NGOs are adapting to closing space when they must push back

Originally published by Julian Oram & Deborah Doane on the 19th of December 2017, accessible on https://www.openglobalrights.org/ngos-are-adapting-to-closing-space-when-they-must-push-back/

Most development and funding organizations are adapting to shrinking space rather than challenging it, but is this trend inevitable? NGOs need to be aware that closing society civil space is a problem and stand up to the boundaries it enforces on their mission and outreach.

A healthy civil society has been at the center of many human rights achievements and related progress in the developing world over recent years: access to education, healthcare, environmental improvements, and debt relief, to name a few. A free and open civil society is critical to hold governments to account and to deliver on goals of better equality and poverty reduction. Yet in recent years, there has been an alarming rise in restrictions on civil society’s ability to operate, especially in developing countries. This is happening via a range of government measures, from constraints on freedom of assembly to imposing excessive red tape and limitations on NGOs receiving funding from foreign donors.

For international development funders, including INGOs, these restrictions can seriously impede their ability to support local organizations, undertake advocacy work, or even implement basic service delivery programs. But a survey and series of interviews undertaken in 2016 by the European Foundation Centre suggests that while international development and humanitarian funders and INGOs are aware that closing civil society space is a problem, many do not see this as a fundamental threat to their overall missions and actions. EFC did in-depth interviews with twenty-five organizations funding development and humanitarian work around the world, either as philanthropic foundations or as intermediary NGOs. Focusing on five countries in Africa and Asia—Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan and Sierra Leone—these discussions provided a diverse picture of how shrinking civil society freedoms are currently affecting their programs. Staff at these organizations testified that their own experiences are centered around the challenges presented by growing foreign funding restrictions, tighter reporting requirements, and bank de-risking.

 

This information is now part of a one-year collaboration between the EFC and the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS), which involved different types of funders and actors who participated in roundtables and interviews to devise effective, possible responses to reverse this worrying trend.  The final paper from this project is complemented by blogs from several experts, focusing on their particular responses to the closing space via alliance-building and engagement in country-specific contexts.

One the primary concerns highlighted by this collaboration is that many international philanthropic foundations and INGOs appear to be taking an “adaptation and mitigation” approach to constraints on civil society space. Only a small number of philanthropic development organisations engage in advocacy to challenge shrinking space; most do not. Instead, the “new normal” is simply to re-configure grant programs to ensure that they do not fall afoul of new national laws; others are changing organizational structures or reducing the scope of their work overall; or, they are limiting partnerships and maintaining a distance between the more outspoken spectrum of development and human rights actors. As a last resort, funders and INGOs are making the painful choice of pulling out of difficult operating environments altogether. When this happens, local civil society is left bereft of critical resources to do their work, resulting in a smaller, deflated and ultimately less effective civil society to underpin development.

While conciliatory actions aimed at respecting increased regulatory demands in order to maintain access to a country may seem sensible, our report suggests that they can do the reverse and in fact can harm development aims. Development organizations have had to accept that certain forms of intervention (often involving rights-based work) will not be politically tolerated by certain governments. In some countries funders/NGOs have had to restrict their operations to particular areas, and close down programs in sensitive regions. For example, since the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Proclamation in 2009, many resident NGOs ended their projects and advocacy activities related to human rights, free legal aid, election observation, human rights education, conflict resolution between ethnic groups, women’s and children’s rights and re-oriented their objectives towards development issues and capacity building.

Another extremely worrying aspect of the move to silence civil society advocacy is that, in some countries, NGO staff and local partners are increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment and violence. This is often either sanctioned by state security apparatus, or simply allowed to happen without fear of reprisal. One illustration of this is in Sierra Leone, where CSO activists have on several occasions been victims of death threats and attacks on property. No official statements from the government condemning the threats and attacks have been issued.

Advocates must find potential ways forward for more strategic, concerted cross-sector action and engagement from international funders and development and humanitarian actors. For example, coordinating international development funders’ responses in conjunction with those working on the front-line of human rights, or working through international platforms like the Sustainable Development Goals or the Open Government Partnership to defend the value of civil society space for development. Concrete actions for international funders or INGOs must create more effective support for a more diverse local civil society, with domestic philanthropic support to underpin it.

Potential ways to achieve this include more flexible grantmaking to assist less formalized activist groups and social movements, or investing in local philanthropic networks to ensure domestic backing. For example, some groups that can no longer work in mainland China continue to support programs in that country through Hong Kong-based offices, and there are cases where donors have allowed projects to ‘freeze’ when organizations were under threat, without budget implications. Local groups confronted with new threats and opportunities in relation to civic space also need the possibility to reorient funds as needed.

Leaving the defence of civil society space in developing countries to a handful of actors on the ground is unlikely to be sufficient. Of course, approaches will differ greatly from country to country and oppositional or advocacy measures may not always be the best way to approach the challenge of closing space. Appropriate strategic responses should be agreed jointly with domestic and international partners wherever possible.

The current trend is not an inevitable trajectory, but it could remain if granting organizations do not pay more attention to the issue of closing space and develop stronger responses, aside from merely adapting to the growing list of restrictions. Without an intensive effort to push back against closing space, development interventions will become progressively less effective at assisting those living in poverty.

Watch out or technology could be a ‘colonialism of a special kind

originally posted on the 3rd of May 2018 on https://www.nelsonmandela.org/news/entry/watch-out-or-technology-could-be-a-colonialism-of-a-special-kind

Unchecked and not scrutinised, technology could impose on the world a “colonialism of a special kind”, says University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala.

