City with further offices in Accra, Beirut, Jakarta, Lima and London, and staff presence in Bolivia, Cameroon, DRC, Guinea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Tunisia.
The Media Capacity Development Officer will implement, monitor and promote our approaches to addressing the diverse and increasingly advanced needs of the media.
NRGI believes that a vibrant, scrutinizing media is essential in giving the public the information and voice it needs to demand the transparency and accountability necessary for good use of natural resource wealth. NRGI runs multiple short and long-term media capacity development programs, directly and through partners, in Ghana, Myanmar, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda, among other countries. We also provide technical advice and financial support to media houses in other countries such as Colombia, Indonesia and Peru. Learning from these programs, NRGI is poised to embark on a revised media capacity building strategy that will respond to lessons from earlier engagement and seek to alter programs to respond to the changing role of journalists.
Working closely with NRGI staff and partners in each country, the Media Capacity Development Officer will seek to draw lessons to inform the global strategy while tailoring programs to the context in each country. Leaning on NRGI’s strong network of advisors, Media Capacity Development Officer will continuously improve the program with best practices from capacity development and journalistic practices. The Media Capacity Development Officer will also have the opportunity to communicate with donors about the program’s impact.
The Media Capacity Development Officer will be responsible for the following:
Advise on the Implementation of Media Capacity Development Programs:
  • Support local staff and, where relevant, local partners on the design and implementation of:
    • selection process to identify participants
    • needs assessments and training curriculum
    • mentoring program
    • financial support mechanisms
  • Lead or co-lead (with country staff) the development of innovative approaches, with a view to generating lessons and models for replication in other contexts
  • Track progress of work with media across NRGI programs and provide inputs as necessary
  • Ensure effective financial management of the project and reporting to donors
Facilitate Global Learning on Media Capacity Development Approaches
  • Ensure monitoring and evaluation approach is implemented, including tracking and analysis of media coverage, with increasing ownership by local staff and/or partners
  • Ensure project learning and impact is effectively documented and communicated to key audiences, including between projects, using traditional and new media and tools
  • Ensure good ongoing communication and coordination with other agencies involved in capacity building of media (especially related to economics, governance and extractives) —nationally, regionally and internationally
  • Integrate program learning into strategy, donor proposals and annual project planning
  • Build contacts and lever the project to develop and sustain the NRGI media program
  • Represent NRGI externally at meetings, conferences, with donors, etc.
  • Undertake other tasks as required by management
  • At least 5 years’ experience running and managing capacity building projects in an international development and advocacy environment—including relationship management and capacity building of local partners, monitoring and evaluation, financial management
  • Personal commitment to improving the use of, and accountability for, public resources
  • Skills in effective documentation and communication of project progress and learning
  • Ability to combine attention to detail while driving toward the overall goals of a program
  • Ability to manage several simultaneous projects in a fast-paced environment
  • Ability to work in a self-motivated manner, with management support from a distance
  • Collegiate working style with superior interpersonal, writing, and organizational skills
  • Ability to use all key Microsoft Office software
  • Willingness to travel (at least once per quarter) and experience working and traveling internationally
Strongly preferred
  • Experience in adult learning and teaching/teacher training
  • Demonstrable understanding of the media in one or more of NRGI countries of work (key players, constraints, opportunities) and how it can be strengthened is a plus
  • Familiarity with big data analysis tools
  • Familiarity with common policy responses to natural resource governance challenges.
  • Post-graduate degree in a relevant field (media, political science, economics, international affairs)
  • Fluency in at least one additional language to English, preferably French or Spanish
Location: The appointee will preferably be based in London or New York, but other NRGI office locations may be considered. Willingness and ability to undertake international travel is essential, as is having the legal ability to work in the location where based.
Start Date: March 2017
Compensation: Commensurate with experience. Benefits include medical, dental, work travel insurance, life and disability insurance, private pension scheme, 20 annual leave days plus all public holidays.
To Apply: Please email resume, cover letter, and references before February 10, 2017, to Include Media Capacity Development Officer in the subject line.
Candidates must possess the right to work in the United Kingdom or the United States.
We will review applications on a rolling basis and we will only contact those applicants whose background and prior experience appear to be most suited to this particular position.
No phone calls, please. NRGI is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Monday, January 30, 2017

12th Accra Technology Salon to Discuss How Technology can Promote Good Governance

To expand on how technology plays out in enhancing Ghana’s governance systems and processes, Penplusbytes will on Tuesday, January 31 host the first Accra Tech Salon event for the year 2017 and the 12th in the series at the New Media Hub in Osu, Ako-Adjei to discuss the topic: “How can Technology Promote Good Governance?” (Please RSVP now)

Aimed at establishing Ghana’s potential in leveraging ICTs to enhance transparency, accountability and participation, the 2-hour lively platform is expected to bring under one roof, governance experts, media personnel, civil society actors, tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts with shared interest on the matter.

