ICTS TO ENHANCE THE CAPACITY OF HUMAN
ORGANIZATIONS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
Firoze Manji, Murtaza Jaffer and Emmanuel Njenga Njuguna
by the day-to-day demands of activism in hostile political environments
and deteriorating economic climates, many human rights organizations in
Africa have difficulties finding time or resources to invest in their own
organizational capacities, including information and communication
technologies (ICTs). This includes ensuring staff are adequately trained
and capable of dealing with a wide range of complex issues (political,
programmatic, managerial and organizational). Although many recognize the
need to invest in and nurture their relatively young organizations, few
have sufficient resources to do so—which has consequences on the
effectiveness of the organizations.
number of recent surveys have highlighted both the need and demand for
training of human rights organizations. (1) These surveys have highlighted
a number of areas in which capacity needs to be enhanced. These include:
enhancement of the knowledge and understanding of international and
regional human rights standards; capacity to carry out investigations and
to monitor human rights violations or abuses; education, networking, and
communication skills; advocacy, campaigning and media skills;
organizational, management and administrative skills; and fundraising.
advances in ICTs have begun to change radically the ways in which people
can both work and learn, such as “life-long learning” and distance
education. In Africa a growing number of institutions are offering
academic distance learning courses, some of which use the Internet.
However, relatively little has been developed specifically to meet the
needs of non-governmental organizations, or for human rights organizations
in particular. The advantages of such forms of training include enabling
the learner to work at their own pace, access documentation and resources
from around the world with relative ease, use practical examples from
their own work situation, obtain inputs from a wider range of
international expertise than is feasible in a conventional course, and
receive “mentoring” support while dealing with day-to-day challenges
the provision of Internet-based distance learning presupposes the
existence and access to appropriate ICT infrastructure. Whereas in the
developed world access to computers, working telephone lines and the
Internet is becoming ubiquitous, what is the situation in Africa? And how
realistic or feasible is it to exploit the developments in ICTs,
particularly the Internet, to build the capacity of the non-governmental
sector in Africa? This chapter summarizes findings of a study to assess
the possibilities of further developing ICT-based training materials aimed
at enhancing the capacity of human rights organizations on the continent.
aim of the study, initiated by Fahamu and supported by Canada’s
International Development Research Centre (IDRC), was to investigate the
feasibility of developing a programme to enhance the capacity of human
rights and other advocacy organizations in southern Africa by taking
advantage of current developments in ICTs. The investigation sought to:
their current technical capacities and capabilities for accessing the
their knowledge, attitude and practices regarding e-mail, web and other
resources of the Internet;
principal training needs in relation to human rights and advocacy,
management and organization development, and effective use of the
the form of computer-based learning materials that can be provided where
access to the Internet is limited or expensive; and
potential resource persons and NGO training organizations that might
collaborate in the development and production of appropriate learning
survey was conducted in eight southern African countries: Botswana,
Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Approximately 120 organizations and individuals were contacted prior to
the survey to request their participation. Field visits were undertaken
between 3-22 November 1998.
research team comprised three Kenyans: Firoze Manji of Fahamu and the
University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, Murtaza Jaffer of the Third
Sector Governance and Partnership Development Initiative in Kenya; and
Emmanuel Njenga Njuguna of SangoNet in South Africa.
country was visited by at least one member of the team. Interviews and
focus group discussions were held with organizations based in the capital
cities (except in South Africa where organizations in Johannesburg, Cape
Town and Durban were interviewed).
possible we also interviewed representatives of NGO umbrella
organizations, which provided information about their needs and capacities
and those of their member organizations. Representatives of 103
organizations were interviewed, and one or more members of the team
visited the offices of more than 70 of these organizations.
