Award-Winning Social Accountability Journalism

Three SADC journalists each received a 2018 Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting on Thursday 29 November at Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa.

Presented during the gala awards dinner at the 22nd annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, recipients Winston Mwale (Malawi), Derrick Chityamba (Zambia) and Josephine Chinele (Malawi) earned first, second and third place, respectively, for their outstanding contribution to investigative reporting on social accountability in the Southern Africa region.

Award winners from left Derrick Chityamba from Zambia, Josephine Chinele of Malawi and Winston Mwale of Malawi.

Presented by the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance and Highway Africa, the awards recognise journalists in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia for investigative reporting that contributes to improved services in public health and agriculture, particularly in the areas of HIV and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and food security.

Currently in its second year, the awards further aim to promote social accountability coverage in the region considering the challenges to good governance, as well as the threat to individuals who dare to report on such issues.

“Information flows are necessary factors to strengthening social accountability practice,” said Lindelwa Nxele, Programme officer of the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). “Media…disseminate and distribute news that do not only inform the general public of current events, but also investigate issues that affect the state of the nation.”

The third prize story by Chinele, ‘Sexual rituals put Nsanje girls in harm’s way’ puts much needed spotlight on the forced prostitution of young girls to elderly men for sexual cleansing rituals. The front-page article was published on 23 September2018 by The Sunday Times Malawi.  “The story stands out because Chinele also questions the traditional authority about what they are doing to stop it,” said Julie Middleton of ActionAid and adjudicator for the awards.

Chityamba’s second place story takes a similar stand as it calls the Zambian government to book for the newly introduced e-voucher solutions system, along with the various challenges it has posed for farmers and agricultural production this year. Chityamaba took the role of co-producer on this in-depth radio piece which aired on Oblate Radio Liseli on 8 August 2018.

Receiving first prize win is radio journalist Mwale.  The story looks at a controversy in the Mchinji district of Malawi, where community members accuse the supervisor of a maternity ward construction project of diverting materials to build his own house in the same area.

Highway Africa applauded Mwale at the ceremony, describing his coverage on the diversion of public resources for personal use as a prime example of the vibrant reporting to come out of Zodiak Broadcasting Station. “Within Malawi Zodiak has played a critical role in political transition. It stood firm with all sorts of threats, but they’ve stood strong. And as a veteran, Winston demonstrates a similar resolve”.

All the winning stories can be found at http://copsam.com/regional-media-award-finalists-taking-on-accountability-in-africa/

Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance is led by ActionAid International together with Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

For more information visit http://copsam.com/psa/. PSA is on Twitter and Facebook at @psaalliance.

What is civil society for? Reflection from one of Tanzania’s leading CSO thinkers

A recent civil society and government jamboree in Tanzania prompted some interesting reflections from Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza.

 

This article was originally published on the ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog.

 

Who needs civil society organizations (CSOs)? If government does its job well, responding to citizens’ needs, delivering good quality services, safe communities and a booming economy, then what is the purpose of the diverse range of NGOs, trade unions, religious groups, community groups and others that make up civil society?

I was one of more than 600 people at CSO Week 2018 in Dodoma (Tanzania’s capital). We were there to both celebrate and debate the role of civil society in Tanzania. Lots of speakers from within and outside government spoke with almost universal praise for the role civil society plays. But not far below the collegial surface lurked a significant divergence of views.

The most important was conflicting views on the primary purpose of civil society. Government officials acknowledged the positive role of CSOs, but with a strong whiff of ambiguity about their value and scepticism about their integrity.

Government ministers and senior officials revealed a clear preference for CSOs focused on uncontroversial service delivery activities (providing healthcare or education or clean water), over those working on raising citizen voices and advocating for better policies. They said that CSOs that focus on service delivery are supporting the government as the people’s legitimately elected representative. They are giving people the help they need, and can attract additional aid dollars into the country for development. However, those CSOs that monitor and critique government, advocate for civic space and promote human rights, may in fact be pursuing foreign agendas or wasting resources by working in areas that do not resonate with citizens’ needs, such as public services and livelihoods.

