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.

Concerns in the Eastern Cape education budget

PSAM education researcher, Siyabulela Fobosi, has released his budget analysis for the Eastern Cape Education department 2018. Here he outlines some of the key concerns in the province’s budget for education.

What is of concern is that the planning and budgeting of R57 billion for fee-free higher education comes with the baseline reduction to the basic education budget. For example, Programme 6 (Infrastructure Development) of the ECDoE decreased by 10%, in nominal terms, from R1.7 billion in 2017/18 to R1.5 billion in 2018/19. In real terms, the allocation to this Programme decreased by 13% to R1.4 billion.  The reason for this decline is due to the reduction in the funding for two conditional grants, namely Education Infrastructure Grant and Maths Science and Technology Grant. This reduction will delay the completion of currently existing infrastructure projects such as hostels, special schools and Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres.

The reduction in budget for infrastructure is concerning, considering the interdependence of the basic and higher education sectors. One would expect government to ensure massive investment in basic education, so that learners progress well to the higher education. The high fees in universities are not the only reason why many of the learners from the poor schools cannot access higher education. It is also due to the inequalities in the early years of schooling. It remains a challenge for most learners in South Africa, to pass matric well and obtain a qualification in higher education, especially in the context where learners are repeating Grade 3 and 4.

The lack of adequate appropriate infrastructure in schools does adversely impacts on progress towards ensuring equitable access to education and resources. It is particularly disconcerting to note the reductions to important programmes such as the Infrastructure Development which will undoubtedly result in the delay of school infrastructure projects in a province already showing high rates of under-delivery. This reduction is unfavorable for the progressive realisation of the rights of learners to quality basic education. In order to ensure that the budget allocated for infrastructure delivery, the Department must improve the management and monitoring of expenditure. It is high time that the ECDoE, assisted by the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, addresses failures in school infrastructure provisioning.  Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.

Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.

Confronting Partisanship and Divisions in Kenya

Written by Kimani Njogu, originally published as part of a series of essays: Examining Civil Society Legitimacy

Kenya is often lauded for promulgating one of the world’s most liberal constitutions. Passed on August 27, 2010, it radically devolves power to county governments, ensures the separation of powers, and entrenches a progressive bill of rights. This would have been impossible without the work of robust, courageous, and independent civil society organizations (CSOs). Civic actors first laid down their recommendations for constitutional reform in the document “Kenya Tuitakayo” (The Kenya We Want), which became a crucial resource for the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission. After former president Daniel Arap Moi asked at a public rally what “Wanjiku”—a common name, meant to refer to ordinary Kenyans—could possibly know about constitution-making, civil society appropriated the term, popularized it, and turned it into an organizing symbol for the constitutional reform process.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the legitimacy of Kenya’s civil society stemmed from its engagement with key issues that all citizens cared about. Following the liberalization of political space, CSOs undertook extensive civic education on basic rights and how public sector corruption affects citizens’ access to health, food, shelter, and education. They provided a link between citizens’ daily lives and the people who occupied leadership positions in government. Faith-based organizations offered sanctuary to those targeted by the state and used their platforms to speak about the need for political change.

Yet over the past ten years, the political climate has changed. A number of politicians have publicly questioned the legitimacy of CSOs, especially those engaged in governance and human rights. Some have referred to civil society as “evil society,” a label used to rationalize new restrictions on civic space. These attacks have their roots in the 2007–2008 electoral crisis. In the aftermath of the violence, CSOs worked closely with public institutions and international agencies to collect evidence against those suspected of having orchestrated unrest. When the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted several senior political leaders, the latter used ethnic identity and nationalism to mobilize their followers to fight back. State functionaries accused CSOs of working with foreigners to undermine the sovereignty of the nation. Although the ICC later dropped the cases, the “foreign agent” label stuck. It has undermined CSOs’ relationship with the wider population and weakened their claims to legitimacy. Political elites’ incessant instrumentalization of ethnic identity has further exacerbated the problem. They have tried to paint civil society as ethnically biased in order to erode public trust in their positions. As a result, it has become harder for civic actors carry out their work.

