UWAZI KWA AFRICA! The Open Government Partnership takes root in Africa

Is the Open Government Partnership (OGP) taking root in Africa? How can we build on initial successes and meet national commitments to open governance? These were the questions dominating discussion at the OGP regional planning meeting in the coastal town of Mombasa, Kenya, where over 100 government and civil society representatives from 16 countries gathered last week to chart a dynamic African agenda for the Partnership.

Hosted by Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications and organised by the Kenya ICT Board, the OGP Partnership Support Unit and civil society organisations, the two-day meeting brought together government Ministers, parliamentarians, civil society experts, multilateral agencies and the media to share experiences and spur innovation to build transparent and accountable governments across the continent.

Through a series of panel discussions and thematic sessions on issues ranging from the status of access to information legislation in African countries, to improved processes for public financial management, and technical innovations in e-governance and open data provision, participants critically reviewed and agreed upon necessary national and regional action, including bringing new African members into the OGP, its endorsement by the African Union, and its alignment with the African Peer Review Mechanism.

The OGP is a young initiative, but it is growing fast. Launched in September 2011 by eight founding countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States), the OGP now has 59 participating countries, five of which are African. Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia and South Africa have all met the OGP’s eligibility requirements and have embraced the Open Government Declaration, developing national action plans through public consultation, and committing to independent reporting of their progress. Malawi, Cape Verde, Uganda, Senegal and Ethiopia are also now eligible for the OGP, and Nigeria, Namibia and Sierra Leone have expressed interest in joining.

The starting point for potential members is government recognition of citizens’ rights to information and to active participation in public governance; indeed, states need to proactively disclose information and citizens need to capture the spirit of demanding it. The next step is commitment by governments and civil society to a collaborative process in overseeing implementation of OGP principles in their countries, as affirmed through joint formulation of a national action plan and delivery of this plan to the OGP Secretariat.

Through these plans, governments and civil society organizations in member countries are now working together to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Their plans share a number of common features, with commitments structured around key challenges that all governments face: improving public services; increasing public integrity; effectively managing public resources; creating safer communities; and increasing corporate accountability.

Members’ action plans and progress in opening government – not only to public servants and experts, but to all citizens – was the subject of extensive discussion at the meeting. All participants agreed that action plans can only generate real improvements in governance and development when all citizens are aware of and take ownership of the OGP as an instrument that can change their lives.

The grassroots popularization of the OGP has yet to be achieved, and it is the job not only of civil society organizations, but of governments. Alongside transparent disclosure of information on government activities that is timely, freely available and meets user-friendly open data standards, governments need to mobilize broad-based citizen participation in monitoring and supporting the implementation of OGP action plans.

A government that is genuinely responsive and accountable has nothing to fear from the empowered and energised participation of its people. Extensive public hearings; parliamentary debates; proactive use of social media and open data portals; transmission of OGP-related information through television, radio and print media; and government communication with youth in schools and universities are highly effective mobilisation tools for OGP implementation and citizen feedback.

The key message of the OGP regional meeting is that the OGP has revolutionary potential for Africa. It is a platform for people’s power, giving us the tools, information and participation that we need to take greater control of our own development and to unleash an open governance revolution in Africa and throughout the world. We all have a stake in its success.