I also heard many CSOs worrying that limiting their activities to providing services makes them little more than handmaids to government and reduces citizens to mere subjects. Championing the causes of social justice, equality, shared responsibility and rewards has them working to ensure people are free citizens.

But this is a simplistic, though long-standing distinction, and I think it misses the point. For the ‘uncontroversial’ services to be delivered well to those needing them most, civic space must, crucially and contentiously, be open.

Without freedom of information and expression, people will not know what they are entitled to. Nor will they be able to voice their opinion on the quality of services or bring other problems to the attention of decision makers. Without freedom of assembly and association, the gap between a distant and powerful government and an atomised population becomes almost unbridgeable. Without citizen participation, services rarely meet citizen needs and citizens feel increasingly powerless and disconnected. Without inclusion, marginalised people are left even further behind. Without human rights and the rule of law, citizens have little protection from corrupt or bullying officials. Those who no longer trust that the game is fair stop trying to play and withdraw to the fringes.

CSOs that work to protect and promote open civic space are also working to strengthen public services and improve people’s lives. We may be doing so indirectly, but our contribution is just as valuable and necessary.

I would go further to argue that even delivering services is a political undertaking. When people are healthier, better educated and have access to water, shelter and can make a decent living, they are more likely to ask for more and expect better. And delivering services has an impact on local power relations. A new well, for example, increases the availability of water for some, changes time allocation, especially for women, and alters patterns of ownership, income and social interaction in a village. Choices are inherently political.

So the question is not ‘are we for services or for social justice?’ The two are inseparable.

Bishop Stephen Munga, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and Chancellor at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University expressed this point powerfully last week when he argued that “civil society gives rise to government itself.” “It is civil society that legitimately says whether government is good or bad, laws are good or bad. It is not for government or those in power to assess itself!”

His assertions were both attractive, and unsettling. Who assesses us CSOs? I confess to leaving Dodoma with a nagging feeling that, as CSOs, we did not engage in some important self-reflection. Are we well-placed to deliver a vision of a healthy, wealthy, wise and just Tanzania? Are we trusted by those who we claim to represent and speak for? Are we legitimate in their eyes? How much are citizens engaged in our work, in shaping our priorities and activities, or are we distant, disconnected and self-righteous? And how much are we really contributing to improving social justice overall? Could we do more?

These questions warrant really good answers. Such deep self-reflection can only be healthy for the sector, and for the wider community which we serve. We should not shy away from it.

It should come as no surprise that government and civil society have different views on what the sector should look like, or on the relationship between services and rights. It is only proper that a combination of tension and collaboration should exist, as one party seeks to maintain social order and the other to promote social justice. A society without such tension would slide into decline and decay.

So what is civil society for? It is to improve public services and people’s livelihoods. It is also to raise citizen voices and protect civic space. And it is even, on occasion, for disagreeing with government. I am sure that doing these things makes us all stronger. We will all be better off as a result.

This article was originally published here

Reclaiming civic space: global challenges, local responses

To reclaim civic space, there are three key drivers that organizations must focus on, and three critical issues affecting local responses.

This article was originally published in this form on the OpenGlobalRights website, written by: Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah & Mandeep Tiwana

From attacks on human rights defenders to limits on civil society’s work, we are facing an emergency on civic space. As evidence from the CIVICUS Monitor suggests, threats to civic freedoms are no longer just happening in fragile states and autocracies, but also in more mature democracies. While there has been growing attention on how to respond to this phenomenon, we believe there needs to be more attention on underlying drivers and on supporting local responses. Civic space can’t be “saved” from the outside.

Many of the current restrictions on civil society are knee-jerk responses, sometimes pre-emptive, to popular mobilizations, a sad and unexpected result of the initial hope of the so-called Arab Spring. Of course, this pattern is not the only cause of growing constraints on civic freedoms. Repurposing of the global security discourse to curb dissent, restrictions on international funding for advocacy groups by nationalist leaders, and retreat from the international human rights framework using flimsy arguments of state sovereignty are all ways by which the rights discourse is being undone. While there are several drivers of civic space restrictions, three in particular are worth paying attention to, due to their cross-cutting nature and deep impacts.