Marwala was one of a panel of experts discussing “Racism in a Digital Age” at a 2 May event in Johannesburg hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in partnership with the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Harvard University Center for African Studies.

If technology is not examined for inherent racial bias, and if this is not corrected when found, it could impose Western hegemony on the rest of the world so insidiously as to be undetectable, Marwala said.

The dialogue particularly examined the way in which technology is rapidly changing the world, and technology’s increasingly prominent role in the political, criminal justice and social spheres. It also looked at the unintended consequences and complexities of technological change.

Technology can be used for good or bad purposes, and it is the choices society makes that will determine this, said Marwala.

Society needs to recognise that no particular future is inevitable, said Obenewa Amponsah, Executive Director of the Africa office of the Harvard University Center for African Studies. Amponsah is one of the inaugural group of Atlantic Fellows.

As long as people educate themselves on what can influence the way in which various futures might develop and “think outside our created boxes”, the future can be crafted to benefit everyone, said Amponsah.

Science, and especially genomics, is showing beyond doubt that race is a non-biological description of people, said Prof. Musa Mhlanga, head of the University of Cape Town’s Division of Chemical & Systems Biology in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

However, even the study of human genomes – the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism – is inherently biased, he said. Of the more than 100 000 human genomes already sequenced, 90% are the genomes of people of European descent, 5% come from people of Asian descent and only 2% have come from people of African descent, he said. This is a disservice to science, because people of African descent have the oldest, and so richest, genetic diversity, he said.

Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, US, and an Atlantic Fellow, said her practice mainly deals with the negative ways in which technology impacts on low-income people of colour in that city.

Black people, especially women, are “again and again” denied housing because any eviction notice filed remains online “forever”, whether or not the eviction was legally granted. Criminal records, also available online, have a similar effect, especially on men, Phillips said.

People from the global south need to create technology that serves their interests, said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director at Equality Labs. The organisation aims to build South Asian-American communities centred on the values of South Asian caste and religion-oppressed migrants. Soundararajan is a Dalit – a member of the lowest of the Indian castes, deemed “untouchable”.

“Technology from the global north is being used to oppress the global south. We are exporting our technology talent to oppress ourselves,” she said. A large percentage of Silicon Valley employees are immigrants from India and the global south, for example.

(Image: NMF)

Obenewa Amponsah, Executive Director of the Harvard University Center for African Studies speaking during the “Racism in a Digital Age” dialogue. From left to right: Amponsah; University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala; journalist and thought leader Toby Shapshak; Equality Labs Executive Director Thenmozhi Soundararajan; Community Legal Services Managing Attorney Rasheedah Phillips; and Prof. Musa Mhlanga, head of the University of Cape Town’s Division of Chemical & Systems Biology in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

Marwala said his first real realisation of the depth of inherent bias in technology came when he decided to use online hospitality group Airbnb to book accommodation and discovered that the face-recognition algorithms it uses have not been “trained” to recognise African faces. Voice-recognition technology also does not recognise African accents, he said.

Technology needs to be designed multiculturally, Marwala said. Databases are acquiring biased information because of who designed them, he said.

Phillips said she is not calmed by the idea that technology should be “trained” via algorithms to better recognise all – and particularly “black” – features and accents. “If technology is better able to distinguish and surveil us, it is easier to mark us [as bad],” she said.

Journalist and recognised thought leader on African technology Toby Shapshak said innovative technologies are emerging from Africa. An example is the world’s largest mobile money network, M-Pesa. More than half of M-Pesa’s account holders live in Africa. People in Africa use technology to solve “real problems”, he said.

M-Pesa has, since its launch in Kenya and Tanzania in 2007, expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Romania and Albania.

Technology designed in the global south is often overlooked, said Mhlanga. The largest, most powerful facial recognition technology used in the world is not American-made – it was developed in China, he said. SenseTime makes artificial intelligence-powered surveillance software for China’s police and is one of the world’s most valuable start-ups in terms of market valuation.

Mhlanga said the large technology companies – Google, YouTube, Apple, Facebook and others – have an “unassailable lead” in the global economy, which is “a huge disadvantage” for people in the global south. However, these people can “take our knowledge and build technology that has unassailable advantages here”.

Mapping trends to understand shifts in human rights funding

Originally posted by Authors: Anna Koob & Sarah Tansey  on February 13, 2018

Trends analysis allows human rights activists to see where human rights funding is going, and where it’s not. But what further questions do these findings spark about the human rights movement?

For the past seven years, the Advancing Human Rights research has mapped the landscape of human rights philanthropy to help funders and advocates better understand the field and to answer the question: “Who is funding human rights, and where?” This initiative is a collaborative effort between Foundation Center and the Human Rights Funders Network,along with our partners Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights and Prospera – International Network of Women’s Funds.

We recently launched our latest findings on our interactive research hub. With multiple analyses and five full years of data under our belt, we were able to explore trends in human rights grantmaking for the first time. In this research, we analyzed any grant that met our definition of human rights funding, regardless of whether the funder self-identified as supporting human rights. Grants ranged from multimillion-dollar core support grants to a US$24 grant for a feminist dialogue in Chile.

Our latest data collection and analysis efforts reveal that human rights and social justice funding grew by nearly 45% from 2011-2015, from US$1.4 billion to over US$2 billion. Over these five years, 1193 funders made at least one human rights grant and were included in our research. However, not all of those funders shared data each year. To account for this variation, the trends analysis draws from a subset of 561 funders who shared grants data for each of the five years, 2011-15. Total figures (for both this matched subset as well as the larger sets for each year) are available on the research hub.

