Defending human rights via technology
WHEN Courteney Mukoyi, a Zimbabwean technoprenuer, was still in law school in 2020, social injustices at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic inspired him to come up with an invention to help promote social accountability.
Mukoyi developed the human rights remedy mobile application, Astrea Justice, which informs and educates citizens of their legal rights to administrative justice, to vote, demonstrate and petition and to equality before the law.
He has been part of Accountability Lab Zimbabwe’s (AL Zimbabwe) incubator programme that helps young change-makers to build sustainable and effective tools for change.
AL Zimbabwe was established in 2020 and will work with women, exemplary civil servants and youth to advance peaceful development, encourage citizen participation and inclusion, and develop more accountable institutions.
The organisation’s incubators support young “accountapreneurs” (accountability entrepreneurs) who develop innovative, bottom-up ideas for accountability and anti-corruption.
Accountapreneurs receive mentorship and network-building, quarterly training, knowledge sharing, sustained communications, fundraising and advocacy support, from AL Zimbabwe.
“Quantitatively, we have realised hundreds of downloads of the application on Google Play. A lot of people have accessed it on other platforms. We have people testifying around the country after using the platform, especially after arrests,” Mukoyi said in an interview with The NewsHawks on Thursday.
Just this month, he won the Democracy Innovation award given by the World Forum for Democracy, adding to several accolades he has won since 2020. He was awarded the Council of Europe’s Democracy Innovation Award presented by the secretary-general each year to the World Forum for Democracy’s most popular initiative.
Astrea Justice won the award, beating initiatives from Benin and Sweden, and shrugging off competition from 900 participants from 80 countries across the world. In 2020, he won the Africa Law Tech Justice and Innovation Challenge, followed by the We Account Social Innovation Challenge which he won in May 2021, by Innovation for Change Africa Hub, an organisation based in Kenya.
“In June 2021, we won at the Founders Live Volume 16 awards in Harare. Then, around August, I won the Global Youth Digital Challenge. End of 2021, I was selected for the Africa Law Tech Young Innovations Award.
“Beginning of 2022, I also won the Africa Youth SDG No.16 Award. Three months ago (September), I won the NGPF Social Policy Award, by School of International Features,” he said.
Mukoyi’s journey, as he says, has been inspired by real-life social injustices that were gripping the country during the Covid-19 days.
“The inspiration (to make Astrea) came from real-life events. I was at law school at Midlands State University (MSU) in 2020 when there was a particular event in which Hopewell Chin’ono’s house was broken into by police. “I am sure he recorded a live feed on his phone before it was confiscated. It was at that moment that I realised that you can do a lot of things in terms of human rights violations. So the incident then gave me an insight to try something that is tech-related to remedying human rights violations, and that is when I started working on this solution,” he says.
After developing it, the application has been helping people report injustices as they happen, alerting on rights of arrested persons and personal security, including what to do in the case of violation, thereby reducing chances of people being harassed due to ignorance of the law. Mukoyi says he has been helped by AL Zimbabwe which has been funding his initiative since February 2021.
“That was the first fund I got. Going forward, they were consistent in supporting me with a monthly stipend. It was no longer support that was for this project a lot, but for my Civic-Tech organisation. It was not only financial support, everything that a young innovator would need. It has been much funding from Accountability Lab Zimbabwe, then along the way I won awards,” he said.
He says there is a need for more organisations to support young innovators, whose ideas may be suffering a stillbirth due to lack of assistance — whilst a few that make it are hamstrung by heavy taxation.
“We have ideas that would have gathered traction, but the support is not as comprehensive as we would expect. As young organisations, we get to be charged taxes that are equivalent to those of mature organisations . . . which I think is a bit unfair. In Zimbabwe we have brilliant innovators, but I have come to realise that innovation is closely linked to entrepreneurship. So, being an entrepreneur is a combination of ideas and resilience.”