1. The business of civil society repression

The impact of of mega-corporations and market fundamentalism in undermining civic freedoms cannot be overemphasised. Private sector influences are particularly clear in the area of natural resource exploitation by extractive industries and big agri-businesses when local, often indigenous, environmental defenders face retaliation for protecting natural resources from grabs by corrupt business and political interests. The assassination of award winning Honduran activist Berta Caceres and restrictions on the right to peaceful protest for those opposed to the Dakota Oil pipeline in the United States are examples of how of these challenges transcend global North-South boundaries.

2. A toxic mix of extremist ideologies

Civil society is also being increasingly targeted by extremists aiming to divide societies around narrow interpretations of ethnicity or religion. Civil society emphasis on diversity and social cohesion is derided  as antithetical to nationalist cultural values and in some cases those speaking out against such projects are branded as operating at the behest of outside interests. In Europe, for example, civil society groups working on the rights of refugee and migrant populations are facing a backlash. In many parts of West Asia, women’s rights defenders have been attacked by armed groups seeking to impose puritanical religious doctrines on populations by arguing that gender equality is a Western construct. In South Asia, bloggers and journalists have been persecuted online and offline for opposing dominant cultural mores, while in Africa religious evangelists have linked up with like-minded groups on other continents to spur extreme forms of homophobia and attack defenders of LGBTI rights.

3. Retreat from democracy and multilateralism

We’re also facing a crisis of moral leadership on the international stage which has led to a retreat from universal human rights values and is negatively impacting civil society. Degradation of civic freedoms and the emergence of “neo-fascist” politics in Europe and the United States have emboldened despotic regimes in countries such as Bahrain, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and more, to attack dissenters and consolidate their power by manipulating electoral processes and state institutions. From the Philippines to Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, efforts are underway to silence dissent whereby repression against those who speak the language of human rights is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Despite these challenges, placing local responses at the heart of efforts to reclaim civic space is critical.  Based on conversations with civil society stakeholders on their present challenges, we have  identified three under-researched but critical issues:

a. Resourcing resilience, close to the ground

In an era of growing linkages between rights oriented civil society organizations and the donor/philanthropic community, financial resources have become a key area of contestation. Only a tiny proportion of development assistance actually goes directly to civil society in the global South. Fickle donor priorities and excessive deference to whims of governments that restrict international funding have caused several smaller organizations to fold up. At the same time, bigger ones, which are more adept at marketing and meeting sophisticated accounting requirements of donors, are expanding. The organized civil society firmament has already started to resemble the market with big franchises edging out locally owned and rooted businesses. For example, an organization run by Syrian refugees in Turkey says they have experienced difficulties accessing international funding despite having much more relevant local knowledge than the international organizations that attract global donors. International donors should be mindful of how their red tape excludes community organizations that possess local expertise and have significantly lower overheads.

b. Beyond accounts-ability

Across the world, the legitimacy of organized civil society is being challenged on several fronts, from politicians demonizing them as disconnected special interest groups to social movements that see traditional CSOs as arcane at best and co-opted at worst. The usual ways in which CSOs demonstrate their accountability—through compliance with regulatory requirements and donor reporting are proving insufficient to convince skeptical politicians or publics. We thus need to move beyond just “accounts-ability” to enhanced transparency and dialogue with communities, not for the sake of checking a box but because they are key to making meaningful change. This shift could include things like people-centred decision-making, real-time adaptation to stakeholder needs, and nurturing the next generation of social change-makers. This form of accountability is not only about financial reporting and transparency to donors but about meaningful dialogue with affected communities and stakeholders, and keeping an eye on big picture outcomes to drive organizational decision-making process.

c. Standing together

Lastly, an energetic, civil society-led, global response is needed to counter attacks on civic freedoms. Many of us have done a good job of ensuring that the reality of closing civic space is on the international community’s radar, but efforts to push back against restrictions are often duplicative and uncoordinated. We must make clear that the enabling of civil society rights is an essential part of the defense of democracy. To do this, we need to form and work in progressive alliances, bringing together substantial masses of citizens and connecting classic CSOs, protest movements, journalists, trade unions, youth groups, social enterprises, artistic platforms and many other parts of the civil society universe.

