ANNUAL REVIEW

2019

What do Somalis perceive to be the most viable solutions to their country’s displacement crisis? Do the citizens of Siaya County in Kenya think their government has met the commitments made in the 2018-2019 Development Plan? Why do people in Somalia think that women do not get equal access to justice? 


These are questions, curated by Africa’s Voices, that sparked citizen-led, inclusive and impactful dialogues in 2019, on the radio, on TV and on the ground, engaging nearly 80,000 citizens in cities and hard-to-reach areas of Kenya and Somalia.  

Our mission is to put African citizens at the heart of the continent’s transformation.
Since 2015, we sparked media-based dialogues which actively engaged over 300,000 people in East Africa and reached million others through the airwaves. We listen to citizens’ authentic voices in spaces they value and turn this engagement into rigorous social insights which accelerate social impact in two ways: (i) as powerful evidence for more participatory, responsive and accountable governance and (ii) as citizen-led norm-challenging dialogues for progressive social change.

This is a summary of our impact in 2019.

Our 2019 highlights

What we care about and what mattered

…creating meaningful media-based spaces to connect citizens, authorities, civil society and others in vibrant public dialogues.

In 2019, we hosted 1,498 radio shows across dozens of radio stations in Kenya and Somalia. 

...putting citizens at the heart of decision-making around issues that affect their lives.

In 2019, we received 323,750 messages from over 70,000 citizens in Kenya and Somalia who shared their views on a range of topics raised in interactive radio shows. 

…opening an impartial channel for Somali citizens to voice their opinions in humanitarian and governance programming beyond mandates, programmes and sectors.

In 2019, 30,000 citizens used our Common Social Accountability Platform to share their perspectives with decision-makers on critical issues that affect their lives, from aid delivery to displacement. 

...building a nationwide citizen-led conversation to tackle the norms that sustain gender inequality and social exclusion of vulnerable groups in Somalia.

In 2019 alone, 45,000 Somalis participated in our Imaqal programme’s interactive radio drama and radio magazine discussions on topics ranging from women’s access to justice to clannism and discrimination against minorities. 

...amplifying marginalised voices.

In 2019, consistently, over 40% of participants in our interactive radio discussions were women and 50% internally displaced. 

...fostering crucial citizen-authority encounters where issues are addressed, action is identified, and those in power are held to account.

In 2019, 98 decision-makers from government and aid organisations appeared as guests in our interactive radio shows to respond to citizen voices shared via SMS. 

...ensuring citizens, especially those affected by the world’s most challenging humanitarian emergencies,  feel included and consulted in decisions that affect their lives.

In 2019, across our projects, over 80% of citizens who participated reported that the process made them feel included in decision-making.

Citizen Evidence for Social Change

Valuing citizen voice entails championing spaces for debate and exchange that are inclusive and contextually-based, where marginalised voices can find a platform and where social norms and beliefs can be challenged and transformed. In places where the space for public debate is limited, citizen-led conversations for social change are immensely valuable. 

Our Citizen Evidence for Social Change (CESC) programme leverages our pioneering interactive radio method to put citizens at the heart of programme design and policy response in sectors ranging from education and livelihoods, public health and gender equality. In addition, this citizen voice-centred approach is a valuable tool in unravelling social norms that underpin harmful practices, determining key drivers of social and behaviour change and tracking the shift in beliefs over time.

In the media-enabled discursive spaces we curate, negative views can be contested by the public itself and positive attitudes for social change can be made visible. In 2019, we applied this approach to Imaqal, our largest and most ambitious project to date, to build a nationwide citizen-led conversation on critical gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) matters in Somalia.

After a successful pilot in 2018, we returned to Dadaab and Kakuma, Kenya's largest refugee settlements, to launch a three-year project in support of DFID-funded KEEP II education programme. Using interactive radio and on-the-ground listening groups, we are engaging people in the settlements and in the host communities in norm-challenging discussions about stubborn practices that prevent girls from attending school.

Photo: Abdi Dakan

"Yes, it's something that was needed long time ago; it brings the community members closer to one another."

Male, 18, Galkacyo

In response to "Do you think that the KAAHA NOLOSHA (Imaqal radio debate) conversations are contributing to a more inclusive society? Yes or No? Why?"

