I recently came across a very interesting project in the UK - the Democracy Club - a country that, like Tanzania, has an election coming up this year. The aim is to make the election "the most accountable and informed election ever," by mobilising a movement of volunteers in every constituency to take very simple steps to report on local campaigns and local issues. This got me thinking about whether something similar could be done in Tanzania - call it "Wanademokrasia."
HakiElimu did something vaguely similar five years ago, with their careful documentation of election promises made by senior politicians during the election campaigns. But that was a office-based process monitoring media coverage rather than a mass mobilising of citizens.
One obvious difference between the UK and Tanzania would be in connectivity. The democracy club depends heavily on email and the internet, which would work in some urban constituencies of Tanzania, but would effectively leave huge parts of the country out. Wanademokrasia would have to depend on mobile phones, text messages in particular.
But there's no reason why that would be a major obstacle. The technology to use SMS messages exists (FrontlineSMS would be plenty good enough) and is very easy to deploy quickly. And advertising the club could be done through a combination of traditional media, word of mouth and the internet (where educated young middle class Tanzanians are highly active on blogs, forums, facebook, etc.).
How would it work? Simple:
- Invite people to send an SMS to register as wanademokrasia with their name, mobile number and the name of the constituency where they live.
- Send out regular (weekly?) questions / simple tasks to registered wanademokrasia asking them about local priorities, local issues, promises made by local candidates and national politicians campaigning locally.
- Send out regular (weekly?) updates to wanademokrasia on the issues raised by others in the same constituency.
- Make the updates easily accessible to the media, civil society, etc. through a simple website, press releases, etc.
It wouldn't be particularly expensive or difficult to set up. And it wouldn't need more than a handful of active people to operate and maintain the system.
So come on, who's interested?