A robust civic space can only exist within a functioning democracy, and thus safeguarding civil society also involves re-imagining more participatory models of democracy, with citizens at their heart. Seen in this way, the over-arching challenge is not a technical, short-term one of pushing back on attacks on civic space, but a longer-term political one of re-imagining a more participatory landscape where substantive democracy thrives.

***This article is an extract of an essay published in the 26th edition of the Sur Journal of Human Rights.

 

Making Budgets work for Gender Equality in Ethiopia

This article was originally published on the GPSA Knowledge Platform by Lucia Nass

Despite strong legal frameworks for gender equality, Ethiopian women still have a lot of catching up to do. They occupy a low status in society and their developmental outcomes are still well below those of men. Ethiopia has started to support Gender Responsive Budging (GRB), but is this creating the desired effect on gender equality?

The Ethiopia Social Accountability Program phase 2 (ESAP2) introduced GRB tool in almost a quarter of Ethiopia’s 1000 districts across five public services: education, health, water, agriculture, and rural roads. We guided over 110 local organizations to help communities assess the standards and budgets of basic services they received, prioritize necessary improvement, engage in dialogue with service providers and local government, and realize the agreed reforms.

Initially, very few CSOs chose to work with the GRB tool because it provided limited implementation guidelines and also gender expertise was not well developed among the CSOs. The ESAP team invited an Ethiopian gender consultant and engaged with CSOs, communities, and government gender experts in an action research process to make a new GRB tool that would work for social accountability at local government level.

CSOs start with identifying and mobilizing local gender and budget expertise, which can support the social accountability process. In Ethiopia, this usually involves the Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office; the Financial Transparency and Accountability expert; and experts from the sector offices. They also timed social accountability activities to the budget cycle, so that citizens can influence budget decisions and review. Before conducting gender analysis, awareness is raised among service providers on the government’s gender policies for service delivery. Then gender analysis of service access and benefits is facilitated where community members are involved in comparing the impact of basic services on women to that of men. Citizens and service providers are then brought together to discuss local budgets and set priorities for gender equitable spending on public services. This leads to prioritization of spending on improvements that promote gender equality. Citizens subsequently monitor that service improvements indeed benefit women and men as agreed during the budget discussions.

Interestingly, the CSOs had already completed a full cycle of the SA process before the new GRB tool was introduced. Focusing on the same services, the communities’ priorities changed. All six pilots show that new issues were prioritised. In Debre Markos town, GRB highlighted sexual harassment of school girls. The community had already identified the need of a fence to protect students from residents who could wander into the school yard at any time. The gender analysis highlighted the negative impact of drinking houses in terms of the harassment of school girls by their customers. The issue was raised during the interface meeting, and local authorities subsequently moved the drinking houses to the other end of town.

Pilots encountered secondary schools with no separate toilets for boys and girls, and agricultural extension services that focus solely on crops grown by men. Ethiopia’s basic services may on paper appear gender neutral, but in practice they are not. Gender analysis can demonstrate how service delivery that is seemingly “gender neutral” does in fact perpetuate gender bias. We learned how to integrate gender analysis with each step of a social accountability process at local government level. Our GRB tool brings abstract gender policies to life for men and women, service providers and district officials.

We hope that our work will inspire SA practitioners to develop GRB for local government budgets. This publication explains how we developed the tool and gives more detail to the results achieved for gender equality in basic service access and benefits.

Engaging government differently: social audits and service delivery

This video tells us about a success story of the first Collaborative Social Audit in South Africa in 3 informal settlements in Wattville, Ekurhuleni Gauteng, South Africa.

 

In 2016, Albert Van Zyl of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) wrote the following blog on social audits in South Africa:

Are Social Audits Soft on Government?

