Turbo-charging accountability

If governments and leaders are not accountable to their citizens, resources will be squandered, services such as health and education will not be delivered effectively, businesses will not thrive, civil society will not flourish and conflict-affected countries will remain stuck in repeated cycles of violence and instability. For development to be sustainable, people need to be able to hold their governments to account to demand that they make good use of revenues, including aid, taxes and the proceeds of oil, minerals and other natural resources.

This video, the first in a series of videos produced as part of ONE’s Profiles and Perspectives Project was shot in Johannesburg as part of ONE’s Africa Symposium. In it, some of the brightest minds in business, civil society and academia explain how people are asserting their power, using information and new technologies to hold their governments to account.

African-led civil society organisations such as SEND – the winner of ONE’s 2010 Africa Award – play an important role in empowering local people to hold decision-makers to account, so that health, education and other services are improved. Technologies such as mobile phones, the internet and social media – in combination with traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television – are enhancing access to information and turbo-charging demands for accountability. Greater transparency and information technologies have the potential to transform the landscape of power, empowering people to raise their voices, to provide feedback, to hold their governments to account and to drive faster progress on poverty reduction and economic development.

From Kenya to Nigeria, from Cairo to Cape Town, in urban and rural areas, Africans are leading the way, using new technologies to transform the landscape of power. Ushahidi – meaning testimony in Swahili – is a great example. Born out of the post-election violence in Kenya, and bringing together African entrepreneurs, techno-whizzes, and civil society activists, the crowd-sourcing platform is now piloting an approach in which people use cell-phones to provide feedback on health and education services. Twaweza, an organisation that is about spreading information and sparking conversations that lead to change is another great example. This is about “citizens making stuff happen” as Twaweza puts it. Not donors. Not just governments. Not just NGOs. Not just the private sector. But people. Technology is not a silver bullet. Bad politics still constrains development. But in Africa as elsewhere, accountability, turbo-charged by transparency and technology, is on the move!

Building on its traditional focus on smart aid and its ongoing work on natural resource governance and transparency ONE is looking to promote an agenda on governance, transparency and accountability that responds to African priorities. We think that ONE can help to promote effective, transparent and accountable governance in three ways:

  • First, by working at a global level – helping to promote transparency around oil and mineral revenues, working with others such as the International Budget Partnership to promote budget transparency and accountability, urging donors to be more transparent about the aid that they provide, and engaging with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative;
  • Second, by supporting African organisations such as Twaweza, Ushahidi, SEND and countless other organisations that have the expertise and local knowledge needed to navigate and transform local landscapes of power and respond to local needs; and
  • Third, by helping to make the connections between the global and the local, so that, for instance, countries such as Ghana, Uganda and Sudan can reap the benefits from rules set in Washington, Brussels or Beijing that aim to enhance transparency about oil and mineral revenues.

Transparency and accountability around aid, budgets and natural resource governance – and citizens’ monitoring of service delivery, for instance in relation to health and education – are current front-runners in terms of specific issues and campaigns that ONE might focus on. But we are keen to hear from you. What are the issues that matter to you? What are you doing to demand accountability? What successes have you had and what challenges have you faced? And what can ONE do to support your demands for accountability? We’re really keen to get your feedback, so please add your comments below.

Dr. Sipho Moyo and Dr. Alan Hudson