Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior has sent out public service announcements to 19 million people via text message. This was the first time an Afghan ministry used text messaging to reach out to the public.
The text messages were aimed at improving traffic safety – encouraging people not to leave the scene of an accident, to respect the rights of other drivers on the road and to avoid using mobile phones while driving.
Traffic accidents have been on the rise in Afghanistan. After conflict-related injuries, road accidents take the highest number of victims. In some provinces, more people are injured in car accidents than in the armed conflict.
The Ministry of Interior, therefore, chose traffic safety as the first issue to raise awareness about via text. To support the messages, the Ministry is also carrying out a print, radio and TV media campaign.
The text message announcements were made possible when Afghanistan’s major telecommunications companies agreed to broadcast the messages to their customers free of charge and when the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology gave the Ministry of Interior permission to send the messages, the first time such permission was granted to a ministry.
The text messages are part of a wider initiative to improve communication between the Ministry of Interior and the public, and thus between the police, which is overseen by the Ministry, and the public. The initiative is being supported by the UK aid-funded, Coffey-managed Strategic Support to the Ministry of Interior program.
The program has also helped the Ministry increase the amount of information it shares with the public via social media platforms and the website. The program worked with the Ministry to redesign its website so that the police was portrayed as a community-focused organisation, instead of simply a fighting force buttressing the state. The site now provides useful information for visitors, such as how to apply for a passport, how to register births, and how to work with the Ministry.
The site is one of the most visited governmental websites and is a means for the public to communicate directly with the Ministry. People use the Ministry’s site and social media platforms to lodge complaints against the police, to offer praise, and to provide intelligence and information on suspicious behaviours. In one case, the police were able to dismantle a bomb thanks to such information.
To increase transparency, the Ministry is also publishing its first Annual Report this year, and it has been engaging directly with civil society organisations through a consultative council. There are also plans for additional text messages to be sent out later in the year – on gender equality and violence against women, fire safety, and population identification.
Photo: The Ministry of Interior sent out three text messages about traffic safety.