In contrast to campaigns that are more inherently confrontational, social audits invest heavily in unpacking and decoding government budget policy and processes. They often start by examining official documents to understand what service delivery commitments the government has made and what viable counter proposals might look like. This is not to say that social audits can’t form part of larger campaigns that use a variety of tactics to get the government to respond. But this engagement is firmly rooted in the facts and figures that the government itself releases in official documents.

None of this makes social audits “soft” on government, it is simply a different style of getting and holding the attention of government so as to engage on an issue of importance. Most participants felt that social audits embody a style of advocacy worth preserving. They pointed out the power of social audit fundamentals, such as community ownership as well as using evidence and official commitments to engage with government. Given that this advocacy approach is based on a deep understanding of budgets and policies, social audits can in some cases actually be harder on government — and should certainly be harder to ignore.

Does Credibility Matter?

Despite being firmly rooted in evidence, not everyone gives social audits the respect they are due. Parts of the South African government have chosen to question the validity of audit findings and quibble about the rigor of the data collection and analysis. Civil society organizations have sometimes responded by tightening up these aspects of their social audits. In other cases, such as with Equal Education’s school sanitation audit, CSOs have appointed highly regarded independent observers to vouch for the rigor of the process.

Yet, as one participant pointed out, “legitimacy does not guarantee accountability.” Ultimately these challenges by government are motivated less by a concern for scientific rigor, and are more about wriggling out of the tough questions asked about how well officials are doing their jobs. Independent observers and solid methods may make it harder for the government to dismiss the findings of social audits, but they do not guarantee accountability. For that CSOs need to use other tactics, like generating media coverage and mobilizing popular support.

Who Sets the Agenda for a Social Audit?

The questions of who decides which issue to focus on is a crucial one because community ownership is such essential part of a social audit. At the same time, social audits are so information and knowledge intensive that focusing on a single issue often makes them more effective. In the first few social audits conducted in South Africa, membership based organizations, like the SJC and Equal Education, used social audits as part of ongoing campaigns where the agenda had already been set. This made it easy to decide on the issue and get the relevant communities’ commitment.

More recent social audits, like that conducted by Ndifuna Ukwazi in Wolwerivier, brought in an external organization to assist the community with the social audit. This made the agenda question a lot more difficult to deal with. Facilitating organizations know focusing on a single issue increases the impact of a social audit, but communities are faced with such a myriad of service delivery problems and interest groups that it can be hard to agree on a single issue.

This poses some interesting questions about how social audits can be replicated across South Africa. The situation where external organizations help communities to conduct social audits seems almost necessary for them to become more widespread.  But can effective social audits only be conducted as part of campaigns with well-developed agendas? Or can they be adapted to help new campaigns refine their agendas?

“How do we bring about a social audit revolution?”

One participant in the workshop posed this very question. The excitement over social audits has spread rapidly among South African civil society, and also in government and the donor community. This has resulted in numerous requests for social audit training. But, as many participants warned, social audits are not a silver bullet for solving all of South Africa’s service delivery issues and they don’t lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all approach. Where a service delivery problem is caused by insufficient budget rather than poor implementation, for example, a social audit may not be the best way to proceed.

The SJC, NU, Planact, and Equal Education have done an admirable job of promoting the practice in South Africa, choosing slow steady growth in the number of audits and organizations conducting them over letting a thousand flowers bloom. They have also created a social audit guide and formed a Social Audit Network to support such new initiatives. This network is now planning to coordinate the growing body of experienced social audit practitioners to ensure that new auditors have access to old hands.

Social audits are a powerful tool. But knowing how and when to use them, and understanding their underlying principles, are key to their effectiveness. While they may not always be the quickest way to prompt the government to respond, the kind of changes they stand to deliver could well be revolutionary.

This blog post was originally published on the IBP website

PSAM Social Accountability Conference 2018

Exploring what it takes to enhance social accountability practice.

The conference theme aims to interrogate the challenges of working in the social accountability field and specifically the elements which allow for successful social accountability practice, where practitioners are able to enhance the interaction between the state and the public. The conference will explore the manner in which social accountability practice is impacted by context, by power, by the ecosystem of actors within the sector and by actors we may consider outside of the ecosystem.

