Someone finally decided to do something about increasing Zimbabweans’ access to the constitution. The Centre for Applied Legal Research, (CARL), the Legal Resource Foundation (LRF) and HIVOS Southern Africa Hub with funding from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands worked together towards the creation of the Android application on the Declaration of Human Rights.
Anyone with an android mobile phone can download it from Google Play Store. Once the app is installed on your phone, there is no need for an internet connection to access it. This makes the app cheaper to access as the initial cost is only when you download it. Thereafter, it is free for use.
The First of its Kind
This is the first practical step taken by any group of organisations to ensure that Zimbabweans have access to the Bill of rights in a user-friendly way. With more countries going digital, the application will be of greater interest especially to the young population.
Reading content from an application in simple language is different from digesting legal jargon from a booklet with small print. If someone does not like research they can just have a look at the app and get to know about their rights.
The Netherlands Ambassador to Zimbabwe Gera Sneller acknowledged that generally the application increases access to the constitution as it diverts from the traditional sources of information.
“Through the app people will know that these are my rights, these are the limitations to my rights, this is what I can ask for from my government”, said Ambassador Sneller.
Debra Barron, National Director for Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) said the application was convenient as it allowed more people to have access to the constitution without necessarily visiting their offices to collect the traditional pamphlets.
“Quite a percentage of Zimbabwe’s population do have phones and it is likely that they will share the information with their friends and family who do not have phones,” she added.
To cater for those without Android phones, the implementing organisations have resorted to the use of bulk SMS informing people about how to access the content on the constitution through other sources. Unfortunately, due to limited resources, the SMSs will only be distributed for a period of six months.
“In addition we are organising outreach campaigns with LRF in order to target those who may not be able to read from the application, explained Nyasha Chishakwe, Director at Centre for Applied Legal Research ( CALR).
Although the app has a few shortcomings, this is the first digital development that may lead the rest by example.
Contents of the App
The app contains an introduction that elaborates on what the declaration is and defines human, political, civil, socio-economic and environmental rights.
The introduction is followed by actual rights which are stated under the section ‘The Human rights’. These include the right to life, right to personal security right to privacy, among others. One can access an explanation on each of the rights by clicking on each of them.
Third on the list of contents are limitations to human rights. In this section, the developers state and explain what ‘claw back’ clauses are. These are defined as provisions that withdraw a right by stating when the right can be limited. This is to clarify that as much as some rights are included in the Bill of Rights, they can be withdrawn under certain circumstances that are stated in the 2013 National Constitution. The app also states that there are some rights that are not to be withdrawn under any circumstances. These include the rights to life, human dignity, right not to be tortured, the right not to be subjected to slavery and the right to a fair trial.
Under ‘Enforcement of Human Rights’ the app states channels through which the rights can be enforced. The constitutional court and the independent commissions are the mentioned channels. The functions of the constitutional court and ways through which citizens can approach the court if the need arises are also included.
Does the App Really Guarantee Accessibility of the Bill of Rights?
This is the first and only app that allows the ordinary person to have access to part of the constitution without having the actual hard or soft copy of the document. Considering the various digital developments happening in the tech world, the app is indeed a noble idea that deserves acknowledgement. However the fact that it is limited to android phones limits the accessibility of the app by some citizens who do not either own an android phone or a phone at all.
Limited Access to Internet
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey carried out by the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency in 2014, only 21.6% of women between the ages of 15 to 16 had access to the internet in 2014 whilst 30.8% of men within the same age range accessed the internet in the same period. These statistics reflect the overall use of the internet via any device either computer or mobile phone. If we are to use these statistics for access to the internet via the mobile phone it means that only 5% of young people have the ability to access the app, assuming that all of them have android phones. Since these figures include access to the internet via computers it means the figures for mobile phones are actually lower than that.
In the same regard, the latest statistics released by Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) through its sector report, show a decline in internet subscriptions in the last quarter of 2014. The report states that internet subscriptions fell by 5.2% from 6.2 million in the third quarter to 5.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. If the trend continued into 2015 this may mean that the already fewer people have access to the internet via mobile phones and fewer people will access the application.
It is not only access to the internet that is important, but it is also the affordability of android phones. Android phones are considered to be part of a high-end market with the cheapest available at the price of $30 which may not be very affordable for many. Which means that some cannot benefit from the app because of their financial status.
Although CARL has summarised the Bill of Rights in four local languages , the app is only in English. This means that even if the application was to be made available to everyone, only those who are able to read and understand the English language would be able to benefit from the application. The country’s literacy rate may be as high as 83 per cent but this does not mean that everyone included in the figures is acquainted with the English language. The content in the app needs to be translated to the main local languages, preferably all the local official languages. This would guarantee that more people have access to the app in the same context since there will be a standard way of translations that will be used.
It is Only in Written Word
The visually impaired are currently not beneficiaries of the app because it is not a form that they can access. The app is only for those who can read. An audio version would be useful for visually impaired citizens as they will be able to listen.
An 2014 article in The Herald quotes Professor Rangarirai Masanganise who states that the population of the visually impaired in Zimbabwe reaches 1.3 million which amounts to ten per cent of the country’s population. And research shows that the number could be on the rise due to cataract-related ailments. Because the app only caters for those who have functional vision, it only targets 90% of the country’s total population.
These few limitations do not take away the credit from the developers and implementers of the application. Zimbabweans have the right to know what is contained in the constitution and this application aims to address that. Improvements and further developments can always be done as time goes on.
Main image from http://www.globalenvision.org