Open Government: A True Solution to Africa’s Governance Challenges

Author: Theo Chiviru

OGP Regional Lead for Africa and the Middle East

Recent events across the continent, such as citizen uprisings, poor response to COVID-19 and poor delivery of essential services, political coup d’états, and internet shutdowns, have once again brought the issue of governance in Africa to the forefront. Many suggest a decline in democratic governance. The failure of governments to find lasting solutions to challenges is resulting in citizens’ restlessness, especially among young people, manifesting in issues such as migration, insecurity, and undemocratic political transitions. 

While the social, economic, and political factors behind these various situations are diverse and complex. The common thread is citizen discontent, the lack of trust in governments and political leaders, and the failure to deliver to citizens have led to protests in countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, and Sudan.

In 2020, the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index reported the first-ever decline in average governance score since 2006. The same year, Freedom House reported a decline in freedom in 22 African countries. 

The 2022 African Union Summit had a strong call for governments to improve governance to deliver better for citizens. An important aspiration not only for governments but for all Africans who call the continent home. 

Platforms to build trust between governments, civil society organisations and citizens play a crucial role in reestablishing confidence in governance. 

Last month, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Regional Meeting in Morocco created such a platform. More than 600 open government reformers from Africa and the Middle East met in Marrakech to discuss ways to renew our societies and build better democracies that can help address these challenges. The gathering brought civil society, ministers, parliamentarians, and local leaders together to have difficult conversations that can unearth solutions and forge broader coalitions to renew societies and institutions that can tackle these challenges.

Open government reformers shared some takeaways to tackle these grand challenges.

  1. Open government can help people’s lives by improving the quality and access to public services, including health, education, water, and sanitation. Open government reforms serve as a critical infrastructure to ensure impartial and effective institutions, equitable and inclusive delivery of public services and promote engagement between governments and citizens. When citizens can shape public services that impact their lives, it builds trust. 
  1. When citizens can actively engage in the public sphere and decision-making processes, governments are more responsive, innovative, representative, and effective in delivering for citizens. Open government actions support new or improved processes and mechanisms for the public to influence decisions. It creates participatory mechanisms for underrepresented groups such as women and youth and a legal environment that guarantees civil and political rights.
  1. Access to justice gives citizens a mechanism to seek recourse when services are not delivered. The law impacts nearly every aspect of life, including critical public services such as health, employment, education, housing, and public safety. Investing in open and accessible justice institutions allows citizens to defend their rights better, demand access to public services, and protect their ability to participate in democratic processes. 
  1. Evolving technology provides opportunities for governments to improve the provision of public services, accountability mechanisms and the exercise of civic rights. Digital technologies can also advance government reforms – from open data and fiscal openness to connecting citizens with life-saving information. Open government is essential to catalyse a trustworthy digital transformation agenda and ensure citizens’ equitable access to public goods.
  1. Corruption threatens the efficient and effective delivery of services to citizens by using public office for private gain. Corruption diverts resources allocated to provide public services, erodes citizens’ trust in their government, and hampers the government’s ability to serve citizens’ needs first and foremost. Through anti-corruption reforms, open government roots out undue influence across government affairs so that governments act in the interests of citizens. 
  1. Debt transparency is a cornerstone of accountability, sustainable management of debt, benefiting leaders and citizens alike. Open government actions support transparency and oversight of hidden debt. Debt transparency reforms allow potential lenders to assess risks associated with buying bond issues. Uncertainty about a country’s debt leads lenders to increase borrowing costs or avoid investing at all.

Now more than ever, we need the energy of widespread citizen movements and political support to improve the state of governance on the continent. We must leverage platforms like OGP to forge broader coalitions with all stakeholders to ensure that policies and services respond to all people’s needs and build a more open and prosperous continent. One that ensures the safety, development, health, and future of all citizens.

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