My name is Mac-Jordan Degadjor, a blogger from Ghana and a Technical Advisor on the Ghana Decides project.
Ghana Decides is a non-partisan project, being funded by STAR Ghana, which is using social media tools (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc) to monitor the upcoming elections in Ghana for the first time. We're a group of Ghanaian bloggers and social media entrepreneurs who wanted to use our skills to monitor Ghana's 2012 presidential election right from the outset, to capture every political conversation, and help engage Ghanaian citizens in the debate.
STAR Ghana is a multi-donor funding platform, co-funded by UK aid from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), DANIDA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark), the EU and USAID, aimed at promoting a free, fair and safe election for the country. It uses technology from Ushahidi, supported by Omidyar Network to give people a picture of what’s happening during the upcoming elections.
We're engaging with young people and the general citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. We also have a blog, which is updated with election events weekly with articles from opinion leaders and contributors. We are using all these social media platforms to capture and monitor conversations and dialogues between the various political parties.
Our social media team are reaching out to people and training them in how to use social media in their campaign strategies – as part of our pledge to STAR Ghana we promised to train grantees to also know how to use social media effectively.
As a blogger, I don’t think there is enough local content from Ghana on the Internet - most of the time when you try to access information it comes from word of mouth. We want to get Ghanaian bloggers adding to society’s free speech, sharing content, ideas and opinions. There are about 1.5 million Ghanaians on Facebook currently and we are getting near to 60% engagement with the Ghanaian youths out there. These are people between the ages of 18-40, who are online to read news and information about Ghana’s Elections and other relevant content – most of them are from within the country and some from outside Ghana.
Youth speak out
On our YouTube page we have interviews with opinion leaders, women and youth from the various locations we’ve visited for our engagements on what policies would push them to vote in the coming election. We're giving the ordinary Ghanaian youth the chance to speak their mind on our platforms.
The African continent is seen as a mobile hopeful continent now, where everything mobile is making gains. Look at m-Pesa in Kenya, where a simple mobile phone-based money transfer is helping change lives in rural places. Likewise in Ghana we have a series of innovations on mobile platforms that are changing the way people connect with others and do stuff.
Esoko is one – a mobile-based platform that gets prices of goods on the markets and communicates to farmers in the villages, so simple text messages inform farmers about the prices of food in the capitals, and how much is useful for an order. Before the mobile generation, a farmer had to travel hundreds of kilometres to the city/town-centre to sell their farm produce. Sometimes the foodstuffs perished on the road and other times, they get involved in accidents, but with just a text message informing them about the market prices, they're able to decide on selling or storing their products until a better market-price is available. The mobile app developers also inform the farmers of best Agricultural practices by mobile phone which helps them in their occupation.
NandiMobile, another start-up from Ghana is also one that is connecting businesses with their potential customers via their mobile application through SMS.
There’s another organization working on developing a mobile app that will point out the various pharmacies, medical stores, and hospitals around a subscriber if one is using the application – it’s a work in progress, which should be launched by 2013.
In a couple of years, I think we’ll see mobile as a turning point in Ghana’s economy, and we are looking for a very transparent government and the technology to help this become reality, to help us hold our policy makers accountable based on whatever they promised to do and so that citizens can monitor this online. That is something we are hopeful should be implemented.
We also want to have an open data system which will help us be informed on all the government is involved in – any decision or any policy they are trying to make in Parliament – the common citizen should be aware of it and it should be available online, so anyone at all can have access to it. That's why I'm excited by the upcoming Open Up! event that DFID is hosting with the Omidyar Network on 13 November. I'm looking forward to hearing the conversations from it, and finding out what other people think. We need these kinds of events to give impetus to governments to open up our data and to encourage investors to fund these initiatives.
My first time seeing a computer was in my dad’s office when I was a kid. He had this old desktop computer, and I said ‘what is this, like a tv or something’, and I started playing with it and from then on I developed an interest in computers. One time I happened to see him fixing it, it had broken down, and I was like 'wow I could do this'. When I was growing up I was one of the very fortunate kids to actually have a computer at home. Most of my friends would come round to play games on it. I originally wanted to be a medical doctor, but upon realising that is equal to 7-years study in cold Ukraine, it changed my whole perception of medicine and I diverted to computers.
I chose to study Management Information Systems (MIS) instead and now my dream is to start my own company, own a business that focuses on a mobile technology platform changing the lives of Ghanaians and Africans in general.
There are still places in Ghana today where the Daily Graphic newspaper for Monday gets to them on a Tuesday. Access to information in those areas is still difficult. If any organisation wants to get a message to youth today they shouldn’t focus on the electronic and print media alone, but they should think mobile because mobile is the future of Ghana and Africa. Mobile and web technology will mean access to information and an opportunity for people to change their lives. It’s about access to information and connecting to people with like minds and ideas. It's that simple.
Ghana Decides is one of the programmes funded by UK aid through STAR-Ghana which is a multi-donor funding platform to promote a free, fair and safe election for the country. It uses technology from Ushahidi, supported by Omidyar Network to give people a picture of what’s happening during the upcoming elections.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DFID or have the support of the British Government.
Open Up!, a conference hosted by the UK Government and Omidyar Network, will help governments use technology to open up and enable millions of citizens across the world to hold decision makers to account and change lives. Join in at www.openup12.org and #OpenUp12.