In conversation with Munyaradzi Dodo, digital and programme lead at Magamba Network, which created an initiative, Open Parly which aims to create and support engagement between young Zimbabweans and the government and decision-makers.
Dodo will be a speaker for the upcoming Civic Tech Innovation Forum 2021 event. Magamba Network’s Open Parly initiative encourages the transparency and accountability of local government. According to their website, Open Parly has seen over 10-million impressions per month on Twitter and the handle has been named as “the 2nd most important Twitter handle to follow in Zimbabwe”.
What does #DIYAfrica mean to you?
#DIY is our mantra. Doing what you can with what you have. Using available resources to build tools that can have an impact on communities no matter how small.
What inspired the creation of Open Parly?
We created Open Parly ZW after we realised there was low participation in political processes by young people in 2016. We were heading towards the 2018 harmonised elections, and we were eager to find an intervention that allowed young people to participate and engage their elected officials. We held a focus group discussion in November 2016 and from the insights of that discussion participants indicated that they found current channels used by parliament boring. Most young people indicated they would never read the Hansard [record of speeches, questions and answers and procedural events in the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly and is known as Parliamentary Debates] because it felt too wordy and preferred reading the information in short bite-size chunks and on digital platforms.
Zimbabwe’s parliament also does not have parliament TV like most countries. At the same time, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile operator was providing free access to Twitter so we decided to use Twitter as the first step to making parliament more accessible.
How does your organisation work and how do citizens engage with it or use it?
We have trained citizen journalists and have them accredited with the parliament of Zimbabwe. They go into the parliament press gallery and live-tweet and live-stream proceedings in Parliament using their cellphones. Citizens follow proceedings from parliament, senate, committee hearings via our social media platforms and give real-time feedback on proceedings
How does your organisation support young Zimbabweans? Can you provide examples or case studies of your work?
The organisation provides young citizen journalists with an opportunity to be the eyes and ears of their community. They contribute video reports, articles and analysis from the perspective of young people. Some have even started web shows/podcasts such as Tuesday Talk with Taku, a weekly show that unpacks the weekly major political events.
What impact has the organisation had in Zimbabwe?
In the absence of parliament TV in Zimbabwe, Open Parly ZW has become the largest repository of parliament data in Zimbabwe, with an online audience that is 10 times bigger than the parliament of Zimbabwe with over 10-million monthly online impressions. The project has also been replicated in Somalia (Kalfadh.com), Zambia (Open Parly ZED) and in 2021 it will expand to Nigeria. We have also expanded the project to local governments and municipalities. Currently, the project runs the Open Council project in major cities by running hyper-local news platforms — Open Council Harare, Marondera, Masvingo, Kariba and Mutare. The project has initiated various digital campaigns such as #ReconveneParly in 2020 which put pressure on elected officials to convene virtual sessions of the parliament and #WhereIsOurVaccine to demand an efficient vaccination plan.
The challenges or limitations that the organisation has faced?
The project has faced challenges with some journalists being arrested and experiencing violence while covering stories for their communities. The ever-rising costs of data affect our target audience and limit the reach of the project to those who can afford data.
We look forward to hosting you at CTIF21, what would you like the audience to take away from you or the work you do at Open Parly?
With a simple WordPress website, social media and cellphone, you can contribute to holding government officials to account by being the eyes and ears of your community.