Using technology effectively to fight corruption

Dec 10, 2015

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared corruption a, “national security threat” to Kenya, on 23 November 2015. In a speech where he presented a wide ranging plan to fight corruption President Kenyatta stated

I believe that corruption is a standing threat to our national security. The bribe accepted by an official can lead to successful terrorist attacks that kill Kenyans. It can let a criminal off the hook for them to return to crime and harming Kenyans. Terrorism itself is a national security threat. The damage to our economy puts millions of lives at peril and undermines our very aspirations as a nation. I am therefore declaring with immediate effect corruption as a national security threat.

Corruption has a detrimental impact on the development of any country, for it affects the effective provision of public services, particularly services to the most vulnerable groups in society. The seriousness of corruption in Kenya has been well documented. According to a review by AfriMAP on Effectiveness of Anti-Corruption Agencies in East Africa released in December 2015 Kenya is steadily slipping down Transparency International's annual corruption index and is now 145th out of 174 nations, down from 136 in 2013. Despite the plethora of efforts deployed to combat corruption, it remains an endemic problem in Kenya. This is especially so in Kenya's public sector. The media and civil society have, for at least a decade, freely exposed corruption scandals; however, this exposure has not ended corruption and its attendant impunity. The laws and institutions to combat corruption are in place and yet the situation does not improve.

All this makes the intervention by the Presidency even more important as the perception is that corruption cases have either simply been smothered by executive orders, or have become entangled in convoluted political processes that seem never-ending.

President’s Kenyatta speech outlined several measures to combat corruption including lifestyle audits of its employees and a string of requirements for firms doing business with the government. The country will also move to seize assets from public officers found guilty of corruption while whistleblowers would also be protected. President Kenyatta also reached out specifically and directly to Kenya’s technology community asking for help to fight corruption.

Kenya has some of the most tech savvy people in Africa, and our IT sector is rightly renowned for its innovation and leading edge products. We will tap this home grown talent to develop accessible technology platforms. I call upon Kenyan innovators to develop accessible technology platforms that allow citizens and customers to report bribe demands, inordinate service delays and corrupt practices in Government departments. The data produced will be publicised and available to the Presidency to hold responsible officers to account.

Ushahidi was founded in Kenya and our headquarters are in Nairobi. Like other companies in Kenya we feel the direct and indirect costs of corruption in the country, such as non functioning public services. Ushahidi has experience in building tools for anti corruption initiatives around the world. From Brazil to Morocco to Indonesia to Kosovo people are using Ushahidi to increase transparency and accountability in their communities. We not only understand how developments in technology and innovation mean that government and citizens can interact like never before, we live it.

Ushahidi builds and utilizes digital tools and runs programs to give marginalized people a voice. Since 2008 the Ushahidi platform has grown to be the world-class open source tool for human rights activism, crisis response, and civilian empowerment. Ushahidi has been deployed over 90,000 times with over 6 million testimonies reaching over 18 million people. As we've seen with deployments during the Nigerian Elections, the conflict in Syria,the Nepal earthquake of 2015, for a sustainable water supply and sanitation project in Afghanistan, and an initiative working to end sexual harassment in Egypt, our core tool has incredible results for citizen engagement, crisis response, and human rights reporting. For instance, in the 2013 Kenyan election deployment, Uchaguzi, of the respondents who reported an incident using Uchaguzi, nearly three quarters said that the incident reported was resolved. An independent review of Harassmap concluded that the Ushahidi Map is an effective tool for data collection for sensitive issues, encouraging more participation and sometimes more truthful reports than other typical data collection means. Lastly, in the Nigerian Election an academic study showed that the Ushahidi election monitoring deployment contributed directly to an increased voter turnout in the 2011 Nigerian election by 8%.

Ushahidi is one of the implementing partners of Making All Voices Count, a global initiative that works towards open, effective and participatory governance by transforming the relationship between citizens and their governments through finding, funding and learning from innovative ideas that amplify citizen voices - and support governments to listen and respond. As part of this work we have spent time over the last 3 years listening to, learning from and supporting several groups working to increase transparency and accountability and fight corruption in their communities around the world.

We see that globally, citizens have fast-increasing access to tools that enable them to monitor government performance and express their views on government performance in real time. We want to seize this moment to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable. We understand the role technology plays in citizen voice and transparency for achieving accountable responsive governance. We also understand the limitations of technology.

We like to say that technology is only part of a successful deployment and this is especially true when dealing with entrenched, complex, cultural problems such as corruption which require long term, complex, cultural solutions. In the fight against corruption, in Kenya and around the world, technology is necessary but not sufficient.

There are at least 4 areas a successful anti corruption platform would need to address; citizen engagement, transparency, accountability, innovation.

Citizen engagement is a broad tent covering feedback loops that deepen democracy, citizen voices both individual and collective, and a strategy to encourage participation in the anti-corruption initiative.

Transparency includes strategies that lead to government being open by default such as developing a culture of open government, open data policies and portals access to information legislation,

Accountability includes the investigative process that finds evidence that would stand court scrutiny and taking real and effective action against those found to be guilty of corruption.

Innovation includes using appropriate technology such as Ushahidi to strengthen all aspects of the process.

This strategy to fight corruption relies on partnerships as it does on tools. Partnerships are built on understanding and mutual respect, clearly defined roles, room for expertise, honesty and a honest desire to get things done. In light of this we believe that for any anti corruption innovation or platform to be truly effective in Kenya it needs to be jointly owned by the government, all three branches; civil society, perhaps under the leadership of the National Integrity Alliance or similar consortia; the private sector, academics and yes even innovators, technologists, data experts, communications experts.

To take Kenya back from corruption, to reclaim any country from corruption we have to deliberately broaden the anti-corruption champions’ tent to include new strategies, new partnerships and new tools. Ushahidi is ready to do our part and take up our responsibilities in the fight against corruption. Our world class tools are fit for purpose. Ushahidi has a fully fledged solutions team ready to work on this problem - please contact us or you can reach out to me directly at We would be delighted to hear from you.