While we can’t speak to the unique priorities of hundreds of funders, some have actively devoted more funding to human rights, responding to new opportunities and needs on the ground. The growth also reflects possible shifts in how the data was reported to us: funders submitting more—or more detailed—grants data each year, as well as more funders framing their work as human rights. Over these five years, we’ve encouraged funders to share detailed data that captures the nuance of their work in complex areas of rights. The difference between a grant described as “project support” and one described as “project support to a youth-led organizing campaign to advocate for expanded access to education for immigrants and refugees” determines how accurately we capture the work and how we identify it.

Several issue areas showed notable growth from 2011-15: for example, funding for Environmental and Resource Rights more than doubled, from US$69 million to over US$169 million. This is exciting but not necessarily surprising. The intersection of human rights and the environment is common in conversations among funders, and the data reflects increased funder engagement: 167 funders made an environmental and resource rights grant in 2015, an increase of 28% over 2011.

In addition, funding for health and well-being rights grew from US$145 million to US$257 million. Like the environment, health can sit at the nexus of human rights and other fields like international or community development. US funders who don’t call their work “human rights” are increasingly framing healthcare grants in terms of access and equity. For example, the California Endowment was the top funder for health and well-being rights in 2014; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation topped the list in 2015, in part due to their Culture of Health grants addressing systemic factors that affect health, well-being, and equity. While we can’t tap into their internal strategic thinking, this shift in language and framing is key. Indeed, in 2011, funding from those who don’t self-identify as rights funders accounted for 37% of funding for health rights. By 2015, this cohort’s funding grew to represent 51%.

The field of human rights philanthropy has grown, too: The Freedom Fund, for example, was established in 2013 to support frontline efforts to eradicate modern-day slavery. Funding for Freedom from Slavery and Trafficking has since nearly doubled. FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, which supports organizing among emerging feminist groups, collectives, and movements, announced its first grants in 2012, and funding for grassroots organizing has more than tripled. The creation of these new funds may have influenced their peers—the power of funder advocacy—but they likely reflect and harness movements already rising within the field.

Despite overall growth among this matched set, we’ve also seen notable dipsFunding for disability rights dropped by 23%—the only one of our key population groups to see a decrease. The relatively small amount of funding makes this area susceptible to dramatic year-to-year shifts, but the decrease also mirrors a frustrating reality: the disability community has often had to make the case that they are a member of the human rights family. Ford Foundation’s recent evolution in this area and a report from the Channel Foundation, Disability Rights Fund, and Wellspring Advisors illustrate this challenge.

Another drop was in support for research and documentation, which decreased by 19%. Of the eleven strategies we track, this may be closest to a traditional understanding of human rights work: fact-finding and documenting human rights abuses. Interestingly, as arts and culture and strategies aimed at achieving and sustaining systemic change, such as advocacy or strategic litigation, saw substantial growth, major funders’ investments in research and documentation decreased. We can only speculate as to funders’ motivations, but these shifts align with conversations throughout the Human Rights Funders Network in recent years, as funders explore ways to break out of the traditional “human rights” mold and employ creative new strategies to effect change.

But perhaps the most striking dip is not a trend at all. Overall human rights funding grew each year of the research, but it decreased in 2015 (to US$2 billion from US$2.3 billion in 2014). Some reasons are obvious—for example, the Atlantic Philanthropies, a major human rights funder, had mostly spent down by 2015. In addition, with growing concerns around civic space and digital security, some funders choose to share fewer details on grants. Other shifts raise more questions than answers. Among those who identify as “human rights funders” and those who don’t, does a decrease indicate a shift in their priorities? We may not know until we see the next year’s data.

That’s the beauty of this trend analysis. Year-to-year fluctuations can be influenced by a number of factors, but drawing from five years of data allows us to look beyond caveats and identify consistent trends in the field. We can see where human rights philanthropy as a whole is headed—and where it still has work to do.

But do these trends reflect the reality of human rights movements? Will they continue? How well does this “matched subset” reflect a broad and diverse field? Similar questions can be applied to any big data project. But as we acknowledge the gaps in the Advancing Human Rights research, we also recognize what it represents: a first-ever mapping of the field. We now have data to back up our discussions on underfunded areas and intersections in the field—and equally, we know what we don’t yet know.  A number of questions remain, and we look forward to diving into them and opening up topics of debate and discussion as we share the trends analysis.

This research would not be possible without the guidance and support of our Advisory Committee, as well as the funders who thoughtfully report their data to inform this research.

Original post can be found on https://www.openglobalrights.org/mapping-trends-to-understand-shifts-in-human-rights-funding/

From funding projects to funding struggles: Reimagining the role of donors

Original Author: Maina Kiai published on January 17, 2017

While donors partner with civil society to counter shrinking civic space, their rigid funding systems can undermine progress.

Bilateral and multilateral donors occupy a critical position in the prevailing human rights business model. Their funding is essential for advancing human rights, yet with their current approaches, they may also be inadvertently accelerating the process of closing civic space.

In 2015 alone, serious threats to civic freedoms were documented in over 100 countries. While donors partner with civil society to counter shrinking civic space, their frequently rigid funding systems—which often focus on short-term projects rather than long-term struggles—can actually undermine effectiveness, and hamper support to new movements critical for social change.

Institutional donors now need to critically reassess their role in the human rights business model. Part of this process—which needs to be participatory—should involve a move towards a more empowering system that prioritises long-term and sustainable support to established NGOs and emerging social movements.

