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Ghana: Want a new constitution? Text 1992

In December 2010, Kobina Graham discovered just how much was riding on the social media project he had been working on. At the launch of the Constitution Review Commission’s text campaign he was told ‘This is the first campaign of its type in Ghana. If it works, it will be a model to follow. If it fails it will be held up as the reason why we should never do social media campaigns in Ghana again.’

No pressure.

A month later, and with over 20,000 text submissions under his belt, Kobina is breathing a little easier. With a Law degree and a Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy behind him, Kobina was a natural recruit for the CRC team. However, it was his love of social media that the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) team wanted to draw upon. During his time as Head of New Media at radio station, Joy FM, he earned the nickname of ‘Twitter’ for his use of social media and the breaking stories gleaned through Twitter, that he brought to the station. The CRC hoped this experience would help them reach a broader audience across the country.

The Constitution review process is the most comprehensive project of its kind ever undertaken in Ghana, and the first review undertaken since the 1992 Constitution came into force. The 1992 Constitution is Ghana’s fifth constitution after those of 1957, 1960, 1969 and 1979.

During the first twelve months, the CRC team opened their doors, mailboxes and inboxes to the community with an approach along the lines of ‘send your submissions by pigeon or smoke signal and we’ll accept it’. By the time the submission period closed, they had received over 60,000 contributions. It seemed though that social media submissions and pigeon post, were probably on a par, with less than 1% of submissions received coming via the web, Facebook or Twitter. While Kobina acknowledges that all three were useful for disseminating information, they generated little in the way of submissions. For the second phase, it seemed logical therefore, to try a fresh approach.

While internet take-up may still be slow, Ghanaians have embraced the mobile phone market with enthusiasm. At the end of 2010 it was estimated that 75% of Ghana’s population had mobile phones; up from 63% in 2009. This amounts to a subscriber base of over 17.4 million people. The current social media strategy Kobina developed with his colleagues looks to capitalise on this market penetration, encouraging Ghanaians to comment via SMS on a shortlist of twenty-five top issues relating to the review, that were gleaned from the initial submissions.

With a nod to the last review in 1992, the SMS campaign asks Ghanaians to text ‘C’ to short code 1992 to start receiving questions. For each answer submitted users receive the next question. As with most text-based campaigns, however, there is a cost to the user; a fact that has been questioned by those who believe that commenting on the review should be free. Kobina sees it differently, pointing out that last year’s comment submission process was entirely free with members of the public able to participate in a variety of ways and fora without cost. Those initial submissions will form the bulk of the research.

The cost of participating via text messages covers not only the fees charged by the mobile phone companies, but also offers the chance to raise some much needed revenue for the CRC. At present the CRC is only partly funded by the Ghana Government, the rest of its funding having been sourced from foreign aid bodies including the World Bank. Kobina firmly believes Ghana should aim to be self funding, paying for projects like the review without international assistance. To achieve that, however, the money will have to be derived locally through mechanisms such as this. There is also the hope that the text campaign will help to encourage community buy-in with contributors literally investing in the process.

As texts continue to come in, the CRC team is working to process all submissions received to date. They have a mandate to finish before the end of the current Presidential term, so everything has to be done well.

Apart from the text campaign, the commission also uses Twitter and Facebook. Below are some of latest tweets posted on CRC twitter page:

An invitation to a public meeting:

Come to “The National Constitution Review Conference” Tuesday, March 1 at 5:00 pm until
Sunday, March 6 at… http://fb.me/DaJMBSKy

Thousands of text messages are pouring in:

The text messages are pouring in in the THOUSANDS. Ghanaians really have a lot to say on the Constitution!

Make your thoughts heard via SMS:

Make your thoughts heard on the review of the Constitution. Text ‘C’ to short code 1992 & start answering the 25 questions now!

Q10: Should MPs also be allowed to propose a Bill with cost implications to Parliament to make into law? Text your view to 1992 (Ghana only). Start text with ‘Q10′. 50p/SMS

A sample of questions left on CRC Facebook page:

Q10: Should MPs also be allowed to propose a Bill with cost implications to Parliament to make into law? Text your view to 1992 (Ghana only). Start text with ‘Q10′. 50p/SMS

Do you think the indemnity clauses (of the Transitional Provisions) should be retained or repealed?
Text your view to 1992 (Ghana only). Start text with ‘Q23′. 50p/SMS

Q17: Corruption cases aside, CHRAJ cant investigate cases without identifiable complainants. Send your thoughts by SMS to 1992 (Ghana only, all networks) or simply leave an answer here. Start text with ‘Q17′. 50p/SMS.

District Chief Executives are currently nominated by the President and approved by the Assembly. Should this change or remain the same? Send your thoughts by SMS to 1992 (Ghana only, all networks) or simply leave an answer here. Start your messsage with ‘Q14′

What is your view on ex-gratia awards & emoluments for ex-Presidents & public office holders?
Send it by SMS to 1992 (Ghana only) or simply leave an answer here. Start your messsage with ‘Q1′.

While the ultimate outcome of the review process will depend on the responses of the President, Council of State, Parliament and ultimately the people, if a revised constitution is put to a referendum, at least for now Kobina can be confident that his text strategy has not closed the door forever on social media being used in Ghana in the future.

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