The Africa Data Revolution Report 2018 delves into the current state and recent evolution of Open Data – with an emphasis on Open Government Data – in the African data communities. It explores key countries across the continent, researches a wide range of open data initiatives and benefits from global thematic expertise.
This second edition improves on process, methodology and collaborative part-nerships from the first edition. It draws from country reports, existing global and continental initiatives and key experts’ input and provides a deep analysis of the actual impact of open data in the African context.
Open Data needs the commitment of political leadership, to be entrusted to a dedicated and adequately resourced custodian and embedded through permanent data processes and a pervasive culture within all relevant government institutions. This takes sustained leadership and commitment inspired by a true belief in the benefits of open data to society as a whole. It cannot be achieved by short-term standalone, once-off externally funded initiatives focused on purely quantitative objectives such as making a given number of datasets available.Externally funded Open Government Data projects need to focus more on local capacity-building within governments, insist on institutionalizing open data processes, ensure that the datasets released are the ones that address needs rather than those that are easy to open, and involve stakeholder consultations.
Additionally, a different type of intervention or support mechanism is required to improve the impact of open data initiatives: support for OGD intermediaries needs to be more agile, less formalized, easier to access, allowing for more failures (i.e. higher risk tolerance), and focused on multi-pronged and more holistic outcomes.The intrinsic value of data as a strategic and social asset should be recognized by all the stakeholders in the data value chain, including those who capture the data as well as managers and decision makers at all levels of government institutions.
This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) presents a largely gloomy picture for Africa – only eight of 49 countries score more than 43 out of 100 on the index. Despite commitments from African leaders in declaring 2018 as the African Year of Anti-Corruption, this has yet to translate into concrete progress.
Seychelles scores 66 out of 100, to put it at the top of the region. Seychelles is followed by Botswana and Cabo Verde, with scores of 61 and 57 respectively. At the very bottom of the index for the seventh year in a row, Somalia scores 10 points, followed by South Sudan (13) to round out the lowest scores in the region.
With an average score of just 32, Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest scoring region on the index, followed closely by Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with an average score of 35.
Corruption and a crisis of democracy
Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region of stark political and socio-economic contrasts and many longstanding challenges. While a large number of countries have adopted democratic principles of governance, several are still governed by authoritarian and semi-authoritarian leaders. Autocratic regimes, civil strife, weak institutions and unresponsive political systems continue to undermine anti-corruption efforts.
Countries like Seychelles and Botswana, which score higher on the CPI than other countries in the region, have a few attributes in common. Both have relatively well-functioning democratic and governance systems, which help contribute to their scores. However, these countries are the exception rather than the norm in a region where most democratic principles are at risk and corruption is high.
Notwithstanding Sub-Saharan Africa’s overall poor performance, there are a few countries that push back against corruption, and with notable progress.
Two countries – Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal – are, for the second year in a row, among the significant improvers on the CPI. In the last six years, Côte d’Ivoire moved from 27 points in 2013 to 35 points in 2018, while Senegal moved from 36 points in 2012 to 45 points in 2018. These gains may be attributed to the positive consequences of legal, policy and institutional reforms undertaken in both countries as well as political will in the fight against corruption demonstrated by their respective leaders.
With a score of 37, Gambia improved seven points since last year, while Seychelles improved six points, with a score of 66. Eritrea also gained four points, scoring 24 in 2018. In Gambia and Eritrea, political commitment combined with laws, institutions and implementation help with controlling corruption.
In the last few years, several countries experienced sharp declines in their CPI scores, including Burundi, Congo, Mozambique, Liberia and Ghana.
In the last seven years, Mozambique dropped 8 points, moving from 31 in 2012 to 23 in 2018. An increase in abductions and attacks on political analysts and investigative journalists creates a culture of fear, which is detrimental to fighting corruption.
Home to one of Africa’s biggest corruption scandals, Mozambique recently faced indictments of several of its former government officials by US officials. Former finance minister and Credit Suisse banker, Manuel Chang, is charged with concealing more than US$2 billion dollars of hidden loans and bribes.