Today’s donor models to support human rights causes derive largely from donors’ desire to easily evaluate their contributions and to immediately identify and quantify successes.  They are also a product of the “copy and pasting” of the development or service-provision paradigm to human rights and democracy work. This has been formalised through “log-frame” based designs and “indicator-ism” whereby project success is defined by achieving an indicator, an oft-critiqued model that assumes degrees of causality between donor-funded activity-driven projects and desired social outcomes.

The eagerness to achieve short-term and quantifiable results has pushed human rights groups to devote energy to—and claim successes from—project activities. For instance, an NGO will stretch its claim to effectiveness by attributing the arrest of a government official to an online petition it ran against corruption, but it has no capacity to follow up to ensure a corresponding conviction. Or an NGO will proclaim that speaking at the UN Human Rights Council for two minutes—with hardly any listeners—is an “indicator” of its impact internationally. Holding a number of workshops is taken to be an indicator of “increased awareness.” And there are many more examples.

Yet this paradigm propels associations towards short-term activities rather than towards seizing opportunities in the long-term struggle for social justice. It also creates competition between associations as each strives to position itself as the most successful, instead of joining forces to achieve lasting change.

This is unfortunate, since the major human rights achievements of the past century were— without exception—the result of alliances between various actors, working from diverse angles and with different tools but all strongly united in the “struggle”.

Donors have favoured the supply side over the demand side of democracy and human rights.

In addition, donors have favoured the supply side over the demand side of democracy and human rights. Government institutions and structures have received a lot of “good governance” support, without equivalent investment in the demand side of governance. Even more, civil society is oftentimes told to work with government institutions if they want to access donor funds. Yet this fundamentally denies the independent and crucial role civil society has to play in democracy, and chokeholds associations to the brink of survival.

Finally, the current funding approach blanks out support for social movements, directly by donors or indirectly by existing organisations, as they are not enabled to seize opportunities as they arise, or to catalyse social movements, which have—throughout history and across cultures—advanced human rights and social justice. Whether through associations formed in the workplace, or through people assembling on the streets, such movements often emerge unexpectedly and without infrastructure, frequently now propelled by social media. Often emerging in times of profound crisis, they reflect the organic demands of ordinary people for recognition, equality, social justice, redress and change.

Social movements are often messy, unpredictable and have long-term visions for social change that are difficult to assess and evaluate. Yet, despite their transformative power, social movements are currently overlooked in donor priorities. The opportunity cost of this business model is far from benign. Social movements that have the genuine capacity to address structural inequalities in society—from labour unions to pro-democracy protest movements—are overlooked, ignored and underfunded. Their galvanising potential can be lost, often before it is able to properly form.

Take, for example, the recent wave of peaceful protests in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Where should local organisers turn to for support, capacity and solidarity? Do the legitimate demands of the people met by state repression and many hundreds of deaths, not deserve more and better support than post-facto funded analyses, reporting, and advocacy? As I reported to the United Nations General Assembly, there is a global trend towards the weakening of workers’ rights that requires human rights organizations—including donors—to urgently include labor rights within a broader human rights agenda.

The current dominant approach by donors reflects the unintended negative effects of donor benevolence, and also a paucity of ambition and an abdication of responsibility. Donors should realign their priorities towards supporting long-term struggles for social justice. Progress in achieving human rights cannot be captured in quarterly reports; sometimes it takes generations. Sincere partnerships involve a multi-annual commitment to the cause and priority should be given to nurturing ideas, promoting joint strategies, and advancing grassroots organizing abilities. This must not only involve a different engagement with existing organisations, but also a proactive approach to identifying and supporting new and emerging social movements, and engaging with actors traditionally side-lined within the human rights field (for example, labor movements).

Second, donors sincere about supporting civil society should not shy away from frank interactions with national authorities. All too often, narratives claiming that foreign funded human rights work undermines sovereignty or national identity are used by national authorities, even as they beg for this same foreign funding and support. Further, donors seem to retreat more and more to capitals and headquarters, following social change on their screens, when they should be reinvesting in local engagement, accepting that not all investment yields success.

Third, donors must commit to a results framework whereby seizure of opportunities is favoured over ticking off activities and producing deliverables. This will indeed involve relinquishing a degree of control about the form of the supported human rights work, while insisting on transparency and accountability. Social change, by its very nature, is driven by the people and their associations.

Donor support for human rights and civil society is badly needed in all corners of the globe to parry today’s extremely precarious situation. But a willingness to change and be creative, to invent new ways of supporting rights, is pivotal for democracy and development. Donors, just like us all, need to think tactically to get us out of this position.

Original article can be accessed here https://www.openglobalrights.org/from-funding-projects-to-funding-struggles-reimagining-role-of-donors/

Promoting citizen participation in fiscal matters: Towards a citizen participation guide or handbook?

Originally posted on https://imaliyethu.org.za/blog/

by author Yeukai Mukorombindo, 7 May 2018

The IMF Fiscal Transparency Handbook and the OECD Budget Transparency Toolkit were launched on the 23rd of April 2018 at the 2018 World Bank Group Spring Meetings in Washington DC. The Fiscal Transparency Handbook provides detailed guidance and describes current trends in implementation of fiscal transparency principles, noting relevant international standards as well outlining select country examples.  The Budget Transparency Toolkit provides practical steps for how governments can support openness, integrity and accountability in public financial management. The launch of these handbooks is timely and very pertinent, particularly for Southern Africa. The Open Budget Index (OBI) is the world’s only independent, comparative measure of central government budget transparency. The last OBI 2017 survey reveals a decline in open budget survey scores in Sub Saharan Africa. Not only were governments in Southern Africa ranked poorly for making budget information publicly available and accessible but they were also ranked poorly in terms of providing public participation opportunities “both to inform decisions about how government raises and allocates funds and to hold government accountable for implementing those decisions.” The Open Budget Survey’sparticipation measure assesses the opportunities governments are providing to civil society and the public. Accessing relevant information on public resource management as well as finding opportunities to engage government in the formulation of the national budget is therefore a significant challenge in the Southern Africa context. The OBI 2017 survey highlights the need for civic actors in Southern Africa to advocate for greater accessibility on information pertaining to public finance management as well as the provision of meaningful opportunities for the public to engage in decisions about how public resources are raised and spent.  Although the launch of handbooks setting standards for fiscal transparency is to be praised and is a step in the right direction, standards and guidelines on fiscal transparency are meaningless and empty if they are not accompanied with citizen participation in fiscal processes.

