SEATTLE — This past June, the first Pan-African U-Report poll was held in conjunction with the the Day of the African Child (DAC) celebrations. This year, the theme of the celebrations was Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting All Children’s Rights.
The DAC was held on June 16 in remembrance of the day in 1976 when thousands of black school children in South Africa publicly protested and fought for the right to learn in their native language.
This first ever Pan-African poll was made possible using U-Report, an SMS-based service. U-Reporters receive survey questions through SMS and can respond with a yes or no. Respondents also have the option to respond with a personalized responses in the form of a commentary.
Within its first year, 89,000 Ugandans alone became U-Reporters. Now there are more than 200,000 users participating in the polls. These U-Reporters, most of them young adults, have been polled weekly regarding a variety of topics ranging from human rights to health concerns, education and economy.
In the Pan-African poll, children and young adults from nine nations were asked for their opinions on the efforts of African leaders to end conflict and to brainstorm further ideas on ways to solve conflict.
The poll showed that two out of three respondents feel that African leaders are not doing enough to stop conflicts throughout the continent. When asked why they believe that Africa is more susceptible to conflict than other areas of the world, 56 percent of respondents said that politicians fighting for power is the main cause. Lastly, many respondents feel that strengthening the economy and investing in education are two of the best ways to reduce conflict.
These results will be presented to African leaders from all across the continent. Uganda’s parliament has even developed their own version of U-Report called U-Speak, in order to communicate more effectively with constituents. This provides citizens with a level of interaction with their government that has never been possible before.
And in Guinea, where Ebola has been a recent concern, citizens are particularly concerned with issues of health care access and education in their country. In the past, young people would voice their opinions in the streets. But now, U-Report offers a more effective alternative.
Furthermore, Guinea has better internet connections and power grids than ever before. This being the case, U-Report is able to combine ever-rising interest in technology with the political passion that young generations feel.
UNICEF Senior Project Manager James Powell notes that one of the greatest advantages of U-Report is that poll responses are received instantly and can be organized by the respondent’s district, gender and age. He commented, “that helps us know where to concentrate our limited response resources and how to best to advise our government and aid partners.”
Looking toward the future, U-Report hopes to develop services in many languages. They also aim to work with telephone companies to outfit telephone booths with the service in order to reach people who do not have mobile phones.
U-Report is a low-cost solution to the voiceless-ness that many people around the world feel. When people are given a platform to be connected with others and express their opinions, they can finally become heard. And when that happens, their quality of life can improve.
– Nathaniel Siegel