Many low performing countries have several commonalties, including few political rights, limited press freedoms and a weak rule of law. In these countries, laws often go unenforced and institutions are poorly resourced with little ability to handle corruption complaints. In addition, internal conflict and unstable governance structures contribute to high rates of corruption.
Countries to watch
Angola, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa and Kenya are all important countries to watch, given some promising political developments. The real test will be whether these new administrations will follow through on their anti-corruption commitments moving forward.
With a score of 27, Nigeria remained unchanged on the CPI since 2017. Corruption was one of the biggest topics leading up to the 2015 election and it is expected to remain high on the agenda as the country prepares for this year’s presidential election taking place in February.
Nigeria’s Buhari administration took a number of positive steps in the past three years, including the establishment of a presidential advisory committee against corruption, the improvement of the anti-corruption legal and policy framework in areas like public procurement and asset declaration, and the development of a national anti-corruption strategy, among others. However, these efforts have clearly not yielded the desired results. At least, not yet.
With a score of 19, Angola increased four points since 2015. President Joao Lourenco has been championing reforms and tackling corruption since he took office in 2017, firing over 60 government officials, including Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of his predecessor, Eduardo Dos Santos. Recently, the former president’s son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, was charged with making a fraudulent US$500 million transaction from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund. However, the problem of corruption in Angolan goes far beyond the dos Santos family. It is very important that the current leadership shows consistency in the fight against corruption in Angola.
With a score of 43, South Africa remains unchanged on the CPI since 2017. Under President Ramaphosa, the administration has taken additional steps to address anti-corruption on a national level, including through the work of the Anti-Corruption Inter-Ministerial Committee. Although the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) has been in place for years, the current government continues to build momentum for the strategy by soliciting public input.
In addition, citizen engagement on social media and various commissions of inquiry into corruption abuses are positive steps in South Africa. The first commission of inquiry, the Zondo Commission, focuses on state capture, while the second focuses on tax administration and governance of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Given that previous commissions of inquiry produced few results, the jury is still out on whether the new administration will yield more positive change.
Another example of recent anti-corruption efforts in South Africa is the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report on corruption in the Gauteng Department of Health. While the report never saw the light of day under previous administrations, under President Ramaphosa it exposed several high profile individuals, including members of the ruling party.
In both Kenya and South Africa, citizen engagement in the fight against corruption is crucial. For example, social media has played a big role in driving public conversation around corruption. The rise of mobile technology means ordinary citizens in many countries now have instant access to information, and an ability to voice their opinions in a way that previous generations did not.
In addition to improved access to information, which is critical to the fight against corruption, government officials in Kenya and South Africa are also reaching to social media to engage with the public. Corruption Watch, our chapter in South Africa, has seen a rise in the number of people reporting corruption on Facebook and WhatsApp. However, it remains to be seen whether social media and other new technologies will spur those in power into action.
Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa must intensify their efforts and keep in mind the following issues, when tackling corruption in their countries:
Demonstrate visible commitment to anti-corruption from political leaders, notably in Burundi, Congo and Mozambique.
Protect human rights defenders, political analysts, anti-corruption activists and investigative journalists and enable them to speak out on corruption issues.
Improve the health of democratic institutions. This includes supporting participation, transparency and trust, along with necessary checks and balances.
This article was originally published on the Transparency International website
The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released in January 2018 by Transparency International reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world. “With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” said Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International.
“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”
The 2018 CPI draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). To view the results, visit: www.transparency.org/cpi2018
More than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of only 43. Since 2012, only 20 countries have significantly improved their scores, including Estonia and Côte D’Ivoire, and 16 have significantly declined, including, Australia, Chile and Malta.
Denmark and New Zealand top the Index with 88 and 87 points, respectively. Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria are at the bottom of the index, with 10, 13 and 13 points, respectively. The highest scoring region is Western Europe and the European Union, with an average score of 66, while the lowest scoring regions are Sub-Saharan Africa (average score 32) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (average score 35).