Globally, there are examples of efforts towards the opening up of governance systems and enhancing accountability such as Huduma, Twaweza,Cuidemos el Voto, CGNet Swara, Fix My Street, Sunlight Foundation, World Bank’s Open Data, the Open Government Partnership and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), and a wide range of others.

While Ghana’s democratic credentials are not in doubt, there seem to exist a capacity gap in, particularly, citizens’ abilities to hold duty bearers to account even in the face of exponential growth in the influence of technology.

Penplusbytes’ Executive Director, Kwami Ahiabenu, II, said the Technology Salon will explore exactly how technology can be leveraged to promote good governance in Ghana; drawing on lessons and challenges from other places. “We are witnesses to the extent to which tech tools and new media enhanced participation and the greater conduct of the 2016 general elections. With the heightened interest of citizens and many stakeholders in the business of governance in general, this event will highlight what the possibilities and challenges are,” he said.

Today, new technologies and social media the world over are playing crucial roles in making information more accessible; helping citizens to hold leaders and decision makers to account, and mobilizing them to better participate and have their say.

Among other issues, conversations at the Accra Tech Salon is expected to center on whether technology has any role in connecting Ghanaians to their government and how; which technologies presently offer effective options (or not) in holding government accountable, what new technologies can be adopted or adapted to enhance Ghana’s transparency and governance ratings, and which innovators are developing new solutions to encourage openness and greater citizen participation in Ghana?

This Technology Salon will have as key discussants, Nehemiah Attigah (Odekro Project), David Mumuni, Infosol Technologies (Our Oil Journey Project) and Kwami Ahiabenu II, Penplusbytes.
With limited seats available, RSVP now via to join us at the discussion which starts at 8:30 AM prompt.

Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilisation of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Penplusbytes Participates in One–day Learning Event on Technology and Governance in Ghana

Having successfully partnered with Making All Voices Count (MAVC) in delivering some diverse and innovative projects over the years, Penplusbytes will participate in a day’s learning and inspiration event on 24th January 2017 at Cleaver House in Accra.

This event, focusing on “Technology for Inclusive, Transparent and Responsive Governance in Ghana,” is expected to bring together a wide range of participants, including MAVC grantees – present and past, potential grantees, and experts in transparency, accountability, and technology to review and learn from the current state of evidence and experience in research and practice, and to identify priority areas for future learning.

Making All Voices Count (MAVC) is a global citizen engagement and accountable governance programme funded by USAID, DFID, Sida and the Omidyar Network which contributes to fighting corruption and empowering citizens. Its aim is to harness the transformative potential of unusual partnerships and innovative applications of communication technology to contribute to fundamental change in the relationship citizens have with the State.

Ghana remains one of MAVC’s focal countries, making over 15 grants with various projects and grantees including “Oil Journey – Following the money from oil revenue to development” currently being implemented by Infosol Technologies Limited.

In 2016, Penplusbytes, with support from MAVC, rolled out the “Grassroots Open Government Using New Digital Technologies” project to enhance communication and information sharing between citizens and the local government in two districts in Ghana (Tamale Metropolitan Assembly in the Northern Region and Dangbe (Ada) East District Assembly in the Greater Accra Region) on issues of public service delivery especially in health, education and sanitation using a collaborative and integrated approach that included digital tools and face-to-face interventions such as public forums and community radio.

Penplusbytes is therefore expected to share its own intelligent summary of some of its projects under this theme including key successes, challenges, lessons, learning and partnership opportunities. “We will use the platform provided to reflect on and share our own experiences and interact with the knowledge and experiences of other researchers and practitioners working on issues of governance and technology,” says Jerry Sam, Director of Programmes at Penplusbytes.

