Citizen Apathy in the Digital Age

By Tess Wandia
iHub
  Published 29 May 2017
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As we proceed to travel around Kenya speaking to the citizenry as well as government officials for our research project on Government Responsiveness in the Age of ICTs, a couple of interesting themes have been recurring in these discussions.

Currently in Kisumu after having conducted sessions with 25 participants, I can’t help but think about access to information and feedback mechanisms that the government avails especially in this age of a digital government.

What really is the impact of having access to relevant information by Kenyans? Do Kenyans trust the feedback mechanism provided by the government? What is the government’s responsibility in providing access to information and maintaining and effective feedback loop? Do Kenyans have a responsibility to keep the government accountable or does all responsibility lie on the government after we pay our taxes?

The Jubilee government in 2014 launched it’s ‘going digital’ campaign which has now resulted in a number of government services being provided online with sites like iTax and e-citizen gaining popularity amongst Kenyans who are online. For several reasons among them fewer queues, saving on transport, time and quicker service, Kenyans seem to prefer accessing government services online rather than visiting physical offices to be attended to.

During one of our focus group discussions in Kisumu a participant mentioned that he did not trust the government to provide Kenyans with information that he needs to know, just what they want Kenyans to know. He further explained what he meant by saying the government would never share information that would paint them in a negative light even if it was the truth. For this reason he doesn’t bother going to some of these government websites such as myGov that are used to keep Kenyans up to date of progress of the current government.

They will never post what you need to know.

They would never post material that paints their image wrongly.

As a social media enthusiast I regularly check my Twitter and Facebook profiles to keep up to date with current affairs, friends and family and select topics of interest. Government officials as well have not been left behind in creating social media profiles, where they update the citizenry on their activities and share crucial information.

In our analysis of the feedback loop, an interesting observation also brought up by a participant is that government representatives are rarely willing to answer the ‘hard questions’ online, yet they say they are available to interact with Kenyans online regarding any issues brought up. Rarely are they also willing to answer questions directly, especially those relating to graft, whistle blowing or reports of inadequate services.

Tess: How does this affect you as a citizen?

Participant: it makes me want to give up asking questions.

In this scenario we see the instance of government responsiveness having a negative impact on ardour, interest to keep the government accountable.

This then begs the question: Does the lack of government’s responsiveness have a hand in citizen apathy?

A simple google search of ‘Kenyans apathy’ yields pages upon pages in results of articles penning the issue of ‘voter apathy’ and general apathy of the Kenyan population in Kenya.

What is apathy? According to Merriam Webster:

apathy

noun  ap·a·thy \ˈa-pə-thē\

  1. Lack of feeling or emotion
  2. Lack of interest or concern

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men” - Plato

Kenyans together with the Government have a unique opportunity to use ICTs in solving the apathy conundrum and enhance accountability of governments.

By improving the feedback loop, more Kenyans will be encouraged to perform their role in keeping the Government in check and seeking services online.

The discussion we should be having currently is how to get more Kenyans online.

Kenya boasts of having an 89.7% internet penetration rate, a total of 39.6 million internet users with 29.6 million accessing the internet via mobile phone data subscriptions(source: CA). However, a common theme that has been brought up in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu is that we need to re-evaluate the cost of going online as well as enhancing education around the use of ICT tools.

Next week we take our fact finding to Mombasa, stay tuned.

 

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