Kenyan CSOs also have been tainted by the perception that they are partisan political actors. This perception is particularly damaging in a context of high ethnic polarization where oversight institutions are weak. During the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, the incumbent government accused some civil society actors of siding with particular opposition candidates and political parties. This perception stemmed from the fact that parts of civil society voiced their opposition to politicians who had previously been indicted for crimes against humanity by the ICC and who were viewed as intolerant to the civil liberties enshrined in the constitution.

Perceptions of partisanship have not only alienated some civil society stakeholders but also fostered ideological divisions within civil society. Of particular concern, for example, are tensions over electoral justice between development and peace-building groups on the one hand and human rights organizations on the other. Whereas the latter emphasize that electoral justice is essential for sustainable peace, the former have argued that in a highly polarized nation like Kenya, electoral justice can only be realized in a stable, calm, and nonviolent atmosphere. The fact that some human rights actors have used labels such as “peace-preneurs” to categorize organizations working to prevent election-related violence does not help build the legitimacy of the sector. Instead, divisions among CSOs only serve as fodder for attacks by the political elite.

In the current hostile political context, public officials have also exploited administrative rules to crack down on civil society. As a result, it has also become crucial for all organizations to ensure they are properly registered and meet all statutory requirements. In August 2017, for example, the NGO Coordination Board set out to deregister the Kenya Human Rights Commission. It also instructed the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to shut down the operations of the African Centre for Open Governance (Africog) for allegedly operating without a registration certificate. Individuals from the Kenya Revenue Authority raided Africog’s offices over clams of tax noncompliance. Although these allegations were later debunked through the judicial process, it is noteworthy that the state had launched the attack based on alleged noncompliance with legal and regulatory processes. Kenya has hundreds of community-based organizations that generally are viewed as highly legitimate because they are known by their immediate constituencies, from the household to the village. They speak the language of their communities and undertake activities viewed as local priorities. These organizations can easily lose their legitimacy if they are no longer viewed as accountable and transparent in their work.

Kenyan CSOs face a delicate balancing act as they try to build legitimacy while facing continuous attacks by the state. To survive, they should continue to demand accountability in the use of public resources by leaders and public officials. Internally, they ought to build governance and monitoring and evaluation systems that enhance their transparency and advance their mission. They also have to engage with the issues that directly affect their constituencies. When the state seeks to limit civic space, our stakeholders in the communities we serve ought to be our first line of defense.

Kimani Njogu is the director of Twaweza Communications (Nairobi), an arts, culture, and media institution committed to freedom of expression. Dr. Kimani is Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Legal Resources Foundation Trust and Content-Development Intellectual Property (CODE-IP) Trust. He is a recipient of the Ford Foundation Champion of Democracy Award and the Pan-African NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa.

Big data. Small data. Better data.

An interview with Nathaniel Heller, Results for Development. Originally published here

By now, I think we can all agree that we’ve reached the peak of big data, returned to base camp, washed our kit and started planning the next climb. For a short while, big data was presented as the solution to all our problems. The premise was simple — collect more data, make it look pretty, push it out and people would start using it to make decisions that would end poverty, expose corruption and reverse unsustainable exploitation of our environment.

But things didn’t work out that way. In the rush to deliver data to the people, the people forgot the people. Bigger didn’t mean better and data dashboards became graveyards filled with withering flowers.

Data designed for the living need to be centered around humans and the unique needs we all have. Results for Development (R4D) is an organisation that puts the users of data at the centre of all their efforts to achieve sustainable progress in health, education and nutrition. I spoke to Nathaniel Heller, Executive Vice President for Integrated Strategies at R4D to learn more about their user-centric approach to data and the importance of thinking ‘small’ when it comes to helping people make better use of data.

“There’s a mistaken belief that if we present people with pretty data, good decisions will happen,” said Nathaniel. “But data isn’t the only input into decision-making. You have to consider the capacity of the governments or organisations involved to carry out the task they’ve been given and what hurdles they have to overcome. The use of data in decision-making is much more nuanced than simply making more data available.”

