Covid-19: How Civic techies are stepping up to aid the fight in Africa
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a number of African civic tech initiatives support efforts to help citizens, governments, businesses and communities respond to the global health crisis that’s affecting every part of our lives. Civic tech has enabled government, citizens and companies to track and slow the spread of COVID-19 across different African countries.
According to the Civic Tech Innovation Network, there are at least 140 civic tech initiatives in Africa.
Across the continent, civic tech initiatives have been actively using their innovations to respond to the pandemic — showing the potential and shortcomings of technology during a pandemic. Indeed, COVID-19 is an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine how technology can shape society. Although there are many civic tech initiatives stepping up to the fight against COVID-19, this blog post focuses on just eight initiatives. Here is how eight African civic tech initiatives are responding and helping during the COVID-19 crisis:
The independent, community advocacy organisation Amandla.mobi seeks to build a more just and people-powered South Africa and has been campaigning on COVID-19 related issues. With a membership of over 600,000 people, Amandla’s recent COVID-19 related campaigns include: Make schools safe before they re-open, Stop the late payment of social grants, families are struggling enough. Demand Minister of Social Development and Sassa CEO act, Coronavirus, here’s what mobile networks should do. All these campaigns focus on daily issues that South Africans are facing.
The campaigns are run based on Amandla.mobi’s founding principle — turning every mobile phone into a democracy building tool so that no matter where South Africans live; the language they speak or issues they care about, they can take action with others.
The Nigerian innovative enterprise focuses on simplifying the national budget and public data, making it accessible to the general public to aid participatory governance. Budgit in partnership with Civic Hive have been tracking COVID-19 funds and allocations through the COVIDFUND Tracka portal. It tracks COVID-19 donations given to the federal and state governments of Nigeria ranging from private and public, local and international organizations. According to Budgit the CovidFund Tracka portal enables them to monitor resources and give reports of palliatives being given to citizens. The platform lists the COVID-19 donations and it allows citizens to search through the datasheet by state, donor, name, donation details, donation type and more, currently COVIDFUND Tracka has tracked down 294 donations by private and public, local and international organizations. It follows up this effort through social media by sharing the news of donations.
Through the COVIDFUND Tracka platform, they also have a built-in COVID-19 dashboard which provides COVID-19 information such as the number of tests, confirmed cases, active cases, recovered cases and deaths.
According to Budgit’s media & communications lead, Damilola Ogundipe civic tech has to play the important role of advocating for accountability, citizen engagement, and information, monitoring government response to all citizens including persons with disabilities during COVID-19.
Code for Africa, one of the largest, if not the largest civic tech organisation in Africa has been using technology and data to build digital democracies and empower citizens with actionable information.
In response to the pandemic Code for Africa started working on multiple initiatives, including:
- To digitise and publish local Africa-specific data and scientific research to help planners better understand which specific communities, infrastructure and/or services are most vulnerable to COVID-19, and what countermeasures might be most effective;
- To debunk the most harmful misinformation and quackery, that has become a tsunami or ‘infodemic’ on social media and that is blunting public efforts to tackle COVID-19. The partners will do this by fact-checking misleading memes and claims, as part of a wider CfA partnership with Facebook and WhatsApp, while simultaneously amplifying the voices of credible African scientific researchers, and empowering African newsrooms and social media influencers to fight misinformation with facts and compelling storytelling;
- This initiative aims to connect African researchers and experts to change-makers in government, the media and at development, to help improve the appropriateness and relevance of plans or interventions, as well as to bolster evidence-based public discourse.
Govchat, the official citizen engagement platform in South Africa. It enables the government and citizens to connect directly, at no cost. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the initiative has deployed COVID-19 related functionalities to support the government’s efforts. The new features allow citizens to use GovChat on WhatsApp for COVID-19 screening, facility searches, and status reports.
Govchat has also been providing information, guidelines, resource tools for businesses, communities, citizens and enhancing public communication and engagement and action. The information and resources focus on how WhatsApp can help people connect with those who matter most.
Govchat COVID-19 Pre screening feature, UNATHI GovChat, was born out of a partnership with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA). UNATHIi is a COVID-19 pre-screening and early warning digital interface.
UNATHI is an accessible ChatBot available over both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and assists both:
- South Africans, in providing COVID-19 testing details and pre-screening information, and
- The South African Government, in collating and reporting real-time citizen COVID19- related activity and symptoms.
Govchat says through UNATHIi’s easy natural language-guided questions, citizens are able to anonymously:
- Indicate their location,
- Report COVID-19 symptoms presenting in themselves, family or household members,
- Find their closest public or private testing facility,
- Report their test activity and results, and
- Receive health tips and information.
UNATHI IS accessed through WhatsApp, people just add the number 082 046 8553 to their devices.
GovChat’s CEO Eldrid Jordaan says the platform has 3 million active users monthly.