Corruption and the crisis of democracy
Cross analysis with global democracy data reveals a link between corruption and the health of democracies. Full democracies score an average of 75 on the CPI; flawed democracies score an average of 49; hybrid regimes – which show elements of autocratic tendencies – score 35; autocratic regimes perform worst, with an average score of just 30 on the CPI. Exemplifying this trend, the CPI scores for Hungary and Turkey decreased by eight and nine points respectively over the last five years. At the same time, Turkey was downgraded from ‘partly free’ to
‘not free’, while Hungary registered its lowest score for political rights since the fall of communism in 1989. These ratings reflect the deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media, in those countries.
More generally, countries with high levels of corruption can be dangerous places for political opponents. Practically all of the countries where political killings are ordered or condoned by the government are rated as highly corrupt on the CPI.
Countries to watch
With a score of 71, the United States lost four points since last year, dropping out of the top 20 countries on the CPI for the first time since 2011. The low score comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power. Brazil dropped two points since last year to 35, also earning its lowest CPI score in seven years.
Alongside promises to end corruption, the country’s new president has made it clear that he will rule with a strong hand, threatening many of the democratic milestones achieved by the country. “Our research makes a clear link between having a healthy democracy and successfully fighting public sector corruption,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International. “Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and, as we have seen in many countries, where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage.”
To make real progress against corruption and strengthen democracy around the world, Transparency International calls on all governments to:
• strengthen the institutions responsible for maintaining checks and balances over political power, and ensure their ability to operate without intimidation;
• close the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation, practice and enforcement;
• support civil society organisations which enhance political engagement and public oversight over government spending, particularly at the local level;
• support a free and independent media, and ensure the safety of journalists and their ability to work without intimidation or harassment.
A recent civil society and government jamboree in Tanzania prompted some interesting reflections from Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza.
This article was originally published on the ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog.
Who needs civil society organizations (CSOs)? If government does its job well, responding to citizens’ needs, delivering good quality services, safe communities and a booming economy, then what is the purpose of the diverse range of NGOs, trade unions, religious groups, community groups and others that make up civil society?
I was one of more than 600 people at CSO Week 2018 in Dodoma (Tanzania’s capital). We were there to both celebrate and debate the role of civil society in Tanzania. Lots of speakers from within and outside government spoke with almost universal praise for the role civil society plays. But not far below the collegial surface lurked a significant divergence of views.
The most important was conflicting views on the primary purpose of civil society. Government officials acknowledged the positive role of CSOs, but with a strong whiff of ambiguity about their value and scepticism about their integrity.
Government ministers and senior officials revealed a clear preference for CSOs focused on uncontroversial service delivery activities (providing healthcare or education or clean water), over those working on raising citizen voices and advocating for better policies. They said that CSOs that focus on service delivery are supporting the government as the people’s legitimately elected representative. They are giving people the help they need, and can attract additional aid dollars into the country for development. However, those CSOs that monitor and critique government, advocate for civic space and promote human rights, may in fact be pursuing foreign agendas or wasting resources by working in areas that do not resonate with citizens’ needs, such as public services and livelihoods.
I also heard many CSOs worrying that limiting their activities to providing services makes them little more than handmaids to government and reduces citizens to mere subjects. Championing the causes of social justice, equality, shared responsibility and rewards has them working to ensure people are free citizens.
But this is a simplistic, though long-standing distinction, and I think it misses the point. For the ‘uncontroversial’ services to be delivered well to those needing them most, civic space must, crucially and contentiously, be open.
Without freedom of information and expression, people will not know what they are entitled to. Nor will they be able to voice their opinion on the quality of services or bring other problems to the attention of decision makers. Without freedom of assembly and association, the gap between a distant and powerful government and an atomised population becomes almost unbridgeable. Without citizen participation, services rarely meet citizen needs and citizens feel increasingly powerless and disconnected. Without inclusion, marginalised people are left even further behind. Without human rights and the rule of law, citizens have little protection from corrupt or bullying officials. Those who no longer trust that the game is fair stop trying to play and withdraw to the fringes.
CSOs that work to protect and promote open civic space are also working to strengthen public services and improve people’s lives. We may be doing so indirectly, but our contribution is just as valuable and necessary.