R4D works with change agents to find long-lasting solutions. Focusing on identifying important and transformational data, R4D will only invest in data tools if there’s a strong case for it. “Sometimes it seems like there’s a data problem,” explained Nathaniel, “but once you start talking to people about what they need, you’ll see there’s another underlying issue that has nothing to do with the data.” It’s these underlying issues that R4D’s user-centric approach to problem solving uncovers.

To illustrate his point, Nathaniel told me about a current project that he’s particularly excited about. R4D spent about year poring over all different kinds of country-level agricultural data in several African countries to identify opportunities for agricultural transformation — the kind of macro shift that has the potential to lift tens of millions out of poverty and address nutritional needs. The initial idea was to create a dashboard and open up access to the data, assuming this would motivate national political leaders to embrace a push for change. But when R4D spotted an opportunity in the data (only a tiny percentage of smallholder farmers in Kenya use inorganic fertilizer), they decided to shift strategies.

In Kenya, getting the right fertiliser can be an expensive and time consuming effort for farmers. A half-day journey to the market might end with the purchase of the wrong fertilizer, or worse, a counterfeit product that does more harm than good. R4D and their partners at the Local Development Research Institute saw an opportunity to create a service that would help people locate the right fertiliser, for the right price, from a location within easy travelling distance.

MazaoPlus+, an SMS service for farmers (and its accompanying Android app used by field agents to onboard users) was built in just two weeks. More than 10,000 farmers have already subscribed to receive fertiliser advice via their phones. We have to wait until harvest time to see if the app has helped improve yields through improved access to fertilizer, but Nathaniel sees a great potential in this service, both in terms of the agricultural impact and potential for scaling up into something bigger.

Screenshot of dashboard page on the MazaoPlus+ platform.

“The Kenyan fertiliser SMS service is a good example of our methods where we emphasise fit-for-purpose principles when it comes to leveraging data; we often focus on the small data, not the big data,” said Nathaniel. “We thought it through first and built second; which is exactly how every project should go.”

Small data is a term that’s never been as popular as big data but it describes data that are presented in a volume and format that’s easy for humans to access and use. Whereas reams of big data can be collected and processed by artificial intelligence, small data is curated by humans for other humans. The personal touch of small data ensures the solutions being developed to improve education, healthcare and agricultural systems are meeting a real need and supporting change.

On their website, R4D speaks about “artificial solutions”, whereby resource-constrained governments find themselves forced to adopt data-for-development tools without adequate planning or data uptake strategies. I asked Nathaniel how these artificial solutions could be avoided. “When someone proposes a solution, you start by asking, ‘has anyone (other than the funder) asked for this?’” said Nathaniel. “If they say yes, good, but if not you need to dig deeper and ask more questions. Structured interviews with potential users provides lots of interesting feedback that will help you understand their needs and pain points, enabling you to determine if the root cause of their problems really is a data issue, or something else entirely.”

Talking and listening to your users to learn what they need is common sense but it’s always worth reminding ourselves why. As Nathaniel and R4D have shown, understanding the needs of people and developing a solution that’s tailored to them will always be more effective than taking a ‘store-bought’ solution and moulding it to their situation. After all, one-size-fits-all rarely fits anyone. When — and only when — data is identified as the true issue, every care must be taken to curate it and package it in ways that are accessible, usable and useful for the users. These are principles Vizzuality shares with R4D, so let’s think small when it comes to big data.

Do Multistakeholder Initiatives Deliver on Accountability?

By the International Budget Partnership

A number of multistakeholder initiatives (MSIs) have brought together governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and private sector firms to hash out a variety of difficult governance issues. Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency work to encourage transparency and accountability reforms in a rapidly expanding number of countries around the world.

But while the breadth of these MSIs is inarguable, how deep do reforms really go? What tangible changes are they driving at the country level? These are some of the questions that Dr. Brandon Brockmyer of the Accountability Research Center has been investigating. We recently spoke to Brandon about his research.