Why citizen participation in fiscal processes matters

Civic engagement is being increasingly viewed as a promising approach to improving development. Citizens’ involvement in public policy processes and their participation in the use of public funds is believed to be an effective empowerment tool also contributing towards good governance and improved public sector performance. In recent years, a growing number of authors and practitioners have offered civic engagement as the solution to the crisis of failed service delivery. It is believed that citizen voice and the involvement of ordinary citizens in the formulation, monitoring and implementation of public resources can address service delivery shortcomings such as dilapidated school buildings, clinics with no electricity or medication, absent teachers and nurses, the lack of water or electricity and the like. Citizen participation is understood as having potential to improve government responsiveness and influencing decisions over spending and policy.

The concept of social accountability draws from a participatory democracy premise which acknowledges that elections will always be insufficient a  mechanism for citizen voice and accountability. It also implies the right for citizens to hold elected representatives accountable for their performance and their right to directly participate in decision making in policy and governance.  Participation by citizens in public policy and decision-making are fundamental principles of democracy. However it must be pointed out that although citizen participation is potentially a powerful accountability tool, it is often quite dormant and apathetic. It is therefore important to design mechanisms and set standards that help to translate the potential power of citizen participation into action and results.

Barriers to citizen participation in fiscal matters

Leading thinkers such as John Dewey made the case for direct citizen participation by arguing that “citizens are highly capable of understanding complex scientific and technical information.”  The excuse that most governments give for not providing citizens with opportunities to participate in fiscal matters is that citizens are not capable of engaging with financial information and policies. Whilst this may be true to an extent, the lack of capacity (which can be overcome) is only a part of the problem. There are other contributing factors that exist within the context preventing citizens from participating.

Challenges such as economic inequality and the absence of interest can hamper participation by citizens. This therefore means that the capacity for citizens to engage in participatory governance can be constrained by a lack of economic resources, access to information and low levels of education among citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs). Citizen’s interest in participation depends on the perceived costs and benefits of participation. Costs could include time and transportation costs. The costs could also include the perceived risk of challenging public officials weighed against possible benefits such as the transfer of real decision making power over public resources and improved access to public services.

The capacity of citizens to participate effectively in fiscal matters is further weakened by financial information relayed in formats that are inaccessible and not understandable to the average citizen. This often requires translation of documents into indigenous languages as well as the use of visual techniques. However, most governments lack the capacity and resource costs to implement such practices which impacts on the quality and sustainability of the participatory processes.

Standards for meaningful citizen participation

An important component of evaluating citizen participation in fiscal matters is an assessment of the citizen participation opportunities and experiences during the budget formulation process.  Remember being consulted and informed about what the government plans to do with public resources is not a favour, it is a right! Participation opportunities become tick box exercises if they are not meaningful. Not only do citizens require opportunities to participate in fiscal processes, they also require that these opportunities be meaningful. Some guidelines on key features of effective, meaningful and inclusive participation or deliberation is provided by the Institute for Development Studies (IDS).  The IDS argues that in order for participation to be meaningful, it must meet the following standards:

  • Careful consideration, debate and discussion of reasons for and against.
  • Active involvement of multiple social actors and usually emphasises the participation of previously excluded citizens.
  • Social interaction in the form of face-to-face meetings between those involved.
  • Multiple positions are given equal opportunity and respect.
  • Discussion and presentation of positions and perspectives is based on information and evidence.
  • Negotiations, public reasoning and dialogue aimed at mutual understanding takes place, even if consensus is not being sought.
  • Unhurried, reflective and reasonably open-ended discussion is required.
  • Citizens have accurate and accessible information on resource allocation, performance and service delivery

Conclusion

The benefits of fiscal transparency are dependent on citizen’s willingness and ability to attend participate in fiscal processes. In order to maintain public interest in participation meetings, simply organising opportunities for participation is not enough. Citizens must see a link between their input in public meetings and what happens on the ground. Furthermore, to maintain public interest and engagement in participation initiatives there must be meaningful engagement.  This will require that international financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the OECD also work towards building standards and capacities for developing citizen participation practices in fiscal matters. The lack of meaningful citizen participation in fiscal matters can undermine as well as weaken attempts to promote transparency and accountability in the use of public resources.

How a pan-African network of cyber activists has been strengthening democracy online

Originally published by Dakar, Senegal on the 2nd of June 2018. Original article to be found at https://qz.com/1302623/africas-baobab-trees-are-dying-out-with-climate-change/

During a recent visit to The Gambia’s capital Banjul, digital activist Cheikh Fall spoke about the power of the internet to improve governance in Africa.

Fall, 35, is a co-founder of the pan-African network of online activists and bloggers for democracy (AFRICTIVISTS), a community of 200 cyber-activists from 35 different countries on the continent. The Africtivists were on tour to train 500 journalists in cyber-security, traveling from Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, to Niger, and Burkina Faso.