Download the conference PROGRAMME

You can link to a livestream of the plenary presentations and panels on the 11th and 12th September here

Summary of events to be livestreamed during the PSAM Social Accountability Conference 2018

Key lessons from the Webinar Series

If you were lucky enough to join us for our first webinar series, you would not be surprised that there were a number of lessons that emerged from each country case study. If you did not join us, see the recordings below.

Here are some of the key points presented from the following Webinars:

–  Zambia Governance Forum (ZGF) from Zambia

Southern African Parliamentary Trust (SAPST) from Zimbabwe

United Purpose from Mozambique

Policy Forum from Tanzania

 

Is Open Data Working for Women in Africa?

Open data has the potential to change politics, economies and societies for the better by giving people more opportunities to engage in the decisions that affect their lives. But to reach the full potential of open data, it must be available to and used by all. Yet, across the globe — and in Africa in particular — there is a significant data gap.

This report — Is open data working for women in Africa — maps the current state of open data for women across Africa, with insights from country-specific research in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and South Africa with additional data from a survey of experts in 12 countries across the continent.

Our findings show that, despite the potential for open data to empower people, it has so far changed little for women living in Africa.

Key findings

  • There is a closed data culture in Africa — Most countries lack an open culture and have legislation and processes that are not gender-responsive. Institutional resistance to disclosing data means few countries have open data policies and initiatives at the national level. In addition, gender equality legislation and policies are incomplete and failing to reduce gender inequalities. And overall, Africa lacks the cross-organisational collaboration needed to strengthen the open data movement.
  • There are barriers preventing women from using the data that is available — Cultural and social realities create additional challenges for women to engage with data and participate in the technology sector. 1GB of mobile data in Africa costs, on average, 10% of average monthly income. This high cost keeps women, who generally earn less than men, offline. Moreover, time poverty, the gender pay gap and unpaid labour create economic obstacles for women to engage with digital technology.
  • Key datasets to support the advocacy objectives of women’s groups are missing — Data on budget, health and crime are largely absent as open data. Nearly all datasets in sub-Saharan Africa (373 out of 375) are closed, and sex-disaggregated data, when available online, is often not published as open data. There are few open data policies to support opening up of key datasets and even when they do exist, they largely remain in draft form. With little investment in open data initiatives, good data management practices or for implementing Right To Information (RTI) reforms, improvement is unlikely.
  • There is no strong base of research on women’s access and use of open data — There is lack of funding, little collaboration and few open data champions. Women’s groups, digital rights groups and gender experts rarely collaborate on open data and gender issues. To overcome this barrier, multi-stakeholder collaborations are essential to develop effective solutions.

Download the report to explore the findings and recommendations in full.

When Not to Call a Spade a Spade: The Importance of Quiet Anti-Corruption Initiatives

Originally written by Sabina Robillard with Louino Robillard and posted here

Corruption is a complex adaptive system – it does not stay still while being attacked, but rather evolves to survive in the face of new constraints and barriers.

Many anti-corruption campaigns aim to target corruption directly and publicly. They are clear in their mission and have project titles that include the words “anti-corruption.” This directness is important in many respects, but being so visible makes it easy for people in power to applaud these initiatives in public – and to avoid them, or even undermine them, in private. By the time the project reports are written, the systems that facilitate corruption will have shifted, adapted, and survived.

So there is an argument to be made for combatting corruption quietly – through projects that no one would recognize as being anti-corruption. These projects serve as Trojan horses to help anti-corruption measures slip past gatekeepers and power brokers, and perhaps stand a greater chance of surviving and planting the seeds of change.

In late 2016, Louino ‘Robi’ Robillard was not expecting to embark on an anti-corruption campaign. Robi is a community organizer from Cite Soleil, which is Haiti’s largest ghetto. Because of decades of gang activity in the area, Cite Soleil has been marginalized economically and socially by the rest of Haitian society, resulting in widespread poverty and stigma.