I would go further to argue that even delivering services is a political undertaking. When people are healthier, better educated and have access to water, shelter and can make a decent living, they are more likely to ask for more and expect better. And delivering services has an impact on local power relations. A new well, for example, increases the availability of water for some, changes time allocation, especially for women, and alters patterns of ownership, income and social interaction in a village. Choices are inherently political.
So the question is not ‘are we for services or for social justice?’ The two are inseparable.
Bishop Stephen Munga, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and Chancellor at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University expressed this point powerfully last week when he argued that “civil society gives rise to government itself.” “It is civil society that legitimately says whether government is good or bad, laws are good or bad. It is not for government or those in power to assess itself!”
His assertions were both attractive, and unsettling. Who assesses us CSOs? I confess to leaving Dodoma with a nagging feeling that, as CSOs, we did not engage in some important self-reflection. Are we well-placed to deliver a vision of a healthy, wealthy, wise and just Tanzania? Are we trusted by those who we claim to represent and speak for? Are we legitimate in their eyes? How much are citizens engaged in our work, in shaping our priorities and activities, or are we distant, disconnected and self-righteous? And how much are we really contributing to improving social justice overall? Could we do more?
These questions warrant really good answers. Such deep self-reflection can only be healthy for the sector, and for the wider community which we serve. We should not shy away from it.
It should come as no surprise that government and civil society have different views on what the sector should look like, or on the relationship between services and rights. It is only proper that a combination of tension and collaboration should exist, as one party seeks to maintain social order and the other to promote social justice. A society without such tension would slide into decline and decay.
So what is civil society for? It is to improve public services and people’s livelihoods. It is also to raise citizen voices and protect civic space. And it is even, on occasion, for disagreeing with government. I am sure that doing these things makes us all stronger. We will all be better off as a result.
Many of the current restrictions on civil society are knee-jerk responses, sometimes pre-emptive, to popular mobilizations, a sad and unexpected result of the initial hope of the so-called Arab Spring. Of course, this pattern is not the only cause of growing constraints on civic freedoms. Repurposing of the global security discourse to curb dissent, restrictions on international funding for advocacy groups by nationalist leaders, and retreat from the international human rights framework using flimsy arguments of state sovereignty are all ways by which the rights discourse is being undone. While there are several drivers of civic space restrictions, three in particular are worth paying attention to, due to their cross-cutting nature and deep impacts.
1. The business of civil society repression
The impact of of mega-corporations and market fundamentalism in undermining civic freedoms cannot be overemphasised. Private sector influences are particularly clear in the area of natural resource exploitation by extractive industries and big agri-businesses when local, often indigenous, environmental defenders face retaliation for protecting natural resources from grabs by corrupt business and political interests. The assassination of award winning Honduran activist Berta Caceres and restrictions on the right to peaceful protest for those opposed to the Dakota Oil pipeline in the United States are examples of how of these challenges transcend global North-South boundaries.
2. A toxic mix of extremist ideologies
Civil society is also being increasingly targeted by extremists aiming to divide societies around narrow interpretations of ethnicity or religion. Civil society emphasis on diversity and social cohesion is derided as antithetical to nationalist cultural values and in some cases those speaking out against such projects are branded as operating at the behest of outside interests. In Europe, for example, civil society groups working on the rights of refugee and migrant populations are facing a backlash. In many parts of West Asia, women’s rights defenders have been attacked by armed groups seeking to impose puritanical religious doctrines on populations by arguing that gender equality is a Western construct. In South Asia, bloggers and journalists have been persecuted online and offline for opposing dominant cultural mores, while in Africa religious evangelists have linked up with like-minded groups on other continents to spur extreme forms of homophobia and attack defenders of LGBTI rights.