Photo credit: Tobin Jones

Photo credit: Tobin Jones

Greater gender equality and social inclusion through media in Somalia

Financed by the Somali Stability Fund (SSF),  Imaqal, Somali for “Listen to me” unleashes the power of interactive media to challenge persistent norms and amplify positive narratives around gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in Somalia.

30 radio stations
4 TV debates
2 seasons of
Xujadii Loo Xarig Furay radio drama
2 seasons of
Kaaha Nolosha radio magazine
On-the-ground forums across Somalia
350,000 lifetime radio listenership

In 2019, Imaqal created the spaces for a vibrant nationwide conversation on difficult topics that are prevalent in Somali society. The most popular theme to date, addressing the negative social norms that consider women weak, engaged nearly 9000 people in a public discussion. Nearly 8000 citizens shared their voice on the lack of justice for rape victims and similar numbers debated discrimination against minorities, irregular migration and the norms that exclude young people from decision-making. To date, almost 50,000 Somalis have participated in dialogues about critical GESI issues made possible by Imaqal. Of them, 40% have participated repeatedly more than 3-4 times.

On a weekly basis, an average of 5000 people interact with Imaqal by sending in their opinions in response to open-ended questions posed on air. Through its ground-breaking TV debates and on-the-ground forums, Imaqal has provided a platform for marginalised voices to be heard. This young woman, took the stage at a recent forum in Kismayo to take an emphatic stance in relation to women's right to participate in politics:

The timely analysis of SMS responses, allows for audience's views to be fed back into the media production on a weekly basis. This way, Imaqal's programming truly reflects the pulse of the conversation and ensures that positive role models get centre stage while marginalised voices are amplified.

See here, for more information about Imaqal and its radical approach.

"Interactive radio (i.e. radio talk-shows driven by citizen input via SMS) leverages the reach and vibrance of Somalia’s media and telecommunications landscape. It has proven to be a highly relevant medium for large-scale, inclusive and cost-efficient consultative conversations between Somalis and humanitarian actors."

Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview 2020

Governance and Accountability

Our Governance & Accountability (G&A) programme changes how citizens participate in decision-making that affects them. Connecting citizens, authorities, civil society and others in vibrant public discussion, Africa’s Voices fosters crucial citizen-authority encounters where issues are addressed, action is identified, and those in power are held to account.

In 2019, we continued to drive inclusive governance in Somalia through our Common Social Accountability Platform (CSAP) which leverages Africa's Voices interactive radio method to strengthen Somalia's fragile accountability ecosystem.

For the second consecutive year, we put voices of citizens at the heart of humanitarian planning processes. We collaborated with UN OCHA, GroundTruth Solutions and REACH to ensure that the voices of citizens inform the 2020 annual UN Humanitarian Needs Overview (the 2019 HNO specifically commended our work and the 2020 HNO highlighted Africa's Voices as one of three selected Accountability to Affected Populations initiatives in Somalia*). We heard from 8,251 Somalis and we produced a snappy summary with actionable recommendations for a more people-centred humanitarian response in 2020.
*Turn to page 28!

In Kenya, we piloted our interactive radio method as radical new way to galvanise civic engagement and public participation - the still unfulfilled promise of the devolution. In consultation with the Siaya County government, Africa’s Voices designed a four week season of interactive radio shows to drive citizen feedback on achievements under the 2018-19 Annual Development Plan. Each episode featured a guest from a relevant county government authority who responded directly to citizen opinions read on air. That way, 2296 people who sent 5490 messages participated in a large-scale, inclusive and sustained public dialogue with key decision-makers. 78.5% of respondents said the radio shows improved their understanding of County decision-making processes, while 77.2% said they thought the interactive radio public dialogue made them feel more included in decision-making.

The results of the pilot were presented to the Government of Siaya in August 2019 and are being used to inform new and innovative civic engagement strategies for county governments across Kenya. 

“The common social accountability platform approach is a kind of think outside the box. The forums brought together displacement affected communities, local authorities and humanitarian partners. I believe if such dialogue continued, it will help the decision makers to think long term solutions for IDPs living in a city like Baidoa.”

Mr. Abdullahi Ali Watiin, former Mayor, Baidoa

Two years of putting citizen voice at the heart of Somalia's Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO)

Since 2018, we have been complementing the annual humanitarian planning process for Somalia by opening up radio-enabled spaces for citizens to voice their priorities in their own words and on their own terms. Unlike conventional survey techniques, consultations over interactive radio result in insights that are not only rich and plural - reaching people that are often excluded from traditional surveying - but also authentic and often surprising - they carry a nuance that would be unlikely to have emerged otherwise.

