NGOs are adapting to closing space when they must push back

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image: NMF)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mapping trends to understand shifts in human rights funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Author: Maina Kiai published on January 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

by author Yeukai Mukorombindo, 7 May 2018

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

Why citizen participation in fiscal processes matters

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

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

Barriers to citizen participation in fiscal matters

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

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

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

Standards for meaningful citizen participation

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.