In countries where occasions to gather in public spaces and criticize governments are slim or dangerous, the internet has become an arena for political battle. Governments, increasingly aware of this, have cut off the internet and blocked social media outlets, depriving activists of the tools to connect, collaborate and inspire action. The Africtivists created a network that would help organize across the internet, disperse messages, and amp pressure on governments to strengthen democratic rights and improve transparency.

“Africa will be left behind in the digital revolution unless it takes advantage to transform lives,” Fall said.

Aisha Dabo, half Senegalese half Gambian, blogger and web activist, she lives in Dakar where is the league of cyber-activists
Aisha Dabo, a Gambian activist and journalist (Quartz/Max Hirzel)

Inspired by digital activists of the Arab spring, the Africtivists’ online battle started a few years ago. Fall opened the way with his platform Sunu2012 (“Our 2012” in Wolof language) inviting citizens to monitor the Senegalese presidential campaign and notify him in case of irregularities in the electoral process. The same year, similar initiatives blossomed in Benin (#Vote229 in reference to the country code), Burkina Faso (#Lwili for Lwili Peende, a traditional Burkinabé cloth featuring a bird, much like Twitter’s icon) and Ghana (#GhanaVote), where activists were passing on any information regarding attempts at breaking the rule of law, the justice system, democracy, public liberties or good governance.

After years of online exchanges, the teams finally met up in Dakar in November 2015 and launched Africtivists. At that summit, they defined what would be their line of action: monitor closely that the rights of the citizens were being respected and when they weren’t, call out governments or help depose the African leaders who publicly flout the law.

“Our main focus is information. We want to equip citizens with tools to tackle dictatorships and censorship,” explains Fall, who does not define himself as a journalist but prefers the labels “concerned citizen” or “influencer.”

In just a few years, the Africtivists have learned to react quickly, in a structured manner. “When there’s a problem in Chad, DRC, Cameroon, everyone is up on deck,” says Chantal Naré, a feminist blogger from Burkina Faso. “We start passing down the info on our networks and immediately release a statement,” adding, “African dictators are afraid to see us all together sharing the same vision for a new Africa.”

The Africtivists’ most impressive feat remains when former dictator Yahya Jammeh relinquished power in January 2017 after 22 years as president of Gambia. The cyber-activists claim partial authorship of this unexpected outcome. “We had been working on this case for two years,” remembers Fall. “It had taken a lot of our time and energy. We were constantly fact-checking him. A lot of Gambian journalists were working in exile from Dakar.”

Demba Gueye in Dakar city center. Senegalese, member of Africactivists, he works as digital manager
Activist Demba Gueye in Dakar, Senegal (Quartz/Max Hirzel)

Among them is Aisha Dabo, who initially came for a one-month training at the Senegalese capital and ended up staying after she learned the newspaper she was working for in The Gambia had been shut down without notice.

Dabo threw herself into the campaign launched to raise awareness of Jammeh’s dealings using the hashtag #jammehfact. When Jammeh refused to leave his seat to his newly elected successor Adama Barrow, the Africtivists hired a European firm to send mass messages to military officers likely to support a coup: “Choose Gambia, choose the people!” the messages read. They also sent letters to wives of army officers, urging them to talk to their husbands.

Among other tools, the Africtivists set up a pirate radio station which works only in moments of crisis. “It had been in our plans for a while now, but the events in The Gambia accelerated its birth,” Fall notes. Launched in The Gambia in 2016, the radio’s content is produced by staff members of temporarily shut down radio stations. It broadcasts on the web and on the darknet.

The Africtivists also launched MediaScoop, a service which irregularly sends flash news through Whatsapp. The team hopes to reach 1 million users in Senegal in 2019 when the country holds its presidential election. “If this format works, we’ll test it in other countries as well,” says Fall.

On the mobile of Aisha Dabo, a text of the new media project Africactivists, Mediascoop, transmitted via WhatsApp
A text of the new media project Mediascoop, which transmits messages via WhatsApp(Quartz/Max Hirzel)

What the Africtivists refer to as a “cause” takes a lot of their free time. Many of them have day jobs: Fall defines himself as a consultant for international organizations, while Naré is employed by a non-governmental organization that she declines to name.

And even though Fall argues that “we are not a secret society,” the team is also discreet on its sources of funding. Partly self-financed, the project is also funded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, the George Soros foundation, and European embassies. They also receive technical support from Clemson University in South Carolina when it comes to matters of cybersecurity. The group has also worked with internet advocacy groups Article 19 and Internet Without Borders.

Malick Fall, the Senegal program associate at OSIWA said their support to the group “was meant to help them organize, share experiences, build their capacity and advocate for a democratic consolidation of Africa.” Besides Senegal, Fall says the activists have carried out online campaigns in Burkina Faso (#Iwili), Guinea (#GuineeVote), Niger (Just1pourcent), and The Gambia (#FreeSanna), and Cameroon (#BringBackOurInternet).

Henri Thulliez, from the Belgian foundation Equal Opportunities in Africa, says the team’s “dematerialized activism” is essential in creating a more powerful network. “This is a new kind of Pan-Africanism,” he said.

CPJ joins call for Tanzanian government to respect human rights

Originally published by Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ on May 10, 2018

CPJ, along with 64 other non-governmental organizations, today wrote to Tanzanian President John Magufuli to express concern about a worrying decline in the respect of human rights, including freedom of expression.