Human Rights Problems
of the most striking findings to emerge from the review was almost
universal identification by human rights organizations of social and
economic rights as the most important human rights issue facing their
country. Repeatedly organizations highlighted poverty, inequalities of
income, land rights, housing, education and health as being among the top
human rights concerns.
second most commonly cited concern was that of democracy, accountability,
access to information, governance, and corruption of the state and
government. Gender and the rights of women and children appeared high on
the list of priorities, which reflects the influence of the women’s
movement in the human rights field. In South Africa, Namibia and
Mozambique, conflict resolution came high on the list, whereas the rights
of indigenous people was a preoccupation of Namibian organizations. Police
brutality was mentioned by many, although frequently in relation to lack
of accountability of the state.
size of the organizations varied from small two-person enterprises to
substantial-sized institutions of more than 100 people. The majority of
organizations comprised between ten and 20 persons (including volunteer
staff). Those in South Africa tended to be larger (with more paid staff)
than in the other countries.
was a wide range in annual income, a few surviving entirely on small
voluntary contributions, others managing grants of several million US
dollars. The majority of the organizations had an annual income in the
range of US$200,000 to US$500,000. Most were completely dependent upon
funding from external donor agencies, but a few supplemented that income
from the sale of publications, training and consultancies. Very few
received local private sector contributions. There was a small number of
organizations that depended entirely on funds from their membership.
of the organizations we met possessed at least two computers. Every
organization described either plans or intentions to upgrade their systems
to include high-speed modems, CD-ROMs, higher capacity hard disks, faster
processors, and improved linkage to the Internet. Although relatively few
organizations outside South Africa had installed a local area network,
more than half indicated an intention to do so in the near future.
South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique nearly all the organizations had at
least one computer with a functioning CD-ROM drive. More than half of the
organizations in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia had at least one such
computer, whereas less than one-third of those in Botswana and Lesotho
were so endowed. In general, South African institutions were
technologically better endowed than their counterparts in the rest of the
ratio of staff to computer terminals in most South African institutions
approached 1:1, whereas in other countries ratios of 4:1 or 5:1 were more
were struck by what we perceived to have been a “cultural shift” over
the last few years. In the past it was common to find that only the
director or senior managers had access to a computer, a resource that
would be jealously guarded and access to which would be limited. In this
survey we found that, almost without exception, computers were treated as
shared resources. Computers that had e-mail or Internet access were always
located in a commonly accessible location (often the resource room or
the exception of Botswana and Lesotho, e-mail connections (or access to
e-mail) was almost universal. All those with connections reported that a
growing proportion of their external communications was now through
e-mail, with faxes becoming limited to communications with those lacking
e-mail connections. In South Africa, almost all organizations use the post
only for paying bills and distributing newsletters or magazines.
all organizations in South Africa and Namibia had full Internet
connections. Very few of those in Mozambique, Botswana and Lesotho had
such access. However, more than half of those in the remaining countries
had full Internet connections. Almost all that had Internet connections
complained about the slowness of access to the web—the notorious
“World Wide Wait.”
organizations subscribed to at least one Internet service provider (ISP).
South Africa is the only country where there is a not-for-profit ISP
(SangoNet), but only a small proportion of organizations interviewed in
the country used this service. (2) Of those that did, most complained
about difficulties with obtaining connections to the service.
those who had used training provided by SangoNet were effusive and
positive about the quality of training and support they had received.
Except in South Africa, most organizations had received little or no
training from their ISPs. Many organizations reported that the quality of
help provided by ISPs was usually poor because ISP employees usually had
little technical knowledge. They said ISPs were unable or unwilling to
provide support for all aspects of information and communication
technologies associated with the use of the Internet.
few organizations had sought training in the use of the Internet. The
extent to which the organizations used the Internet often depended on the
knowledge or interest of individual members of staff.
that these organizations comprised activists and seasoned campaigners, we
were struck by the extent to which most were indifferent about the quality
and type of service provided by ISPs. None had made attempts to negotiate
particular levels of quality and service from their ISPs. In part this may
be due to a sense of being debilitated by their own lack of technical
knowledge. In particular, we found that umbrella organizations made little
effort either to ensure that their members received adequate training or
to play a role in placing demands on the local ISPs or telecommunications
provider. Almost every umbrella organization had an information officer,
but none saw their role in lobbying for standards or codes of conduct for
the quality of service provided. Furthermore, none of the umbrella
organizations had considered their role in assisting in building capacity
of their members to use and exploit the potentials of the Internet.
NGOs stated that they had resource constraints for training in ICTs.