3. Retreat from democracy and multilateralism
We’re also facing a crisis of moral leadership on the international stage which has led to a retreat from universal human rights values and is negatively impacting civil society. Degradation of civic freedoms and the emergence of “neo-fascist” politics in Europe and the United States have emboldened despotic regimes in countries such as Bahrain, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and more, to attack dissenters and consolidate their power by manipulating electoral processes and state institutions. From the Philippines to Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, efforts are underway to silence dissent whereby repression against those who speak the language of human rights is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Despite these challenges, placing local responses at the heart of efforts to reclaim civic space is critical. Based on conversations with civil society stakeholders on their present challenges, we have identified three under-researched but critical issues:
a. Resourcing resilience, close to the ground
In an era of growing linkages between rights oriented civil society organizations and the donor/philanthropic community, financial resources have become a key area of contestation. Only a tiny proportion of development assistance actually goes directly to civil society in the global South. Fickle donor priorities and excessive deference to whims of governments that restrict international funding have caused several smaller organizations to fold up. At the same time, bigger ones, which are more adept at marketing and meeting sophisticated accounting requirements of donors, are expanding. The organized civil society firmament has already started to resemble the market with big franchises edging out locally owned and rooted businesses. For example, an organization run by Syrian refugees in Turkey says they have experienced difficulties accessing international funding despite having much more relevant local knowledge than the international organizations that attract global donors. International donors should be mindful of how their red tape excludes community organizations that possess local expertise and have significantly lower overheads.
b. Beyond accounts-ability
Across the world, the legitimacy of organized civil society is being challenged on several fronts, from politicians demonizing them as disconnected special interest groups to social movements that see traditional CSOs as arcane at best and co-opted at worst. The usual ways in which CSOs demonstrate their accountability—through compliance with regulatory requirements and donor reporting are proving insufficient to convince skeptical politicians or publics. We thus need to move beyond just “accounts-ability” to enhanced transparency and dialogue with communities, not for the sake of checking a box but because they are key to making meaningful change. This shift could include things like people-centred decision-making, real-time adaptation to stakeholder needs, and nurturing the next generation of social change-makers. This form of accountability is not only about financial reporting and transparency to donors but about meaningful dialogue with affected communities and stakeholders, and keeping an eye on big picture outcomes to drive organizational decision-making process.
c. Standing together
Lastly, an energetic, civil society-led, global response is needed to counter attacks on civic freedoms. Many of us have done a good job of ensuring that the reality of closing civic space is on the international community’s radar, but efforts to push back against restrictions are often duplicative and uncoordinated. We must make clear that the enabling of civil society rights is an essential part of the defense of democracy. To do this, we need to form and work in progressive alliances, bringing together substantial masses of citizens and connecting classic CSOs, protest movements, journalists, trade unions, youth groups, social enterprises, artistic platforms and many other parts of the civil society universe.
A robust civic space can only exist within a functioning democracy, and thus safeguarding civil society also involves re-imagining more participatory models of democracy, with citizens at their heart. Seen in this way, the over-arching challenge is not a technical, short-term one of pushing back on attacks on civic space, but a longer-term political one of re-imagining a more participatory landscape where substantive democracy thrives.
***This article is an extract of an essay published in the 26th edition of the Sur Journal of Human Rights.
This video tells us about a success story of the first Collaborative Social Audit in South Africa in 3 informal settlements in Wattville, Ekurhuleni Gauteng, South Africa.
In 2016, Albert Van Zyl of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) wrote the following blog on social audits in South Africa:
Are Social Audits Soft on Government?
In contrast to campaigns that are more inherently confrontational, social audits invest heavily in unpacking and decoding government budget policy and processes. They often start by examining official documents to understand what service delivery commitments the government has made and what viable counter proposals might look like. This is not to say that social audits can’t form part of larger campaigns that use a variety of tactics to get the government to respond. But this engagement is firmly rooted in the facts and figures that the government itself releases in official documents.
None of this makes social audits “soft” on government, it is simply a different style of getting and holding the attention of government so as to engage on an issue of importance. Most participants felt that social audits embody a style of advocacy worth preserving. They pointed out the power of social audit fundamentals, such as community ownership as well as using evidence and official commitments to engage with government. Given that this advocacy approach is based on a deep understanding of budgets and policies, social audits can in some cases actually be harder on government — and should certainly be harder to ignore.