IBP: Can you give us a quick outline of your findings in terms of the effectiveness of MSIs?

Brandon: Overall, what I found is that global MSIs are quite good at encouraging participating governments to proactively disclose information about their activities and performance, even in cases where governments are disclosing this information for the first time. However, MSIs are notably less effective at encouraging participating governments to become more responsive to requests from citizens for information that they are not already publishing. This allows governments to retain control of the agenda, deciding what information to disclose.

MSIs help to improve proactive government transparency when two core conditions are in place: First, nongovernmental actors (i.e., civil society and the private sector) must be treated as full and equal partners in MSI decision making and implementation. Second, participating civil society organizations must have the technical expertise to steer disclosure in the right direction, as well as the resources to regularly attend meetings.

IBP: One of the interesting findings is that it seems MSIs are quite effective at advancing transparency, but broader improvements to accountability so far have been more elusive.

Brandon: Currently, global MSIs are designed to tackle transparency directly, while most of these initiatives address accountability only indirectly. This approach seems to assume that there is a straightforward, linear relationship between the two. I think my research findings support a more general consensus emerging in the field that transparency gains alone are unlikely to drive gains in accountability. Disclosed information needs translation, aggregation, benchmarks, and simplification to be useful to potential users. Demands for greater accountability require collective action that can be difficult to organize, especially given that civil society groups vary across regions, sectors, and funding levels and often have different priorities when advocating for government action. And even if these groups can come together to make coherent demands, citizen voice alone may not be an effective channel for changing the incentives of public sector actors, or for gaining greater influence over public resource allocation.

If global MSIs want to tackle the challenge of accountability more directly, their activities probably need to be more purposefully embedded within existing national pro-accountability coalitions. I think this could be done in several ways:

  1. Pro-reform actors—national and local civil society groups, government reformers, and international NGOs that are already invested in the MSI approach—could expand processes for civil society consultation and participation beyond political and economic centers.
  2. National MSI agendas need to be customized so that they resonate with broader civic and social constituencies.
  3. Since MSIs are voluntary, reformers need to petition independent audit institutions, ombudsmen, courts, and legislatures to monitor and support compliance with MSI guidelines and respond with inquiries and sanctions when problems are uncovered through these processes.
  4. If MSIs succeed in facilitating disclosure, newly released information needs to be embedded into existing channels of public discourse and decision making.

IBP: Many of IBP’s civil society partners are also trying to push their governments to improve transparency and accountability. Did you find any evidence where CSOs were able to use MSIs to advance their agendas?

Brandon: Yes, but it really depends on the specific agenda. CSOs that are already working toward greater government transparency will often find natural allies in the government and private sector by engaging with global MSIs. In these cases, MSIs offer a powerful way to advance their agendas. However, for those CSOs that value transparency primarily as a tool for advancing a broader social or environmental agenda, participation in a global MSI may be a costly distraction. In fact, I found that participating governments sometimes use MSIs to “openwash”— that is, to project a public image of transparency and accountability, while maintaining questionable practices.

IBP: IBP engages with initiatives like OGP and GIFT, particularly at the global level, while at the same time supporting many local CSOs at the national and local level. What insights do you have about bridging these big global movements with the nitty-gritty challenges that CSOs face on the ground?

Brandon: I think it’s critical that CSOs considering engaging with global MSIs have a realistic sense for how MSI activities and outputs might fit into their own broader reform strategies. Conversely, it’s equally important that global MSI architects work to tailor activities and outputs to fit the needs of pro-reform actors in participating countries.

IBP is well placed to inform both sides of this equation. IBP can educate CSOs about how global MSIs work, so the CSOs can make informed decisions about whether to get involved. If CSOs decide to participate, IBP can also serve as an invaluable resource for effective strategies and tactics for using global MSI processes to achieve their domestic goals. Simultaneously, IBP can use its influence within these global initiatives to advocate from a CSO perspective for MSI membership rules, events, and training opportunities are optimally geared toward producing the types of transparency and civic participation that CSOs identify as critical for their broader reform strategies to work. Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember that the reform process is likely to unfold somewhat differently across various contexts. As a result, IBP can guide MSIs toward offering participating members a more useful toolkit, but MSIs must still avoid being overly prescriptive.

