Sometime back, most people saw getting information from government ministries and departments in Kenya as a backbreaking exercise.
This is because it involved physically visiting the office of a ministry and sometimes spending hours waiting to be served. This often happened even when what one needed was a "Yes" or "No" answer.
But today, one does not need to travel this long and treacherous path cluttered with red tape, thanks to social media, which most government ministries and departments in the East African country are adopting.
The ministries are embracing social media as they seek to interact with the public and easily disseminate information.
The institutions are running social media pages, mainly on Facebook and Twitter, as they try to catch up with private organization, which actively use the platforms to reach their publics.
Now, from the conform of their homes or offices, Kenyans can seek information, post complaints about poor service and comments on various programs carried out by ministries and departments.
Top on the list of government institutions that have embraced social media is Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), Ministry of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Ministry of Public Works and Ministry of Wildlife.
"The Monetary Policy Committee met on Sept. 5 to review market developments and evaluate the outcomes of its monetary policy stance. The committee noted the stance has continued to deliver the desired results on inflation and stability in the foreign exchange market. The committee decided to reduce CBK rate by 350 basis points to 13 percent," reads a post on CBK's Facebook page.
In another post, the bank asks Kenyans in the country and those in diaspora to invest in a five-year fixed coupon treasury bond.
"This is wonderful for the economy. It is good to hear that the bench-mark lending rate has come down. The monetary measures have been steadfast in controlling inflation, however, what about the risks since both expansion and tightening monetary policies have consequences?" Ben asks CBK officials.
Similar interactions take place on Facebook pages of ministries of wildlife and planning.
"A delegation from Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites) conducted a five- day study tour of Kenya with a mission to gain experience in elephant conservation. Their experience will enable the delegates effectively contribute to elephant debates during the upcoming Cites conference in Bangkok in March 2013," says a post on Ministry of Wildlife Facebook page.
Dave Buchere, a public relations officer in the Ministry of Planning, noted that as any other organizations, government departments have no choice but to make it easier for people to interact with them and access information.
"Social media has become the easiest way to interact with people. When you post information on the platforms, you are assured that you will reach hundreds of people in and out of Kenya, " said Buchere on Tuesday.
In the ministry, Buchere said they use the sites to disseminate information on various projects.
"Most of our programs focus on Vision 2030, economic development and achievement of Millennium Development Goals. We post stories and pictures to pass the information to the public," he said.
The sites also help the ministry gauge public opinion on the programs they are carrying and policies being implemented.
"When the ministry released statistics on economic development recently, we used the sites to monitor public opinion about our findings through the comments that people posted on our pages. From the comments, you can know whether people appreciate what the government is doing or not," he said.
Buchere observed that government institutions are embracing social media sites to add to platforms through which they can pass information.
"All government departments and ministries have websites where people can access information from wherever they are. Social media sites, therefore add to the platforms that the government can use to communicate to the public," said Buchere, whose ministry started its social media page six months ago.
The officer noted that Kenya's social media community estimated to be about two million is growing rapidly, therefore cannot be ignored.
However, a look at social media pages of various institutions indicated that they have fewer followers on Facebook, compared with private organizations or individuals, who have thousands.
This information can be denoted from "likes", which show number of people one is interacting with.
On Facebook, among the institutions sampled, CBK leads with 130 "likes", Ministry of Planning 118 "likes" and Wildlife Ministry with 98 "likes". Some of the ministries have opened pages but they have not posted any information.
Buchere attributed the minimal following to the attitude that government ministries usually are not early adopters of new forms of technologies.
"Most people do not expect to find government on Facebook. Besides that, most of the sites were started recently and we have never advertised them," said the officer, who was hopeful that things would change for the better and the sites will help to change the perception that government institutions are often reluctant when it comes to embracing new technologies.
Some of the challenges that the government institutions face while using Facebook, according to Buchere, are impersonation and delay in feedback.
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