Although they were articulate about their needs, few had included these
needs in their budgets. Indeed, very few organizations had seriously
considered ICTs as an integral part of their own organizational strategy.
because of the superior telecommunications and Internet infrastructure in
South Africa and because of a longer tradition of using the Internet, most
organizations in the country were fairly knowledgeable about the use of
the World Wide Web, mail lists, discussion groups and other means of
accessing and disseminating information.
the rest of the region, relatively few organizations had a well-developed
understanding of how the resources of the Internet (other than e-mail)
could be accessed or used. However, even in those countries with a
relatively poor infrastructure, such as Malawi, there were instances where
organizations made extensive use of the Internet.
general, there was a dearth of knowledge and understanding about the
resources available from the Internet, or of ways in which organizations
could actively participate in discussions and networking. Relatively few
organizations outside South Africa had already established a website,
although many spoke of their intent to establish one. Many of those that
have done so were unclear, however, as to the ways in which the presence
of a website enables the organization to achieve its mission. (3)
half of those interviewed had knowledge of and subscribed to at least one
mailing list or discussion group. Very few had knowledge of how to
initiate new discussion lists or how to moderate lists. In general
knowledge of the types and range of discussion lists circulating the
Internet was limited.
complained of a perceived “information overload” when using the
Internet. In many cases it was not clear whether this perception was
because of the overwhelming amount of relevant information that they
accessed from the Internet. In many cases we felt that it may have been
due to some degree of failure to exercise discretion, choice or priority
about what mailing lists should be subscribed to, or where the most
valuable information on the web might be found and which sites should be
some extent this was found even among those who had had some training on
Internet use. In part this may be because the majority of training courses
available on using the Internet focus on imparting skills, but provide
little guidance on the ways in which Internet resources can be used to
support the specific needs of the organization. To use a metaphor: it is
one thing to impart skills on how to use a library, but quite another to
teach someone how to do research. Consequently many waste hours browsing
aimlessly, or react passively to the information that is available.
Proactive use of the resources was relatively rare in most organizations.
the exception of a minority of organizations that were already experienced
in the use of computers and the Internet, the majority of organizations
stated that training in ICT was high on their list of priorities. In
addition, they identified training in management and governance,
organizational development, and training of board members as priorities.
complained that in the absence of core funds, they were unable to
establish their own agenda for training to meet their own needs. In the
majority of cases, training was undertaken reactively or
opportunistically: donors (or organizations funded by donors) would make
available places at workshops or courses on specific subjects. Most
organizations were aware that their own priority training needs were not
being met by this process, but were philosophical about it: “Beggars
can’t be choosers.” Very few organizations had access to core funds
that enabled them to prioritize their own training needs. On the other
hand, few had developed an explicit training strategy or proactively
sought grants for relevant training.
Rights and Computers/Internet Use
following subjects were most often stated as being priorities for the
organizations and for which appropriate computer/Internet based training
materials should be developed:
governance and accountability
democratic budget processes
investigating and monitoring
and children’s rights
of international, regional and domestic human rights standards
of elections and civic education
complaints and adjudication procedures
of police and judiciary
and housing rights
Training in Management and Organizational Development
priority subjects identified on which suitable training materials could be
change (and internal conflict resolution)
for the “non-financial” manager
effective governing boards
management, planning, monitoring and evaluation
(international and local)
sustainability and endowment creation
and management of documentation/resource centres
methods and report writing
of the Internet and ICTs
the majority of cases, it was striking how much more animated respondents
were about the issue of training in management and organizational
development than they were about training in human rights. The importance
of building competent and capable organizations is considered a central
issue by most organizations, irrespective of their size and age.
access to computers and the Internet may be growing in the region, there
is concern about the extent of disparities between organizations in each
country and between South Africa (and to some extent Namibia) and the
remainder of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.
If technology has one universal characteristic, it is a capacity to
amplify differences: “Apparently indiscriminately, it amplifies
efficiency or inefficiency, risk or caution, waste or saving, advantage or
disadvantage.”4 Our survey showed a wide disparity between organizations
in the accessibility of the resources of the Internet in every country.
