Social media could boost government services in Africa

August 9, 2013

Since the popularity of platforms like Google +, Linkedln, Facebook and Twitter picked up, the social media have long been popular among young and middle aged. A recent survey shows that Africans are among the world’s most active users of social media sites, particularly Twitter and Facebook. The widespread use of smartphones and affordable access to the Internet has further strengthened the popularity of social media in world’s poorest continent. Not to be left behind is the business community that has appreciated the effectiveness of social media and has taken advantage of it to reach out to as many customers and potential buyers as possible. So have people in government who need to disseminate information about their programs as Uganda’s Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced few weeks ago. According to techno savvy Uganda premier, his office would use such tools to receive feedback on the delivery of public services that he has been tirelessly working to improve since he was appointed prime minister over two years ago.

In countries like Finland, Australia, United Kingdom among others, research on social media shows that an outcome of the information technology revolution has eliminated communication barriers that separated government officials and the public. That has become the same trend in Africa where almost all head of governments and officials are active on social media especially Twitter and Facebook. Social media has come in handy for majority of African population since the social media has brought them closer to their unreachable leaders and officials. In a study conducted in East Africa last year, social media platforms were cited as tools that have advanced transparency and accountability on the part of the region’s government. For Africa’s general public, the digital media has enabled them to express their expectations and grievances concerning public services. The main casualty of social media has been the bureaucracy in central and regional governments that have largely remained corrupt and inept in the eyes of the public.

Widespread reports of rampant graft involving public officials in procurement of goods and services is a classic example of resistance to transparency and accountability from within the bureaucracy, despite the annual salary increments that most African governments effect.
According to Uganda’s premier, the use of social media by government institutions will significantly help progress that could eventually lead to behavioral changes within the bureaucracy. Me think that government officials should bear the responsibility of following up on reports and coordinating with law enforcers if a criminal offense is involved. In my understanding, tools of technology offer the government ample and the best opportunity to boost public services, which in turn will restore public confidence. African government’s initiative to use of social media deserves accolades, but those in charge need to realize that public will expect prompt and timely responses to their complaints and requests.

Contador Harrison