In recent months, Tanzania has implemented laws that undermine freedom of speech online, restrictions on peaceful protests, and closed media outlets, the letter said. The organizations urged Magufuli’s government to take proactive measures to protect these rights and to recognize publicly the essential role that a vibrant civil society and an independent media play in creating peaceful and equal societies.

The letter can be accessed via this link https://cpj.org/blog/2018/05/cpj-joins-call-for-tanzanian-government-to-respect.php?utm_source=T%2FAI+Newsletter+List&utm_campaign=61102700f3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1a5ff28f1e-61102700f3-431571137

When More is More: Realizing the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP’s) Potential through More Ambitious Commitments

Article by Joe Foti

Originally published on Open Government Partnership

We often say that, “Less is more.” Yet there are times when we simply need more of a certain thing-when more is more. In the OGP, there are too few high-impact commitments. In the case of action plan ambition, more is more. Our new analysis of OGP action plans shows that more ambitious action plans lead to better results.

At the 2016 Paris Summit, OGP’s CEO, Sanjay Pradhan, challenged all OGP participants to carry out more ambitious commitments. The goal was simple: every country should have at least two open government commitments that were credibly complete and would make a real difference. In OGP lingo, we call these “starred commitments.”

Here we are, two years later, and we can see how far we are in moving towards that goal. OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism has finished reviewing a huge batch of 800 commitments – and the results are thought-provoking. (We dive deep into the questions, including a bit of sectoral analysis, in the longer paper here.)

In short, we are on our way, but there is still much work to be done. Take the following two facts:

  1. On a per country basis, we still haven’t reached the “two-per-country” level. We did grow from 0.8 commitments starred commitments per country to 1.2. Not bad, but also not where we want to be.
  2. Interestingly, completion is not the binding constraint. While completion rates more than doubled in the second year of action plans, the number of starred commitments did not.

The question is: if completion is a shrinking problem, why aren’t we getting more starred commitments?

Put simply, ambition seems to be the binding constraint. The design of action plans is, by far, the biggest problem with how much impact action plans have. Take a look at the figure below -the design gap is much bigger than the implementation gap. Four percent of commitments would have rated stars if they had been credibly implemented. Yet a huge 89% of commitments would never have been stars, because they were not relevant (11%), not specific (9%), and would not have had a major impact (69%).

Figure: The design gap is much larger than the ambition gap 

What does this mean for OGP?

The ambition gap means that we have to change and intensify the way we work. The assumption that we are going to get to bigger return on investment and bigger impacts by doubling down on implementation is probably wrong in most cases. Even if OGP countries implemented every potential star, we would not get to two stars per country. (And this is before we even begin taking into account the uneven distribution of “potential stars;” some countries have few while others have many.)

Implementation support can be costly, hard to scale, and is not a core function of OGP, which generally acts as a relationship broker and a marketplace of ideas. Rather, investment in strong action plans (of which we have a record number this year) is absolutely critical.

How we shrink the ambition gap is a difficult question. There are three commonly cited impediments to more ambitious commitments — politics, technical issues, and form.

Of the three, form is the most easily addressed. We need more concise, vibrant, and ambitious action plans. Some commitments may be high-impact, but are buried in a sea of minor deliverables and bureaucratic language. We need to put the citizen first in our language – what new capacities will they have as a result of a commitment?: How will governments change business as usual? Most action plans, as currently written, don’t tackle that issue.

Beyond ambition, the importance of strong peer exchange and support has never been clearer. We need more examples, like open contracting and beneficial ownership, where governmental, multilateral, and civil society partners have been able to use OGP as a lever to move a concept from a nebulous idea to an emerging norm.

In terms of politics, we need the whole OGP community, especially its Steering Committee members and founders, to lead by example. Each successfully implemented ambitious commitment can be copied and adapted by other countries. That’s where you, the members of the OGP community, come in.

Original article can be accessed on this link https://www.opengovpartnership.org/stories/when-more-more-realizing-open-government-partnership-s-ogp-s-potential-through-more?utm_source=T%2FAI+Newsletter+List&utm_campaign=e19a3fcb1e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1a5ff28f1e-e19a3fcb1e-431571137 

ICA Africa-Ghana 2018: Conference Call

Call for Papers

ICAfrica 2nd Biennial, 2018

The Africa Regional Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA)

Theme: African Digital Cultures: Emerging Research, Practices and Innovations

Date:  7-9 November, 2018

Organisers: School of Information and Communication Studies, University of Ghana, Legon

Digital technology has become an inherent part of contemporary African life. Fueled by increasing internet penetration, changes have occurred to accommodate a more digital-driven lifestyle across various sectors of African societies. Compared with other parts of the world, Internet use in Africa is still relatively low, but digital technology is rapidly changing how people on the continent communicate with one another, produce and consume goods and services, enact citizenship, and construct narratives about themselves. New configurations in the communication, information and media landscape resulting from digitalization provoke new questions and challenge old assumptions about mediation practices for scholars. Traditional media such as radio, for example, may be still dominant in the information and communication ecology of Africa, but their practices are constantly being impacted and transformed by emerging digital cultures, especially amongst the youth.

The dynamic nature of technology-driven transformations in mediated communication in Africa calls for deeper insights into the cultures forming around the appropriation of digital technologies. In a world in which the face of communication is constantly evolving, we believe Africa can provide fresh thinking on how people adopt, appropriate and deploy digital technologies in various communicative contexts and the impact(s) that has on their lives.

The School of Information and Communication Studies (SICS) of the University of Ghana, in collaboration with the International Communication Association (ICA) is hosting the 2018 Regional ICA conference on the theme African Digital Cultures: Emerging research, practices and innovations. The conference seeks to bring together scholars from within and outside the continent to share their research and perspectives on the cultures forming around conceptualizations, production and consumption of the digital space in Africa.