Admittedly, this is a tough balance to strike. But by embracing the fact that not every global MSI will be a good fit in every context, IBP can help global MSIs improve their credibility, and help national and local CSOs avoid pointless opportunity costs.

This article was origninally published by the IBP here

South Africa’s print media is failing to empower citizens on corruption

By Vanessa Malila, Rhodes University

The mainstream media can play an important role in fighting corruption. Investigative journalists in South Africa, for instance, helped to expose how the politically connected Gupta family “captured” elements of the governing African National Congress.

As watchdogs of society, the media is well placed to forge social accountability: the collective effort of citizens and civil society in holding governments to account for their management and use of public resources. These groups need to be informed if they’re to succeed.

There are two ways for the media to fulfil its social accountability role. The first is through good investigative journalism. This, as scholar Professor Sheila Coronel has written

exposes not just individual, but also systemic failures. Investigative reports show how individual wrongs are part of a larger pattern of negligence or abuse and the systems that make these possible.

The second is that the media should function as a bridge between governments and citizens. It can provide the public with the information they require to debate and participate in public discussions and processes. This notion is much more aligned to the media’s role as a space for debate and engagement by citizens regarding public and political life. Here, journalism’s function is educational. The public is in the driving seat – but only if they’re a well informed citizenry able to participate in decisions about how public resources are managed.

So how is South Africa’s media doing when it comes to fulfilling this second role? Not very well, according to research conducted for the Public Service Accountability Monitor at Rhodes University. The accountability monitor forms part of the School of Journalism & Media Studies and aims to ensure the right to social accountability is universally realised.

Our findings reveal gaps in the media’s work. Journalists assume that merely reporting on scandals, corrupt officials or maladministration justifies their role as watchdogs. Instead, mainstream print media coverage on service delivery and public resource management normalises corruption because it reports in an episodic fashion, focusing on events rather than systemic failures.

This normalisation of corruption and public service failure means that media coverage doesn’t result in actual accountability.

Analysing coverage

The Eastern Cape is a troubled province. It’s home to 7 million people and is the poorest in South Africa. It measures badly against almost all metrics. More than half of the province’s schools have no water; 73% have no proper toilets. None of this information is unknown: there are daily stories in the press about the poor state of education in the province. Blame is apportioned and fingers are pointed. But little changes.

The research conducted by Public Service Accountability Monitor looked at coverage of education in the Eastern Cape by mainstream print media between 2005 and 2016. The articles analysed provide a glimpse of the type of “balanced” and episodic reporting that proliferates South Africa’s mainstream press.

Rather than connecting incidences of corruption or maladministration to citizens’ daily lives, the coverage simply alerts readers to the event with no context and no clear lines of accountability. This is inadequate for providing citizens with the information they require to become active participants in holding public officials in the education sector to account.

Instead, coverage of maladministration follows a formulaic pattern: an event is reported and a government official is asked to comment. There’s little or no investigation of how this maladministration was allowed to occur and how it will be prevented from happening again.

This type of coverage also normalises corruption and public resource management crises in the public sector. This is because it reports on these issues in much the same way as it reports other events, producing journalism which fails to act as the fourth estate because it fails to hold public officials to higher standards than other citizens.

The media needs to help people understand that poor service delivery is a result of systemic weaknesses. And these weaknesses result from the way in officials handle resources that actually belong to the public. The stories in our sample lack depth, context and a critical understanding of the way in which individual events are related to a bigger system of public resource management.

For example, when reporting on education infrastructure – the kind of problem
that can result in learners being hurt or even killed – the coverage is consistently about the event. Journalists writing the articles fail to ask why a department with infrastructure problems consistently under-spends its vast budget.

More importantly, who is responsible for such under-spending and mismanagement? Journalists fail to understand where weaknesses in the public resource management system are resulting in maladministration, lack of service delivery and corruption.

