By: Steven Sharp, Chief of Party, Congo Demokrasia
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Counterpart’s Congo Demokrasia program works with partners across civil society and the government to ensure that citizens have the knowledge, means, and ability to exercise their civic duty through free and fair elections. With generous support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (UKAID), Counterpart’s unique civic and voter education outreach tools are designed to inform primarily low- and non-literate citizens about the electoral process. The Boite à Images, which began as a 24-image series, is a tool intended to share these important concepts through images versus text and was designed for use in a small group setting in which a facilitator (animateur) could encourage participants to think through and interpret what they saw in the images.
As the DRC began preparing for national elections in 2016, Counterpart realized that it was necessary to provide animateurs with additional information and context that wasn’t anticipated in the design of original Boite à Images. The first update came in September 2016, which shifted the images to a question-and-answer format. The update, known as “Fiche Thém
atique”, enabled animateurs to inform voters about the nationwide voter registration process the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) was launching. The Fiche Thématique is dynamic in design and became a useful tool which could easily be produced in evolving contexts and deployed to all animateurs across the country within 48-72 hours. The Fiches have been so popular that several of Counterpart’s grantees have adjusted their budgets to add additional funding for producing more copies to distribute. To date, 16 editions of the Fiche Thématique have been produced, with content based on context and updated information, and there have been requests to translate them into national languages. If the upcoming local government elections are held, this tool will be used. However, if these elections do not occur, the Fiche Thématique will be still be used to support broader civic education messaging.
When the CENI published the definitive elections calendar in November 2017, Counterpart produced a poster entitled “Cap Vers les Elections” (Straight on to the Elections). The poster illustrated the elections timeline, culminating in the long-awaited Presidential, National, and Provincial Assembly Elections, which took place on December 30, 2018. Although the poster was originally intended to be shared at voter education sessions, the animateurs found the poster was equally useful for quickly communicating with people in less formal settings, such as markets and car parks; 10,000 copies of the poster were distributed in the days leading up to the December elections.
In response to a recommendation made during an evaluation of Congo Demokrasia’s three-year voter education campaign and to spread civic education ahead of the upcoming local elections in September 2019, the Counterpart team decided to produce some versions of the Fiche Thématique in comic strip form. The comic strips follow the familiar question-and-answer format, but users are introduced to Maman Demokrasia (“Mother Democracy”), a reoccurring character motif. Throughout the series, the knowledgeable Maman Demokrasia can be seen teaching young people about the details of the electoral and democratic process, including the roles and responsibilities of elected representatives, identifying the contours of provincial government, and holding elected officials accountable. In each comic strip Maman Demokrasia embodies the knowledge and insights captured in the Fiche Thématique. After each session, the animateur distributes copies of the comic strip, so participants can take them home to share with their friends and family, ensuring that the value civic engagement is valued and understood throughout the DRC.