This Learning and Inspiration Event forms part of MAVC’s own research and learning process which has, in the past, included review of literature and experiential evidence and a facilitated e-Dialogue. The one-day event will also enable participants to develop new relationships with others working on these issues, and offer space for reflection on the evidence that exists as they embark on new initiatives supported by MAVC.


Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilisation of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.

Making All Voices Count (MAVC) is an international initiative that contributes towards effective governance and accountability by enabling citizen engagement and open, responsive government in 12 countries in Africa and Asia.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Penplusbytes Connects with Ashaiman Citizens to their Assembly using New Digital Tools

Penplusbytes, with support from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) will on Thursday January 19th, 2017, engage citizens, local representatives, Civil Society Organisations and the media in a one-day forum at Ashaiman in Accra. 

The forum forms part of a number of activities under the implementation scheme of the “Enhancing Grassroots Civic Participation in Governance Using New Digital Tools” project which aims at using online and offline platforms such as this to reverse the exclusion of citizens in the local governance process.

Penplusbytes officially launched this innovative project last year in the Ashaiman Municipality to empower citizens through digital tools to effectively participate in the local government decision making processes and promote better public service delivery especially in health and education.

While Ghana is lauded for its electoral successes, citizens’ participation in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government policies and programs have remained generally weak due either to the limited or complete lack of attention in mobilizing citizens for this end or the lack of requisite knowledge and skills to carry out same. These, according to Jerry Sam, Programmes Director at Penplusbytes, has “culminated into poor public service delivery.” 

He said, “Penplusbytes is presently utilizing, under this project, some innovative and integrative mechanisms to close the existing loophole and institutional capacity gaps by transforming the relationship between state and non-state actors at the local level.” 

Thus, this citizens’ forum will provide an avenue for awareness creation amongst citizens on issues such as allocated budgets and development plans which would arm them with the requisite knowledge about the Ashaiman Municipality and thereby contribute meaningfully to the effective management of their resources for the benefit of all.

Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilisation of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.
The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) provides direct funding assistance to local non-governmental organizations and, in exceptional cases, international NGOs and government institutions, for small projects addressing gender equality and women empowerment, democratic governance, climate change and environmental sustainability, security and stability and other issues.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Yes, elections can be held in Africa without shutting down the internet

By Eleanor Sarpong||

On Saturday, January 7, 2017, the West African country of Ghana sworn in a new President, Nana Akufo-Addo, for a 4-year mandate. Ghana’s election process concluded on December 9, 2016, when the country declared President-elect Akufo-Addo the winner of the election. But there was another, less celebrated winner in Ghana’s electoral process: the free and open Web.

For those who haven’t followed recent trends, an increasing number of African countries have taken to banning or reining in its citizens’ access to and use of social media and the internet, particularly during elections and in times of social unrest. In May 2016, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni –in power since 1986, and on the eve of the inauguration for his fifth term in office – ordered the country’s internet to be shut down amidst growing opposition voices online. Mobile phone operator Airtel, somewhat ironically, took to social media to inform its customers in Uganda that social media had been blocked on the orders of the Ugandan regulator.

Uganda is far from the only country to do so. In May 2015, Burundi’s government cut off access to a number of messaging services, including Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Tango, during protests over the incumbent president seeking a third term. In Ethiopia, where online media had become the go-to source of information for citizens as a result of the government’s tight control of traditional media, the government in May 2006  began to censor  the internet, blocking opposition blogs and human rights websites. The election of real estate developer Adama Barrow as President of The Gambia in December 2016 was preceded by a countrywide internet ban; citizens were unable to follow developments online and international news correspondents in the capital Banjul resorted to VPN – virtual private networks – connected to their organisation’s internal networks to relay information to both external and internal audiences.

Access Now, an international nonprofit that defends the digital rights of users, documented 52 internet shutdowns across the world in 2016 alone, with  shutdowns in at least 11 African countries  contributing to that number. 

With the number of shutdowns around the continent on the rise, Ghana stood out as a beacon of digital freedom, with a vibrant traditional media sector and relatively unfettered access to the internet and social media. Given this history, Ghanaians were alarmed when the Inspector General of Police announced in July 2016 that a social media blackout was on the cards on, and after election day.

Governance analysts, internet users, activists and the social media universe took to both traditional and social media with commentary and articles on the danger of such a decision for the country’s celebrated values of democracy and freedom of expression. Civil society groups engaged both the police and security services to explain the benefits of keeping the internet open in an election. Thankfully the security services listened, reversing their stance, even actively adopting social media. The Ghana Police Service’s Twitter account (@GhPoliceService) proved to be a reliable source of public safety information during the election period.