Does Credibility Matter?
Despite being firmly rooted in evidence, not everyone gives social audits the respect they are due. Parts of the South African government have chosen to question the validity of audit findings and quibble about the rigor of the data collection and analysis. Civil society organizations have sometimes responded by tightening up these aspects of their social audits. In other cases, such as with Equal Education’s school sanitation audit, CSOs have appointed highly regarded independent observers to vouch for the rigor of the process.
Yet, as one participant pointed out, “legitimacy does not guarantee accountability.” Ultimately these challenges by government are motivated less by a concern for scientific rigor, and are more about wriggling out of the tough questions asked about how well officials are doing their jobs. Independent observers and solid methods may make it harder for the government to dismiss the findings of social audits, but they do not guarantee accountability. For that CSOs need to use other tactics, like generating media coverage and mobilizing popular support.
Who Sets the Agenda for a Social Audit?
The questions of who decides which issue to focus on is a crucial one because community ownership is such essential part of a social audit. At the same time, social audits are so information and knowledge intensive that focusing on a single issue often makes them more effective. In the first few social audits conducted in South Africa, membership based organizations, like the SJC and Equal Education, used social audits as part of ongoing campaigns where the agenda had already been set. This made it easy to decide on the issue and get the relevant communities’ commitment.
More recent social audits, like that conducted by Ndifuna Ukwazi in Wolwerivier, brought in an external organization to assist the community with the social audit. This made the agenda question a lot more difficult to deal with. Facilitating organizations know focusing on a single issue increases the impact of a social audit, but communities are faced with such a myriad of service delivery problems and interest groups that it can be hard to agree on a single issue.
This poses some interesting questions about how social audits can be replicated across South Africa. The situation where external organizations help communities to conduct social audits seems almost necessary for them to become more widespread. But can effective social audits only be conducted as part of campaigns with well-developed agendas? Or can they be adapted to help new campaigns refine their agendas?
“How do we bring about a social audit revolution?”
One participant in the workshop posed this very question. The excitement over social audits has spread rapidly among South African civil society, and also in government and the donor community. This has resulted in numerous requests for social audit training. But, as many participants warned, social audits are not a silver bullet for solving all of South Africa’s service delivery issues and they don’t lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all approach. Where a service delivery problem is caused by insufficient budget rather than poor implementation, for example, a social audit may not be the best way to proceed.
The SJC, NU, Planact, and Equal Education have done an admirable job of promoting the practice in South Africa, choosing slow steady growth in the number of audits and organizations conducting them over letting a thousand flowers bloom. They have also created a social audit guide and formed a Social Audit Network to support such new initiatives. This network is now planning to coordinate the growing body of experienced social audit practitioners to ensure that new auditors have access to old hands.
Social audits are a powerful tool. But knowing how and when to use them, and understanding their underlying principles, are key to their effectiveness. While they may not always be the quickest way to prompt the government to respond, the kind of changes they stand to deliver could well be revolutionary.
This blog post was originally published on the IBP website
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.
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.
Both 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.
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.
Clean water. Paved roads. Quality education. Election campaigns in poor countries typically promise such things, yet the reality on the ground often falls short. So, what do people do? Wait for five years and “throw the bums out” if they fail to deliver? For many people, the stakes are too high, and they may have well-grounded doubts about the ability of democracy to deliver anything other than a new set of bums. It’s worth asking, then, what other actions citizens take to improve their lives.
Building on Richard Batley and Claire Mcloughlin’s work on service characteristics as well as my own research on the politics of service delivery in East Africa, I’ve identified various factors affecting the likelihood that people will mobilize for improved public services. These include how frequently people experience (problems with) a given service, their ability to pay for private alternatives, and their expectations about the likelihood of improvements in response to their actions.
To better understand such dynamics, I’ve begun exploring data from the Local Governance Performance Index survey implemented in Malawi in 2016. The survey asked respondents what problems they faced with a range of issues related to service delivery. Those reporting problems were then asked if they turned to someone for help with the problem, who they turned to and why, whether and how the problem was resolved, and whether they were satisfied with the response.
