Communicative Democracy: Developing leadership accountability through ICTs : A qualitative case study from the Rwenzori region in western Uganda
There is a growing interest in the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for citizen engagement in democracy around the world today, especially in the developing world. Events such as the Arab Spring show the potential ICTs can have on citizen engagement with those in leadership positions. Many studies have been conducted within the field of ICT4D (Information Communication Technologies for Development) in many different areas. But few studies have been done within the field of ICT4D that have focused on what happens with the local politicians´ situation in developing countries, when the citizens in these areas become digitally engaged. For a community to develop all levels within the community need to be developed and empowered, because if the local leaders do not have the tools or the incentive to meet the citizens demands then the wanted requirements cannot take place. Effective democratic and open government depends on closing the feedback loop between citizens and government (Making All Voices Count, 2014).
The aim of this study is to get an understanding of the local politicians´ situation in Rwenzori region in western Uganda, as the citizens in this region successively have started to demand much more accountability from their leaders through ICTs.
The main question guiding this study is:
How are local political leaders in developing countries coping with citizens who are increasingly using ICT4D tools for leadership accountability?
With the sub-questions being:
How have ICTs changed the communication between the local political leaders and the citizens?
Do the local political leaders have the ICT skills, tools and means they need to meet the digitally engaged citizens?
Is leadership accountability improved through the use of ICTs?
To conduct this study I have used qualitative interviews. And the main theory applied is Jürgen Habermas´s theory of communicative action. In essence Habermas’s theory tries to explain the social structures through an understanding of the ways in which communication is framed and organized (Unwin, 2009). The results are presented in form of selected quotes that reflect and represent the findings of this research, which are analyzed through the lens of the theory of communicative action.
This research shows that the local political leaders in the Rwenzori region appreciate the increased demands from the citizens through ICTs. The research also reveals that ICTs have eased the communication between the local political leaders and their communities and therefore have contributed greatly to increase two-way-communication between the leaders and the citizens. But at the same time these local political leaders are also facing challenges when it comes to holding themselves accountable through the same channels. Some of these challenges are weak infrastructure, lack of skills and access to the ICTs themselves. One of the most notable findings that this research came across is the fact that hardly any of the local politician offices in the Rwenzori region has a budget targeted for communication with their communities. In conclusion this study reveals that leadership accountability in the Rwenzori region is improved through the use of ICTs, but an enabling environment is necessary if leadership accountability through ICTs is to be fully realized.
Looking at the results from this research through Habermas´s theory of communicative action has helped making visible not only the prospects of ICTs in democratic development, but also the challenges of using the same mediums.
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