Strengthening the media

So how can the media’s contribution towards its role as a “bridge” between government and citizens be strengthened?

One strategy proposed is to build better relationships with civil society organisations that have spent years developing expertise in the area.

Why not draw on the voices of civil society? These are the groups implementing advocacy programmes, conducting research and engaging at a deeper level on how to improve public resource management and curb corruption.

The ConversationBoth the media and civil society need to rethink the way they understand their roles when it comes to social accountability – as well as their roles in relation to each other. By drawing on the strengths of both civil society and the media, the potential for social accountability practice, and through this greater service delivery, can be improved.

Vanessa Malila, Public Service Accountability Monitor: Advocacy Impact Programme Head, Rhodes University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Volatility and the Africa Budget Transparency Puzzle

Originally published by IPB here

By Paolo de Renzio, International Budget Partnership— Apr 17, 2018

The Open Budget Survey 2017 recorded a global decline in average budget transparency scores for the first time since the survey’s inception. Nowhere was this decline more pronounced than in sub-Saharan Africa, in which 15 countries saw their Open Budget Index (OBI) scores drop by more than five points. A recent post examining this backslide attributes most of it to a reversal of previous practices, as a significant number of previously published budget documents were either not published, published late, or not posted on government websites.

Highlighting a lack of institutionalization of budget transparency practices as a potential cause for the reversal, the post’s authors emphasize the need for governments to “engrain” the publication of budget documents into standard public finance procedures and activities. They posit that institutionalizing transparency through, for example, laws and regulations, would make budget information accessible to citizens in a more regular and predictable manner.

To assess this claim, we need a way to measure the level of institutionalization of budget transparency practices. A possible starting point are the results of research published by IBP last year that looks at some of the initiatives adopted by governments that were able to significantly improve their OBI scores over time (see this blog post summarizing the key findings here). These actions include:
  • going beyond the inclusion of transparency provisions in legislation, and focusing on the implementation of the provisions;
  • ensuring that broader budget reform strategies include transparency components and activities;
  • using digital tools to disseminate budget information (for example, the creation of budget transparency portals); and
  • introducing institutional measures to coordinate transparency efforts and ensure reform implementation, such as establishing dedicated units responsible for publishing budget information.

Based on these findings, IBP worked with the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) last year to survey African governments on the degree to which they had similar initiatives in place. Survey questions addressed: 1) the specificity of legislation concerning the publication of key budget documents; 2) the entities responsible for ensuring budget information is published – e.g., the existence of a dedicated unit within the finance ministry; 3) whether governments had a dedicated website/page for budget documents, and if said website was regularly updated; and 4) if government reform strategies or plans included key budget transparency measures. Finance ministry officials from 22 countries responded, 17 of which are covered by the Open Budget Survey. Among these, only one (Senegal) improved its OBI score significantly between 2015 and 2017.

While it is not easy to identify very clear linkages between Open Budget Survey results and institutionalization of budget transparency reforms from the limited information gathered from the IBP-CABRI survey, a few interesting cases stand out.

The two countries with the most significant decline in OBI scores were Botswana (-39 points) and Tanzania (-36 points). In each, governments either published various documents too late to be relevant for public debate or failed to post them online, despite both countries having well-functioning websites during the research period[i]. We were not able to ascertain any reasons for such delays and inconsistencies; however, it should be noted that Botswana’s institutionalization of budget transparency practices is very limited. Its public finance legislation does not contain specific budget transparency provisions, there are no government units directly responsible for publishing budget information, and budget reform strategies generally do not mention transparency as a priority. In contrast, in Tanzania the 2015 Budget Act has very specific provisions for the publication and dissemination of different budget documents and the public finance management (PFM) reform strategy includes a number of activities related to the promotion of public finance transparency. These reforms indicate that Tanzania is ahead of Botswana in institutionalizing budget transparency, but the implementation of the reforms is lagging, possibly due to political transitions after the 2015 elections and the lack of political will by the current government, which is seen as increasingly authoritarian.

