By Hyun Jun Ha
Simply put, open government is the citizens’ right to access unfiltered government information. This enables better communication between the government of Uganda and its citizens.
Open government has taken many forms in history, such as mass media or radio in the 20th century, but in the 21st century, it has primarily taken form through the internet. The internet has been the backbone of modern communication, with speeds and access incomparable to past forms of communication. However, as anything revolutionary does, the internet comes with its dangers. In order to encourage citizens to participate in open government, the government must take these dangers into account and aim to prevent them.
In Uganda, the Government Citizens Interaction Center (GCIC) is at the forefront of advancing open government and encouraging citizens to participate on the internet. In order for an effective open government, the government must ensure the citizens’ safety online, as they can be subject to hacking, trolling, or online abuse. Negative internet behavior interferes with government-citizen interactions, as citizens will be discouraged to voice their true opinions and instead follow the crowd.
Occasionally, it can also discourage them from using the internet in the first place. In Uganda, the GCIC has put in place measures to prevent negative online behaviour and to re-encourage citizens to participate in open government.
The GCIC has organized numerous events and campaigns raising awareness about online abuse and digital safety. They have also trained District Communications Officers (DCO) on digital safety and the best government online practices, all of which has contributed to safer, honest government-citizen interactions. Open government is the very foundation of democracy, allowing citizens to clearly communicate with the government. It leads to lesser divide and instead greater unification, essential for a nation’s development and success.
Nations all across the world with a more open government tend to have higher happiness and well-being levels, along with a higher rate of economic activity and growth. This is inherent because if the government and citizens are in agreement with the nation’s goals and objectives, there are no delays in accomplishing them. Open government in Uganda has contributed immensely to the country’s development, improving the livelihoods of thousands of Ugandans in communities all across the country.
People have been able to contact the government through the toll-free number 900, created by the Ministry of ICT, requesting or suggesting actions for their community, and voicing their opinions on the government’s actions both negatively and positively. Open dialogue has undoubtedly helped the government understand the people’s wants and needs, the general public’s opinion and perspective, and helped them plan for the future with regard to the Ugandan people.
Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go, but open government, digital safety, and democracy will always be the foundation of Uganda’s journey to achieving its National Vision 2040. In Uganda, access to information is a right. I therefore thank the government of Uganda for coming up with such initiative which bridges information gap in the country.
The Writer is an Intern at the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and a student at the International School of Uganda.