Facilitating Dialogue on Governance in Africa

By Hussain Abdullah. Reposted from the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog

The increasing penetration of mobile telephony in Africa is widening opportunities for people to take part in discussions about governance. Radio is a widespread medium through which communities can tune-in to listen to debates on topics such as health, the environment and politics. FrontlineSMS:Radio is a software which is being designed to help facilitate radio listener interaction via text message.

The FrontlineSMS:Radio project is generously supported by the Cairns Charitable Foundation which was founded by Lord Simon Cairns. Simon was the chairman of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) between 1981 and 1992, chaired the Overseas Development Institute between 1995 and 2002 and is currently a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Created by Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese businessman, the Foundation is focussed on enabling African civil society to hold their governments to account and improving the quality of governance across the continent. Simon also has a longstanding interest in mobile telephone technology, and he was appointed chairman of the African telecommunications company Celtel in October 2007.

Amy O’Donnell met Simon in the Mo Ibrahim Foundation offices, just off Oxford Street, to speak with him about how he thinks new technologies, such as FrontlineSMS:Radio, can help African citizens to influence processes of governance which affect them. The interview is written up here by Hussain Abdullah from FrontlineSMS:Radio.

Simon began the interview by recollecting a discussion he had with Mo Ibrahim many years ago, which eventually led to the creation of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance: a framework enshrining the foundations of good governance. “Mo Ibrahim and I both had, from our separate standpoints, views on why certain countries worked and why certain countries didn’t work.” Simon explained, “We found that it came to thinking in terms of ‘have you got the right leader?’ Then almost everything else will follow. In due course countries can build good institutions, but in the first instance they have to have good leaders... We then got together with the Kennedy School of Governance At Harvard to try to describe what made good governance.” (Read more)