The figure depicts the main actors people turn to for help. In general people are most likely to turn to family members, friends or neighbors, followed by village leaders. Higher-level government officials are in a distant third place, despite the fact that they may hold much more sway when it comes to influencing outcomes on the ground.
Next, we can look at how demographics affect the likelihood of people turning to different actors. Wealthier respondents and those with more education are less likely to turn to friends and family, perhaps because they have the resources to solve problems on their own. This may also reflect their ability to exit the public system (e.g., going to a private clinic when the public health system falls short). On the other hand, such people are more likely to turn to other government officials, and to school officials – suggesting they may feel more empowered to approach authority figures. Gender also matters. Women are less likely to turn to village leaders or any other government officials but more likely to turn to school officials with their problems – perhaps because they are more involved in their children’s education. Finally, civic skills (having attended a community meeting in the past year) is positively associated with seeking assistance from all actors.
In neighboring Tanzania, recent survey data finds that nearly a quarter of all respondents took action to improve service delivery (education, health, or water) in 2015. The chart on the right unpacks what people meant by “taking action.” Overall, Tanzanians were more likely to attend committee meetings than take any other action. We also see that people were generally more likely to raise issues in smaller group settings rather than more publicly (e.g., by calling in to the radio). Finally, note the low proportions of respondents who report tracking things like drug stockouts, teacher attendance, or water point functionality – suggesting that the focus of many citizen monitoring initiatives (report cards, etc.) may not jibe with people’s normal way of doing things.
When it comes to which citizens are taking action, we see similar results to Malawi. Specifically, civic skills are associated with increases in all forms of action-taking. Women on the other hand are less likely to take action across the board. Wealth matters, though only for actions related to education and health. Respondents who are more informed (listen to the radio more frequently) are also more likely to take actions of all kinds, though it is interesting to note that education levels do not demonstrate any relationship with action-taking. Finally, internal efficacy (belief in one’s own ability to make effective demands) is positively associated with actions related to all sectors, while external efficacy (expectations of government responsiveness to such demands) only seems to matter for water.
The paper I prepared for Twaweza’s recent Ideas & Evidence event digs into these relationships in greater detail. While preliminary, it highlights the importance of paying attention to the ways in which service delivery differs across and within sectors. This is critical when it comes to supporting initiatives to enhance the efficacy of citizen engagement, which, despite having generated mixed results to date, continue to benefit from considerable amounts of funding.
As a final thought, practitioners may wish to consider which aspects of service delivery might be amenable to influence. For instance, establishing community groups could create greater scope for users to share information and coalesce around shared needs. Such groups will likely be more effective when they build on existing institutional channels rather than set up parallel structures. This implies taking time to learn about people’s existing routines for problem-solving, and supporting those strategies which seem to be generating more results. In other words, working with the (local) grain.
Public goods and services can also be distributed in such a way that reduces the availability of exit options. For example, a recent study of handpump distribution in Kenya advises against clustering, as people will be more motivated to maintain their local water points if they don’t have ready alternatives.
Finally, it may also be possible to shift expectations about the possibility of improved service delivery — in particular, providing information in a way that facilitates bench-marking. For instance, learning that everyone in the neighboring district has water piped into their houses when you are spending hours each day collecting buckets from a far-away tap could serve as a tipping point
Where does this leave us? For those of us who earn our keep by cranking out conference papers and journal articles (and the occasional blog) there is much work to be done. Hopefully, such work can help to guide donors when it comes to making impactful investments, and practitioners when it comes to making actual impact.
For democracy to work, citizens need to know what their government is doing. Then they can hold government officials and institutions accountable.
Over the last 50 years, Freedom of Information – or FOI – laws have been one of the most useful methods for citizens to learn what government is doing. These state and federal laws give people the power to request, and get, government documents. From everyday citizens to journalists, FOI laws have proven a powerful way to uncover the often-secret workings of government.
But a potential threat is emerging – from an unexpected place – to FOI laws.