Those who have access frequently “hoard” that access, creating greater
divergences between the “haves” and “have-nots.” There were very
few examples of a culture of sharing either resources or information
systematically with those who did not have access to ICTs. Any programme
designed to use ICT as a means for building capacity would need to develop
means for counteracting this seemingly “natural” proclivity of
technology to amplify inequalities.
organizations in the region have existed in an environment where access to
information has been limited. Brought up in a culture of “information
starvation,” the first reaction when using the Internet is inevitably to
hoard, and attempt to consume everything found there. While this reaction
is understandable, a culture needs to be developed that is more selective,
systematic and discriminatory.
a very real sense, the key to effective use of the Internet by human
rights organizations will be the development of effective research skills
among this constituency. At the same time, there is an impressive range of
valuable training materials available in the region that could be used to
help develop computer/Internet based learning materials. More importantly,
there is a wide pool of experts and activists who could be and are
interested in participating in the development of appropriate materials.
This is important because the most effective learning materials will be
those that are able to speak directly to the experience of the region.
believe that there is an urgent need to enhance the ability of human
rights and civic associations to develop a popular democratic culture in
the region. While all human rights organizations identified social and
economic rights of priority concern, they was also a consensus that the
lack of accountability of the state and the absence of functioning
democracy at the grassroots level were the main reasons for these rights
being ignored by most governments. Human rights and civic associations
need a deep understanding of the ways in which rights can be protected and
promoted. But just as skills are needed to promote a democratic culture if
society at large is to be sustainable, skills are also needed in building
sustainable organizations on the basis of an internal culture of
democracy. The two dimensions are inseparable.
spread of the Internet brings the potential for information to be accessed
economically and with relative ease. But information does not, in reality,
“exist” nor is it, like data, “collected” or “accessed.” What
is defined as relevant information and how it is sought, interpreted and
used is a process of creation and will vary from one institution or
individual to another, depending on the interests and motives of the
researcher. Critical to being able to engage in that process is the
acquisition and development of research skills. We believe that such
skills are a precondition for activists to be able to release the
potentials of the Internet in development of a democratic culture in the
survey revealed a need for capacity building and a demand for training. In
addition it showed that it should be feasible to develop a programme that
uses ICT as a tool for capacity building to make training accessible to a
larger number of people than is possible using conventional approaches.
one important objective should be to enhance the capacity of human rights
and civic associations to establish a popular democratic culture in the
region through the development of computer-based and Internet-based
learning materials. These should aim to enhance the capacity of the
organizations to campaign and advocate effectively on human rights
concerns, including democracy, governance and accountability; establish
democratic budget processes; establish democratic constitutions; and use
conflict resolution. Such training courses should seek to:
organizations that are sustainable, democratic and effectively managed and
to enhance the development of effective leadership skills at all levels
the research capabilities and capacities of activists, especially in
relation to the use of the Internet as a resource;
the development of a consensus policy on the use of ICT within the sector,
and to encourage the sharing of ICT resources within and beyond the
the capacity of training institutions in the region to develop training
materials using ICTs for use by others in the region.
International Human Rights Internship Program and The Swedish NGO
Foundation for Human Rights (1994). The Status of Human Rights
Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington DC and Stockholm:
International Human Rights Internship Program and The Swedish NGO
Foundation for Human Rights; and J.P. Martin and
K. Cobham (1997). Human Rights NGOs in Africa: the Emerging Agenda.
Unpublished paper (personal communication). Centre for the Study of Human
Rights, University of Columbia.
Many organizations in South Africa are situated or affiliated to
universities; consequently access to the Internet is frequently through
those institutions’ networks.
To be fair, this characteristic is not unique to the region. Most NGOs in
developed countries are motivated in having a website primarily because
others have one. They too exhibit a sense of bemused wonder when they are
asked how their website helps them to achieve their mission!
National Working Party on Social Inclusion (1997). The Net Result: Social
Inclusion in the Information Society. London: Community Development
chapter is based on a report produced for, and with the support of,
Canada’s International Development Research Centre. Since completing
this research, Fahamu and the University of Oxford have been awarded major
grants by the European Union and IDRC for a programme to strengthen the
campaigning and organizational capacity of human rights organizations in
southern Africa using ICTs.
Voices from Africa no. 9