Kindly visit the link below for further information

http://sics.ug.edu.gh/icaafrica-ghana

An Update on African Governance: the Africa Integrity Indicators 2018

Originally published by the Africa Integrity Indicators Team on the 4th of April 2018

The 2018 edition of the Africa Integrity Indicators data is available! We invite interested stakeholders to examine the data and share any feedback that can help increase the quality and usefulness of the data. Please get in touch with us by May 30th.

What is the Africa Integrity Indicators Project?

Every year since 2013, the Africa Integrity Indicators (AII) project assesses the state of governance and aspects of social development in all African countries. It produces qualitative data for 102 indicators across 13 categories from “Rule of law” and “Civil service integrity” to “Rights” and “Health and education.” The data can be found here.

How is our data unique?

The versatility of our data sets AII apart from other indices. It combines:

  • Scale and granularity: the AII data presents the big picture across the African continent while zooming in on specific questions in specific countries;
  • Timeliness and evolution: the AII data provides a snapshot of each country for any given year since 2013 while showcasing the trends in each country over time;
  • Comparability and context-specificity: the AII data is comparable across countries and over time with clear scoring conditions that determine what is measured and how it is assessed. At the same time, researchers provide specific comments on context and evidence that  highlight individual countries’ challenges and opportunities. Each of these comments is supported by multiple sources;
  • De jure and de facto: the AII data examines both the legal frameworks in force and the implementation of these frameworks in practice, thereby measuring the implementation gap.

Another strength of the AII data is the robustness of the quality control. To ensure that our data is credible, we follow a rigorous double-blind peer-review process that involves country and subject-matter experts.

How can the data be used?

The AII data is a stand-alone index published by Global Integrity. Measuring the implementation gap and providing snapshots of evidence for each question together with a score and the sources used by researchers to make their assessment, we endeavor to provide an objective and trustworthy assessment that can help reformers identify entry points and ways forward as regards reform they deem important and worth pursuing.

A number of questions also feed into the Ibrahim Index of African Governance and into the Worldwide Governance indicators (WGI) by the World Bank. Through the WGI, the data also provides the Millennium Challenge Corporation with information that informs its decisions about country eligibility for MCC compacts.

Three main features of our dataset make it a practical entry point for research, advocacy and action:

  • Accessibility: our methodology and sources are transparent and the data is open source;
  • Ease of use: for each indicator, scores make it quick and easy to identify patterns across countries and across time;
  • Actionability: for each indicator, qualitative, fact-based comments make it possible to understand the country-specific context and help to identify priorities for reforms.

How is our data relevant?

Like any organization that strives for impact, we believe that producing reliable data is only the first step toward enabling reformers to take action. It is our hope that the AII data will foster and inform discussions about governance reforms and social development across Africa, both at the regional and at country levels, within and outside government.

For several years, the dataset has served as a platform for dialogue with several governments that have reached out to us as part of their efforts to pursue institutional and policy reforms. In 2018, we look forward to resuming these discussions and starting new ones with both governments and civil society.

We also look forward to continuing the conversation on how governance data in general and the AII data in particular can be improved to be more useful to stakeholders and have a bigger impact.

Preliminary findings

To illustrate how the AII data can support discussions on governance and social development, we have selected a sample of preliminary findings for the period that covers September 2016 to September 2017.

Gender – bridging the gap

Both the legal and customary frameworks regarding women’s rights have remained largely unchanged, and mostly restrictive. In practice, however, the new AII data has captured renewed efforts by governments to improve the condition of women, especially in the labor market. For instance, in 2017 the government of Burkina Faso launched training and entrepreneurship programs for the benefits of female professionals while Chad conducted national awareness campaigns with the support of development partners.

In another positive development, the representation of women in national cabinets has significantly improved in 10 countries compared to the previous study period. The increase has been the largest in São Tomé and Principe and Somalia where, as of September 2017, one cabinet member in five was a woman, up by 10 percentage points.

Revolutions – the cases of Gambia and Tunisia

Political upheavals make headlines; but real change is often slow to materialize. The 2018 data takes stock of governance reforms in Gambia and Tunisia, respectively ten months and seven years after regime change.

Within one year of President Barrow taking office after the watershed election of December 2016, Gambia had achieved meaningful progress toward better governance. Change was, in practice, most remarkable in the independence of the judiciary, access to information, and freedom of association. The government also denounced as unconstitutional the restrictive sedition, criminal defamation, and false publication laws.

The situation in Tunisia has continued to improve across many governance dimensions. In practice, progress was most momentous in public management, where a culture of transparency permeated public procurement and natural resource exploitation. Tunisia, however, suffered consequential setbacks in other areas. One of the most worrisome concerns relate to existing and new NGOs, against which the government has started erecting administrative barriers. Despite permissive legislation, it has now become very difficult for NGOs to obtain the authorization to operate in the country.

Let’s start the conversation

Today’s release of provisional data marks the beginning of a 2-month feedback period during which we invite all interested parties to examine our data prior to final publication in June 2018. If you have comments on specific facts and narratives or if you have suggestions related to the accuracy of our research, please contact us at elsa.peraldi@globalintegrity.org.

If you have general comments and suggestions about how you find the data useful, how you use it, and how it can be improved, please send your feedback using this form or the aforementioned email address. You can also connect with us on Twitter (@GlobalIntegrity).

The original article can be access on the Global Integrity website https://www.globalintegrity.org/2018/04/an-update-on-african-governance-the-africa-integrity-indicators-2018/