Advocacy organization, amandla.mobi is influencing how people organize, by creating accessible petitions and encouraging mobilization around social justice issues in South Africa.
Their campaigns are available in three languages and through web, mobile and mXit platforms. This accessibility is the key ingredient in their quest to “turn every cellphone into a democracy building tool”.
Their mobi platform, which can be accessed by dialling *120*4729# from any cellphone, enables citizens to partake in the organization’s petitions.
The pioneers of amandla.mobi, Koketso Moeti, Fezile Kanju and Paul Mason, all work full-time on this project. Moeti, amandla.mobi’s Executive Director, describes their meeting as “a convergence of like-minded activists”.
They are motivated by their vision for a society where “you can take action on issues that affect you, and mobilize others in numbers, [driving] transparency and accountability,”.
Breaking down digital and language divides
Moeti says, “It shouldn’t be that activists with flushing toilets at home tell people without toilets in shacks why they should care about not having flushing toilets, because those affected often know best why it shouldn’t be so.
The “build it and they shall come” approach to open-data and citizen engagement tools may attract early adopters…but, citizens don’t think of tools, they think of problems and remedies.
A ‘tool’ only facilitates and if it’s value is not intuitive or explained, it’s useless.”
By running mobile and multi-lingual campaigns, amandla.mobi aims to reach as many people as possible, overcoming the issues of accessibility often linked to the digital sphere.
Moeti says, “Open data, citizen journalism and citizen empowerment tools won’t create the systemic change we need if they are only accessible to upper-class, urban, educated, English speaking activists.”
From skepticism to success
After 6 months of developing the platforms, amandla.mobi launched their first prototype mobile multilingual campaign in June 2014. Since then, they have gained a following of 13 000 people, with the mobi platform being their most popular.
“Many people thought it would not work and were skeptical that mobiles could be used this way…it took us a while to find the visionary donors we needed to get us started.” Moeti says.
Moeti says their greatest success is their campaign to secure access to free-to-air TV for low income households.
She says, “Government was going to force low-income households to pay R700 for a digital set top box, when we switch off analogue TV and were going to only subsidize households with an income lower than R2500.
Working with the SOS Coalition, our campaign managed to mobilize over 4000 poor and working class South Africans to sign the campaign from their cellphone and submit comments which were included in the submission made.”
Moeti says although government is mandated to run public consultations over decisions like this, these consultations are often poorly advertised and impractical, as they require people to send a fax or written letter.
“This time ’round decision makers were flooded with over 4000 submissions from people directly explaining why this is a problem.”
As a result, the government increased the income threshold to R3200, allowing an additional 1 million households access a free set-top box.
“It’s an exciting victory,” Moeti says, “A testament to our theory of change that those most affected by decisions, when given a means to mobilize, can influence decision makers.”
Digital campaigns with real-life impacts
For the amandla.mobi creators, it’s crucial to create campaigns which include offline actions.
Their launch campaign, which advocated for the creation of a Youth desk in Ekurhuleni Municipality, led to a meeting with the mayor. They arranged for those who had signed the petition to attend the meeting.
Currently, amandla.mobi is running a campaign to commemorate the upcoming 3rd anniversary of the Marikana massacre. They have invited members of the public to create their own events on August 16th to commemorate the anniversary.
Over 30 events have been confirmed nationwide. To see a list of events, click this map:
To create an event in your area, sign up by clicking this image:
Or click HERE to follow amandla.mobi’s updates on Facebook.