An informal ceasefire that began in 2016 provided a window for civil society in Cite Soleil to take on initiatives that would be more challenging in times of active conflict. A youth club in Cite Soleil called FACHaiti decided they wanted to build a library to provide a much-needed community space for young people to read. They approached Robi for help with fundraising, but Robi pushed them to first pitch their idea to residents of Cite Soleil – the vast majority of whom lived on less than 2 US dollars a day – and see what they would contribute. They called the initiative Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy.

In Cite Soleil, development projects have long been used as a vehicle for corruption and money-laundering. Projects are often routed through politicians, fixers (called abolochos), and gangsters, each of whom takes a cut from projects to fund illicit activities. This is common knowledge in Cite Soleil, making residents skeptical of most projects. In order to help Cite Soleil’s residents overcome their distrust of development projects – even local ones – Robi proposed a campaign of total transparency. Each donation – no matter how large or small – would be photographed and posted on the Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy Facebook page. Then, every Sunday, the money and books would be counted in public at the community radio station and posted on Facebook. Anyone was welcome to supervise the weekly count and compare it with the photographs posted of donations. The campaign became wildly popular, and within the first six weeks, over a thousand people in Cite Soleil had contributed.

 

 

It became clear very soon that this approach was having a greater effect than just building trust in a library campaign: it was changing people’s expectations about transparency in Cite Soleil. Robi’s first hint that this simple project could have an effect on endemic local corruption was when he began getting phone calls from powerful people, saying they would contribute to the campaign if only Konbit Bibliyotèk would stop that pesky habit of making donations public. Several politicians were even more clear, complaining that their constituents had begun to ask them why they weren’t being as transparent with their funds as the library project was being.

But the volunteers stayed firm in their principles – refusing anonymous donations and continuing to publish weekly reports. The project – and by extension, the volunteers – was protected by its innocuousness. If this had been an overt anti-corruption initiative, politicians and gang leaders would have felt threatened, which would be justification enough for them to shut down the project. A ceasefire doesn’t apply to hitmen, any of whom could have been paid $50 to kill an anti-corruption campaigner and make it look like a robbery. But this wasn’t an anti-corruption campaign. This was “just” an innocent project to build a community library. The social media postings were “just” a way to better advertise the generous contribution they were making. Those in power were not the target of the initiative, they were “just” one of thousands of donors. The project may have annoyed or even frustrated people in power, but it was never seen as threatening. It was too subtle, too quiet.

The power of the project also lay in its popularity: with thousands of residents of Cite Soleil having already made donations, there was a sense of widespread ownership that was not to be taken lightly, even by those in power. No one wanted to be seen standing in the way of the library. So eventually, one by one, Cite Soleil’s power brokers fell in line. Politicians, businessmen, abolochos, and eventually even gang leaders agreed to take pictures with their donations and have them posted.

This may seem insignificant to the outside observer. Just because powerful people were posting photos of their donations to a community cause, that did not mean they weren’t still pocketing funds from any number of other projects. But ending corruption requires more than a changing of laws and protocols – it requires changing social norms. And in Cite Soleil, people were getting a taste of transparency, and they were beginning to feel like they deserved it.

The project continues to this day. Over sixteen months since the project began, more than 4,000 individual donors have contributed to the project. Construction of the library is beginning, and the same principles of transparency are being exercised with expenditures as they were with donations. Receipts are collected and posted onto a website once a month for everyone to see; to provide access to Cite Soleil’s large illiterate population, a monthly video called a “visual expense report” is published to Facebook.

Changing the social norms around corruption and transparency takes time. And the social experiment of Konbit Bibliyotèk has been able to continue for this long because its leaders managed to avoid making enemies in a place where death is cheap. They are making change quietly and slowly, not calling attention to the project’s potential to fight corruption. They, and the initiative, may survive long enough to move the needle on social norms around transparency and accountability in public projects in Cite Soleil.

Understanding the economic cost of corruption in Kenya

Originally published in The Conversation, written by Odongo Kodongo

Kenya is perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It ranked 143 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2017 corruption perception index. The only African countries that scored worse – among them Somalia, South Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Burundi, and Zimbabwe – were either politically unstable or in conflict.

