Ugandan tech initiative is inspiring citizens to know their rights
By Janet Anderson
In December 2017, HiiL Innovating Justice held the 8th Annual Innovating Justice Forum at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The forum brought together the best and most promising justice entrepreneurs from all over the world. The attendees were selected from a pool of more than 600 justice innovators who participated in the Innovating Justice Challenge 2017.
Through the Annual Innovating Justice Forum and other novel initiatives, HiiL hopes to inspire a groundswell of support and interest in justice entrepreneurship as has been witnessed in the spheres of technology and health. Justice Hub tagged along for December’s forum and caught up with a few of the participants on the sidelines of the event.
In this interview, conducted as part of our popular #MyJustice series, Justice Hub talks to one of the finalists, Michael Richard Katagaya a co-founder of the Evidence and Methods Lab, a Uganda-based civic tech initiative that is the embodiment of the “African solutions for African problems” ethos.
Justice Hub: What does the Evidence and Methods Lab do?
It's a civic tech initiative that is simplifying the land law into infographics so that people understand it. Law is very complex for the ordinary person to understand and yet the same ordinary person is supposed to use the law to defend themselves but also be able to obey the law. Ordinary people need to understand it but you find that there are so many people who cannot understand the law, because of the language, because it's in complex formats.
Yet there is an opportunity of simplifying that law into something that almost everyone understands because they say a picture [works] in every language. We make the law very simple, we break it down and draw pictures thus making it easier for people to understand. We share the graphics that we do on the internet, mostly on social media, websites and YouTube plus also on screens where people go to watch soccer because there are so many people that are going to watch soccer, they are going to the restaurant and there are screens there so we screen these things over there.
And then for people who cannot be reached through the internet and the tech platforms, we do a printout and then work with civil society organisations that work directly with communities to take that information to the grassroots.
Justice Hub: Could you give us an example of an issue that this method of transmitting information has helped address?
One of the issues is land ownership. I keep saying that selling land is not as easy as selling a piece of cake because when you sell a piece of cake no one has to know about it. When you sell land, the government has to know about it and there is a regulation governing it.
Some people think that they have actually bought land because they have an understanding with the person selling it to them. Then later they realise that actually someone else who has gone through the process, someone who has a title to the land for example, is the one who owns the land. There have been so many people in Uganda who wake up one day and are forced out of their house because someone shows up and says "hey, I own the land". Since they have a title from the government, even if someone says "but I bought it from person X and I they signed an agreement”, they can say “oh no. That agreement no longer applies because you must have the title.”
There is an ownership issue. I have seen lots of people displaced from land they have lived on for several years being displaced. We think that if such people were aware of what they should do, if they had completed the entire procedure around land ownership, they would be able to defend themselves in such cases.
Justice Hub: How did you get into this? What’s your background?
My background is information, specifically monitoring and evaluation. I believe in the power of using data, information, and evidence to inform people for social change but also for transparency and accountability. So I have worked for many government organizations. Last year, I thought to myself, I want to get out of employment and push this passion because I could see lots of stories and lots of people that were having this issue.
I believe in breaking down information, the power of information. I believe that if the citizen has information then they can do so much with it. They can obey the law because now they know it. They can also hold those that want to mistreat them to account. That's how I got into this. I got two other friends who also believe in the same vision as mine. One of them does graphics another does statistics and information breakdown. I got them together and we started Evidence and Methods Lab.
Photo: Janet Anderson