Senegal is one of the most improved countries in regards to OBI score, as highlighted in the Open Budget Survey 2017 global report. Here, the government has taken clear steps to institutionalize budget transparency practices. They updated their legislative framework in 2012 in line with regional WAEMU (West Africa Economic and Monetary Union) directives, and their Transparency Code now includes provisions for the government to publish five of the eight key budget documents considered in the Open Budget Survey. The government’s budget reform strategy includes various transparency provisions, and the Cellule de Communication within the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning is tasked with ensuring that all budget documents and reports are published. Furthermore, the General Directorate for Finance has its own website where budget documentation is posted.

Other WAEMU member countries, however, provide interesting examples of how laws and regulations alone may not be enough to guarantee the institutionalization of budget transparency practices. Both Benin and Burkina Faso saw their OBI scores drop in 2017, despite having comprehensive transparency legislation, similar to that of Senegal. Both countries have also put a lot of emphasis on promoting transparency in their recent budget reforms (as a consequence, Benin actually started publishing two budget documents in 2017 that it had not published previously). However, the countries also went through some important political transitions — including the aftermath of a coup d’état in Burkina Faso and a change of government in Benin — right around the time when the Open Budget Survey research was taking place. These isolated events may explain the drop in the countries’ 2017 OBI scores, providing hope for future improvements.

Thus, to better understand how budget transparency practices evolve over time, and why they recently worsened in sub-Saharan Africa, more detailed measures of how the levels of institutionalization of such practices are useful, but often insufficient. They may help us explain some of the reasons behind Botswana’s regression or Senegal’s improvements, but for other countries they only hint at broader factors linked to the political and institutional context that may be at play. The relationship between a government’s overall political commitment to transparency, the way in which this translates into institutional reforms that shape the behavior of public officials, and how such incentives shift over time in response to changing circumstances is a very complex one, and a topic that deserves further attention and research.


[i] More recently, the Government of Botswana has been undergoing a comprehensive revamp of its governmental websites, leading to the website finance.gov.bw no longer being active.

These materials were developed by the International Budget Partnership. IBP has given us permission to use the materials solely for noncommercial, educational purposes.

State of Access to Information in Africa 2017

In celebration of International Right to Information Day in 2015, the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) Campaign and fesmedia Africa released a research study on the state of access to information in Africa. The research provides a useful snapshot of the state of access to information on the continent while providing clear and simple summaries and infographics, measured against the APAI Declaration of Principles.

The study examines Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Of the twelve countries examined, ten have specific access to information laws. Only Namibia and Madagascar did not, though both did have an Access to Information Bill in process. This is encouraging – particularly as in our last survey in 2015 three of the countries we looked at, which we have examined again now, only had a Bill in progress (Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania).

The results across the countries examined revealed that the existence of an ATI law is a necessary, but insufficient, step for ensuring a positive access to information environment. Problems with the implementation of ATI laws often cited a lack of awareness of the laws, and weak political will for implementation, as key inhibitors. Both of these factors highlight the important role ATI activists must play in developing the positive discourse around ATI to both encourage users, as well as bureaucratic and administrative actors.

There is also generally a very weak implementation of proactive disclosure, and low levels of utilisation of Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to facilitate access. Both of these indicators make the reality of open government data, in particular, a problematic area on the continent. Proactive disclosure and open data are vital avenues for access – particularly when we consider the non-existence or weakness of laws, coupled with discriminatory access practices.
A further identified trend is that not a single country cited a practice in the domestic contexts that demonstrated a presumption of openness. While some countries have laws, which provide such a presumption – practice does not correspond with this obligation. This is not surprising when we consider the notes on implementation, but it again means that the reality of trying to access information for citizens is still a struggle on the continent.
There are positive trends however – a steadily increasing number of countries with laws, as well as the growing breadth of application of laws. The AU Model Law stands as a real opportunity, particularly given its credence, for advancing
access to information laws. And the APAI Declaration provides a useful, practical standard for helping to capacitate and reinforce positive access to information practices in the region.

You can download the full report STATE OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN AFRICA 2017