This poor showing shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kenya has been plagued by a long list of corruption scandals. One of the more infamous was the Goldenberg heist which occurred in the 1990s during then President Daniel Moi’s tenure. The government was found to have subsidised exports of gold far beyond standard arrangements by paying a company called Goldenberg International 35% more in Kenyan shillings than their foreign currency earnings.

More recently, in 2014 millions of dollars were misappropriated from funds that were secured by the government through a Eurobond, which is an international loan that was secured from foreign investors. A second Eurobond was secured in 2018 and questions have been raised here as well.

Yet, the looting of public coffers is more commonly reported in recent times and the amounts involved are growing. During May and June 2018, reports about grand corruption have dominated Kenyan news. This haemorrhaging of public funds will do enormous damage to the country’s already struggling economy.

The scourge of corruption in Kenya must be urgently addressed otherwise it could be bring the economy to its knees. As things stand, Kenya is already struggling to pay its debts.

The economic cost of corruption

The role of human capital on economic growth has long been established. So when human capital takes a hit the impact is also felt on economic development and growth.

Let’s take Kenya’s National Youth Service as an example of a public organisation where corruption is believed to be rife. In 2015, approximately USD$17 million was stolen from its coffers by a network of companies that supplied goods and service at inflated prices.

And this year billions of shillings earmarked for the service were embezzled by a shadowy network of dubious service providers.

This money was all earmarked for youth vocational training. The theft not only jeopardises the country’s short-term skills provision objectives: it also portends irredeemable long-term opportunity costs.

Corruption compromises people’s futures and their development. It also costs a fortune. Rampant corruption will drain any economy of the resources needed for projects like infrastructure development.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at the misuse of funds from the Kenya government’s 2014 Eurobond, which was believed to be Africa’s largest such issuance at the time.

Reports indicate that some of the money may not have been deposited into the national Treasury. In economic parlance, this would qualify as an illicit financial “outflow”: an illegal cross-border movement of money or capital. The illegal transfer of funds out of African countries is a recognised constraint on the continent’s economic development because it denies local populations the use of that money for national development.

The Global Financial Integrity report estimates that from 2005 to 2014 Africa lost between USD$36 billion and USD$69 billion in illicit financial flows. This represents about 74% of all financing required (approximately USD$93 billion per year) to develop infrastructure to service Africa’s growth needs.

In Kenya’s case, the Eurobond swindle was more than just a missed opportunity to expand the country’s inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure. It also led to a sovereign rating downgrade on the basis of its increasing inability to service ballooning public debt.

A sovereign rating is a measure of a country’s creditworthiness. And a downgrade signals that the country has not optimally invested money borrowed on capital projects, such as infrastructure. Capital projects typically increase national income and better a country’s ability to repay its debts.

Finding solutions

Given these observations, what measures can Kenya take to stem the debilitating theft of public resources?

First, a national ethos that inculcates the value of work as the only means to wealth accumulation must be built. A possible way of achieving this is for education policy makers to emphasise social ethics as a compulsory subject right from primary school all the way up to the university.

Second, Kenya’s legal system must make corruption expensive and unattractive for perpetrators by the imposition of stiff fines, and mandatory jail sentences. Another step in the right direction would be to grant both the auditor general and the ethics and anti-corruption commission prosecutorial powers.

Third, the law could be reviewed to ensure that those convicted of economic crimes suffer lasting embarrassment and the greatest possible financial loss. To achieve this, all the proceeds from corruption must be repossessed by the state and channelled back to public use. Convicts would then be barred from holding public office or doing business for several years after their release.

Fourth, strict standards of ethical conduct could be imposed for anyone seeking public office. This would entail full disclosure on the sources of campaign funds, public declarations of wealth and lifestyle audits, and enforcement of voter bribery legislation.

Fifth, the national fight against poverty, ignorance and disease must be intensified to improve quality of life, and empower citizens to perform their civic duties, such as the choice of legislative representatives, in a more meaningful way.

Finally, it would be worthwhile for the national public prosecutor to sign treaties with “tax haven” countries to block or repatriate illicit financial outflows from Kenya.