#DIYAFRICA: Experimenting and challenging ideas in the digital space

In conversation with Alexander Melesse, executive director of Digital Rogue Society Experiment Group, an Ethiopian civic-tech organisation that uses technology to inform and advocate civic engagements.
Tell us about Digital Rogue Society and the work you do in Ethiopia?
How does your organisation work and how do citizens engage with it or use it?

At the Digital Rogue Society Experiment Group, we are developing different kinds of civic technology products. For example, we implemented an experiment during the elections landscape and we served as a licensed adviser for the national electoral board for Ethiopia. We taught people online on voter education for over three months to inform people about the electoral process and we reached more than 400,000 people. It is all about accessing the information on the election process and for voters to get the necessary information about the election process, what mandates of these political parties are and what is required by the election commission. We disseminated the information using different kinds of educational content: infographics, written content, animated videos and we disseminated this content using two local languages.

The internet penetration in our country is around 20% and we have around six million people using Facebook and it’s growing by the day. So we created a website and used various social media platforms to disseminate this information. We also created a political party portal that allows citizens to access information on political parties- their contact details, manifestos and social media links allowing people to get this information instantly. The other experiment is the online observation campaign, which is not finalised but the campaign is an analysis of the political parties and their social media activities.

How are you transforming civic engagements using digital technologies?
What impact has the organisation had in Ethiopia?

For online voter education, the impact starts from analysing how many people we have reached and how many people have obtained or accessed our content using their devices, which was 400,000. During online voter education, we witnessed different kinds of engagements. Some people called to ask questions regarding the electoral process. I think I am safe in saying that voters primarily called us before they even called the national electoral body and we referred them to people who they can contact in their areas. So I think I’m safe in saying that within this short period we contributed to conducting a safe and fair election.

What does #DIYAfrica mean to you?

There is this saying that you have to solve your problems, nobody’s going to come and solve your problems for you. So if you are not going to take the lead, you can’t just sit and wait for the answers to be given to you, you have to face the challenges and reflect. I think the major thing that I have learned in regards to ‘do it yourself’ is about self-reflection. You have to reflect, you have to know what kind of story you want to tell the world or your community and nobody’s going to do it for you.

We look forward to hosting you at CTIF21, What would you like the audience to take away from you or the Digital Rogue Society?

I was reading an article that said that every nationality living in Ethiopia is recognised by the Ethiopian House of Federation but there is a new community that is not recognised by the federation. That community is the digital community and we have an attitude or we reflect our emotions, opinions on the digital space, contrary to what we as a person reflect. So we try to be rogue, so we try to be against the system and challenge opinions. So we want to experiment with those opinions. After the experimentation, we have to reach some kind of result. So I think experimentation of the digital space’s opinions, and the digital ecosystem needs to be assessed.

The Civic Tech Innovation Forum will be held on September 13–17 and for more details, click here.

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