Prior to and during the elections, the Electoral Commission of Ghana shared updates via its own Twitter account (@ECGhanaOfficial) on the voting and electoral processes. Its timeline was rich with swift and timely responses to allegations or challenges that could undermine the process, including the attempted hack of the Electoral Commission website.

Ghana’s Coalition of Local Observers (CODEO), which monitored conduct at the polls, also ensured regular engagement with citizens through Twitter, calling for calm when, before the official conclusion of vote counting, the two dominant political parties claimed victory – a declaration that by law is reserved for the head of the Electoral Commission.

Incumbent President John Dramani Mahama took to his personal Twitter account to engage directly with his followers and the public, and to calm nerves while voters sat on the edge waiting for results of the presidential poll.

The role of civil society
Civil society groups were also very active throughout the election, taking to online spaces to discuss party manifestos and campaign promises, and sharing ideas and information with citizens and policy makers alike via social media. Online citizens were able to stay informed and up-to-date through increased social media activity by civil society organisations and activists, via channels like @BloggingGhana, @OccupyGhana, and through the hashtag #GhanaDecides.

Free and independent media
Since liberalising its media in 1992, Ghana has developed a very vibrant media space with www.myjoyonline, www.citifmonline and www.peacefmonline three of the most visited sites on news on the country. Prior to the elections, journalists created various platforms for government to engage the populace through innovative programmes and were central to the electoral process, reporting live from polling stations across the country.

International correspondents like the BBC’s Ghanaian presenter Akwasi Sarpong also provided minute-by-minute accounts on the election process, including Q&A sessions with the head of the Electoral Commission, exclusive interviews with key candidates in the poll, coverage of underreported election issues for young voters, and broke the news of the incumbent’s concession to the opposition leader.

Ghana’s example is proof that credible elections in Africa can be held – and supported – while keeping the internet open and making social media accessible.  Ghana is not alone in making a case for this. Nigeria’s election, which ushered in Mr. Muhammadu Buhari in April 2015, similarly saw a heavy campaign on social media and the internet. The country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) used social media to provide vital updates to the electorate.

Potential for the internet in Africa
Recent ITU figures show that despite growing global internet penetration levels, 75% of Africa’s population remains offline. By comparison, just 21% of Europe is offline. Enabling this massive population to come online presents immense opportunity for business and citizen engagement. The foundations have been laid for increased mobile phone penetration and access to basic data at affordable rates. While access to affordable internet has become a basic human right in a number of countries, the risk of internet blackouts and shutdowns threaten to derail the SDG goal 9c of ensuring universal and affordable access in the world’s least developed countries by 2020.

The Alliance of Affordable Internet (A4AI) has predicted that at our current trajectory, we’ll only hit this target in 2042, 22 years after the deadline set by the global community. Governments must therefore embrace the wonderful opportunities presented by the internet and social media to empower its citizen and ensure it is open, accessible, and affordable too.

Looking ahead to 2017 elections around the globe  
As more countries head for elections this year across the globe (Kenya, Liberia, Somaliland, Rwanda, Chile, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, possibly Lebanon, Iran, Germany, France, Albania, Portugal), civil society actors, the media and activists must advocate not ony for the internet and social media to be kept on, but must show decision makers examples of the democratic successes enabled by keeping the free and open internet on and accessible.


**The writer is the Policy and Advocacy Manager for the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a programme of the World Wide Web Foundation.

Featured Member for the Month of January: Jessica Acheampong

jessica-acheampongJessica Acheampong is a Ghanaian journalist working with the Graphic Communications Group Limited. She has since 2011, been a business and financial journalist, reporting on the banking, housing and extractive sectors for Graphic Business.
In 2015, Jessica graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Marketing from the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA).

She also holds a Diploma certificate in Journalism from the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) where she graduated in 2011.

An alumni of the “Strengthening Media Oversight of the Extractive Sectors” Training program by Penplusbytes and the Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI), Jessica Acheampong has always had a passion for reporting on Ghana’s nascent Oil and Gas sector.

She’s always maintained that deepening her understanding of extractive issues will broaden her knowledge and skills to effectively educate her readers about the sector. She’s hopeful that her informed reporting will help improve the sector and Ghana at large.