Using Mobile Action to Power Change | Why We Invested: amandla.mobi

Amandla! Awethu!  This popular South African rallying cry was a powerful symbolic act against oppression during the fight against the apartheid regime - a demand that the people govern themselves.  Meaning “Power! To the People!” the phrase is still used today to express grievances against those in power, to demand the state’s responsiveness, and to bring people together to fight injustice.

Today, a small team of activists in South Africa works to continue the legacy of this powerful call to action by adopting the phrase as their name. Amandla.mobi is a mobile collective action platform that provides tools for anyone to organize people in numbers large enough to have their voices heard and to win accountability from decision-makers.

The team currently operates two platforms:

  • amandla.mobi runs major advocacy campaigns on issues affecting their core audience - black women from low-income backgrounds - and other historically marginalized groups. They organize petitions that can be supported with the click of a button by people across the country, and they run tactical advocacy campaigns to acheive specific outcomes.
  • awethu.mobi is a platform for anyone to intiate and run their own campaigns on issues they care about. It provides a space for the average person to take action towards social justice, whether it be at the most local level - the closing of your community's library, for example - or a global level - such as GMO crops. These tools enable anyone to raise awareness about their issues and to take action using clear channels against targeted decision-makers. 

Since launching in June 2014, amandla.mobi has supported over 320 campaigns on issues such as gender-based violence, housing, sanitation, and public transport.  Their success in getting concessions or actions from those in power has been impressive.  For example, when the uThukela District Municipality of KZN implemented “virginity tests” for young school girls to keep their hard-won bursaries, young black women themselves were able to rise up and protest, resulting in the Commission on Gender and Equality pronouncing the tests unconstitutional and the Municipality scrapping them.  When former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba announced a 1% Value Added Tax increase in February 2018, amandla.mobi’s petition marshalled over 55,000 signatures in just a few days, and brought the public dialogue about the increase back to the needs of low-income citizens who are most vulnerable to its effects.

South Africa has a long history of social injustice falling disproportionately on certain groups.  On top of this, the ability to participate in the governance of one’s community and country - and to improve it - is also biased towards certain groups because of historical and ongoing systemic dispossession.  While social media and the internet have revolutionized civic action in recent years, it’s too easy to forget those that are being left behind as a result of their inability to access new tools and constructive channels to participate.  Of the 21 million internet users in South Africa today, the vast majority access the internet exclusively through their mobile phone, and more than half of South Africans live on less than R992 (~$70) per person per month, an amount that makes high data costs unaffordable.  This creates a vicious cycle wherein those who benefit least from the status quo are also the least able to do anything about it.  Black women from low-income backgrounds are often the most marginalized, along with members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and young people.  The need for democratizing the ability to rally for change in South Africa has clearly never been more pressing.

Amandla.mobi exists to do precisely this.  Koketso Moeti founded the organization after she succeeded in mobilizing her community in the North West province against eviction, an experience which taught her both the power of collective action and of a simple cellphone as an advocacy tool.  Amandla.mobi engages South Africa’s disaffected majority by uniting them around such opportunities for targeted collective action.

At Omidyar Network, we believe that when some voices are not heard, we all lose out. Using amandla.mobi’s tools,  the people most affected by social injustice can be the ones to raise awareness and propose solutions. This brings previously disaffected groups into public dialogue and civic action, a critical piece of the struggle for progress in South Africa.  And so we are proud to announce a new grant of $250,000 over two years to support amandla.mobi to expand their work and impact.

We are inspired by the way that amandla.mobi leverages the best of what technology has to offer - simplified communication, lower costs, large scale – by using mobile-first, cheap, or free tools which operate in four languages.  We also recognize the importance of acknowledging technology’s limitations when it comes to civic participation.  Technology can only go so far without sustained real-world action, and can also present an inaccurate illusion of inclusivity.  Amandla.mobi’s work incorporates skillful and tactical offline techniques that complement their online efforts.  The carefully chosen and designed distribution channels – USSD, SMS, WhatsApp, and a data-light mobi-site – are targeted at exactly the people who are often excluded from public dialogue.  With a little bit of creative thinking, and a lot of passion and determination, amandla.mobi is showing that the power of both technology and civic engagement can be opened up to those who need it most.

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