Finding Their Voice: Leveraging Social Media to Promote Civic Engagement in Afghanistan
Stephanie Cálves, an associate in the Democracy and Governance sector with Tetra Tech International Development Services, discusses the use of social media to increase citizen engagement and participation in governance in Afghanistan. Across all of its international development projects, Tetra Tech works to ensure that projects are implementing technology that is fit-for-purpose, demand-driven, and builds local capacity. All opinions expressed in this post are the author’s own.
The U.S. government recently began implementing a new strategy to support the Government of Afghanistan and encourage citizens to take greater ownership of their future. Tetra Tech is an active partner in this effort, working to strengthen local governance across the country with the aim of improving development opportunities and outcomes and fighting corruption. Citizen engagement is a key component to achieving these goals, as building the bridge between citizens and public officials in Afghanistan provides a mechanism for accountability and opportunities for the public to influence and advocate for development projects that meet their needs.
Working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Tetra Tech is implementing the Initiative to Strengthen Local Administrations (ISLA) project, which aims to increase citizen engagement and strengthen provincial governance in the areas of financial and development planning and public administration.
In Afghanistan, where even travel for daily tasks can be difficult, connecting citizens to public officials can be challenging. Security, cultural, and geographic barriers can make simple acts of democracy—like attending a city council meeting or a town hall—extraordinarily difficult.
To date, the USAID ISLA Project has supported Provincial Governors in 16 Afghan provinces to hold a total of 30 town hall meetings, reaching more than 3,400 people. This is a small step towards reaching broader swaths of the public, especially women, youth, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups who face social and cultural barriers to engaging with public officials.
To help address these barriers, the ISLA project arranged a Facebook Live Youth Forum in Laghman Province in May 2017 that allowed Afghan youth to put their social media skills to use advocating for issues important to them. With Tetra Tech’s support, more than 2,000 Facebook users viewed the live video stream of the event and participated in the conversation through a live chat with Laghman Provincial Governor Abdul Jabar Naeemi. Youth from Laghman and other provinces asked questions related to education, the economy, and overall development. The forum was extended from one to two hours due to the number of participants and their enthusiasm, and the forum reached more than 11,000 individuals in total through the live stream and recording of the event.
ISLA subsequently supported Provincial Governors in Ghor and Ghazni provinces to hold similar events through radio and Facebook Live, discussing educational opportunities for young people and issues related to substance abuse and illegal drug trafficking. ISLA also has supported governors in Balkh and Faryab provinces to hold similar forums focused on women’s issues, helping women engage with public officials to influence the design of development projects and policies to meet their needs. In total, ISLA has reached 6,200 individuals through both Facebook Live and in-person forums and town hall events.
The Facebook Live events support the ISLA project’s aim to enable the Afghan Government to improve provincial governance and enhance public service delivery. The project is leveraging innovative technologies like Facebook Live to allow Afghan constituents to engage with decision-makers to advocate for services and directly hold their government officials accountable. For example, at an ISLA-supported town hall in Faryab province, a disabled woman questioned local officials about the delay of her government benefits, prompting a government commitment to look into the matter and address the issue. These public forums also provide a venue for officials to report on the progress of development projects, budgets, and policies that are being developed, promoting transparency and providing opportunities for public comment.
Through the ISLA project, Tetra Tech is helping the people of Afghanistan actively engage with their representatives and influence decisions about public service delivery. With Tetra Tech’s use of social media technologies like Facebook Live, underrepresented populations are able to interact with their elected leaders and share their concerns like never before.
"Thanks to the governor and USAID ISLA team… the people can share their issues by Facebook… from their home villages. The people have a lot of economic and security problems. They can’t come to the Provincial Governor’s Office to share their issues to the governor and line departments. It is a chance for them, and we would like to conduct this kind of event [in the future]." —Mr. Abdul Qayum Rastman, Youth Parliament Member