Social media in East Africa: Connecting citizens with lawmakers

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular social media sites are steadily gathering growing audiences in East Africa.

That poses a big challenge to parliaments in the region – and an opportunity, too…

WFD’s currently working with the East African Community in Arusha, Tanzania, to boost the communications and outreach capacity of the East African Legislative Assembly. A regional intergovernmental organisation, EAC is comprised of the five member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – a combined population of more than 138 million people.

EALA 1EALA plays a critical role within the EAC structure. Much like the European Parliament, its role is to draft and scrutinize legislation which advances the community’s goals of establishing a common market, monetary union and political federation. The Assembly’s made up of 45 MPs – nine for each member state – which meets in the chamber, pictured here.

EALA 2WFD’s been working at EALA since 2010. We’ve supported the production, dissemination and monitoring of EALA’s strategic plan for the 3rd Assembly 2013-18. We’ve assisted four of the Assembly’s six standing committees, strengthening the knowledge and skills of their members. And we’ve engaged with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), which has mobilised civil society organisations to consult with EALA. Our office is based in the EALA wing of the EAC building – pictured here in the shade on the left.

EALA 3Across the five member state countries there are lots of audiences which EALA needs to communicate with – from universities, schools, business groups and civil society organisations to national assemblies and citizens. The challenge for EALA, as with other regional parliaments, is finding ways to give citizens greater access to its processes – first by growing awareness of EALA, and then by helping them participate more in its work.

EALA 4WFD’s head of communications, Alex Stevenson, headed to Arusha to develop a social media strategy for EALA. He’s pictured here with EALA’s comms team of Bobi Odiko and Lawrence Munezero. Their intention is to use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect EALA’s work with the active debates and discussions already taking place in East Africa on social media.

EALA 5It’ll be a big moment when a social media user’s comment is fed into EALA and actually influences its legislation. That will be a key milestone, not just for EALA but for the whole East African Community and the region as a whole.

EALA 6As the strategy is implemented it’s hoped that the growing use of social media across East Africa will be harnessed to strengthen public sentiment and awareness about EALA – and its ability to change people’s lives. That is an outcome for which the EAC’s founding fathers – Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya – would surely all be proud.

EALA 7

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