8,251 citizens participated in our 2019 interactive radio series to inform the 2020 HNO. 84% reported that the consultations made them feel more included in humanitarian decision-making

What do you think are the most important solutions for addressing humanitarian needs in your community?

The 2019 intervention was designed to allow for direct comparisons of community priorities between both 2018 and 2019 consultations. In 2019, citizens placed greater emphasis on community organisation, governance, peace and security, compared to 2018. Emphasis on humanitarian services, such as water and food, has declined.

Broadcast across a national network of 26 FM radio stations, the consultation built on a similar process that took place in 2018 in tandem with REACH. In 2018, 8,955 citizens participated (and over 100,000 are estimated to have listened to the shows). Africa's Voices will be repeating this process in 2020.

What we celebrated in 2019

Photo credit: UN/Rick Bajornas

Photo credit: UN/Rick Bajornas

Our mission motivates us to become better. To bring about a transformation in the way Africans are heard in decision-making that affects their lives, we need to begin by transforming ourselves. Here is how we became better in 2019. 

We moved! 

In July 2019, our Nairobi team said goodbye to shared co-working spaces and moved to our very own shiny new office at Riverside Studios on Riverside Lane. This is a space that speaks to our values of growing together, a space where our team can develop, create and learn.

We landed a major humanitarian innovation grant. 

Africa’s Voices was selected as one of the 2019 Twilio.org Impact Grant Fund recipients. The grant is being  used to further grow katikati, our 1-to-1 two-way channel for open-text local language conversations at scale, to enable crisis-affected communities to engage with and hold aid actors into account. katikati has already been deployed to support accountability towards humanitarian cash transfer recipients in Somalia and to embed youth voice in the design and implementation of employment programmes. Over the next year, we will be sharing frequent updates on the project and through it, the transformation we are trying to achieve: better responsiveness and outcomes, more citizen agency and voice, and greater dignity and ownership over humanitarian responses.

We are officially not only Africa-based but also African-led!

After five years of trailblazing Africa’s Voices and over a decade of shaping the vision behind it, Dr Sharath Srinivasan returns to the University of Cambridge, where our story began. From January 2020, our baton has a new leader’s name on it: Samuel Kimeu joins Africa’s Voices as our new Executive Director after leading Transparency International-Kenya for nearly a decade, epitomising our commitment to champion good governance through citizen engagement in Africa. 

Earlier in 2019, our Senior management team also welcomed Damaris Ndegwa as our Director of Operations while our Board of Trustees has expanded with the addition of Dr Frasia Wangari Karua. Our Nairobi team also grew strong! 23 staff sit in Nairobi and two in Cambridge. 

Africa's Voices' team in Naivasha, Kenya in August 2019.

Africa's Voices' team in Naivasha, Kenya in August 2019.

A FEW WORDS FROM OUR FOUNDER

2019 marks five years of Africa's Voices as an independent organisation. After all this time at its helm, the AVF baton has a new leader's name on it. I am delighted that Samuel Kimeu is taking over in 2020 as Africa's Voices Executive Director.

Samuel joined Africa’s Voices from Transparency International-Kenya where he has been Executive Director for nearly a decade. Samuel’s leadership and background in citizen engagement and governance reform will accelerate our vision to place citizen voice right at the heart of better governance, development and humanitarian outcomes.  

I could not be prouder of where Africa’s Voices is today. Five years since we launched in Cambridge, Africa’s Voices is on a bold growth trajectory as an Africa-based and African-led organisation. With some really exciting work underway, a sustainable future is within grasp and we are only getting closer to achieving our mission to make citizen voice central to the continent’s transformation. 

So please allow me to mark this moment with a heartfelt thanks: for your enthusiasm for AVF's vision, for your trust and for our collaboration during what has been a remarkable journey.

With very best wishes, 

Dr Sharath Srinivasan, Co-founder and Senior Advisor

Africa's Voices is a non-profit organisation, spun out of cutting-edge research at the University of Cambridge. Our mission is to listen to citizens’ authentic voices in spaces they value and turn this engagement into rigorous social insights which accelerate social impact. We are based in Nairobi, Kenya and Cambridge, UK.

Follow us @africas_voices

For more information about our work overall, contact info@africasvoices.org.