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.