We are scholars of government administration, ethics and transparency. And our research leads us to believe that while FOI laws have always faced many challenges, including resistance, evasion, and poor implementation and enforcement, the last decade has brought a different kind of challenge in the form of a new approach to transparency.
The new kid on the block is the open government movement. And despite the fact that it shares a fundamental goal with the more established FOI movement – government transparency – the open government movement threatens to harm FOI by cornering the already limited public and private funding and government staffing available for transparency work.
The open government movement is driven by technology and seeks to make government operate in the open in as many ways as possible.
This includes not just letting citizens request information, as in FOI, but by making online information release an everyday routine of government. It also tries to open up government by including citizens more in designing solutions to public policy problems.
One example of this hands-on approach is through participatory budgeting initiatives, which allows citizens to help decide, via online and in-person information sharing and meetings, how part of the public budget is spent. Thus, while open government and FOI advocates both want government transparency, open government is a broader concept that relies more on technology and encourages more public participation and collaboration.
One type of open government initiative is data portals, such as Data.gov. Governments post lots of data that anyone can access and download for free on topics such as the environment, education and public safety.
Another popular open government reform is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing asks the general public to come up with ideas to solve government problems or collect data for government projects. Two popular crowdsourcing initiatives in the U.S. are Challenge.gov and citizen science projects, such as the ones for Environmental Protection Agency where citizens are testing water quality.
Advocates of FOI and open government talk about them in similar ways and indeed participate in many of the same initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership. That initiative is a global partnership of countries that develop multiple types of open government practices like anti-corruption programs, open budgets or crowdsourcing events.
Movements complement each other
The open government movement could help FOI implementation. Government information posted online, which is a core goal of open government advocates, can reduce the number of FOI requests. Open government initiatives can explicitly promote FOI by encouraging the passage of FOI laws, offering more training for officials who fill FOI requests, and developing technologies to make it easier to process and track FOI requests.
On the other hand, the relationship between open government and FOI may not always be positive in practice.
First, as with all kinds of public policy issues, resources – both money and political attention – are inherently scarce. Government officials now have to divide their attention between FOI and other open government initiatives. And funders now have to divide their financial resources between FOI and other open government initiatives.
Second, the open government reform movement as well as the FOI movement have long depended on nonprofit advocacy groups – from the National Freedom of Information Coalition and its state affiliates to the Sunlight Foundation – to obtain and disseminate government information. This means that the financial stability of those nonprofit groups is crucial. But their efforts, as they grow, may each only get a shrinking portion of the total amount of grant money available. Freedominfo.org, a website for gathering and comparing information on FOI laws around the world, had to suspend its operations in 2017 due to resources drying up.
We believe that priorities among government officials and good government advocates may also shift away from FOI. At a time when open data is “hot,” FOI programs could get squeezed as a result of this competition. Further, by allowing governments to claim credit for more politically convenient reforms such as online data portals, the open government agenda may create a false sense of transparency – there’s a lot more government information that isn’t available in those portals.
This criticism was leveled recently against Kenya, whose government launched a high-profile open data portal for publishing data on government performance and activities in 2011, yet delayed passage of an FOI law until 2016.
Similarly, in the United Kingdom, one government minister said in 2012, “I’d like to make Freedom of Information redundant, by pushing out so much data that people won’t have to ask for it.”
Open data, no substitute for FOI
But the World Wide Web Foundation, the founder of the global open data ranking system called the Open Data Barometer, reported in 2015 that the United Kingdom government was using its first place ranking in the Barometer to “justify a (government) mandate to review, and allegedly limit, the Freedom of Information Act.”
Open government programs not mandated by law are easier to roll back than legislatively mandated FOI programs. In the U.S., the Trump administration took down the White House open data portal. The move was immediately condemned by open government advocates, to no avail. In other cases, new open government efforts could hinder existing FOI implementation due to a limited number of staff members assigned to transparency work.
Is it possible for open government and FOI to avoid the mistakes seen in the Mexican case? Some experts are optimistic. Beth Simone Noveck, who served as the first United States deputy chief technology officer and director of the White House Open Government Initiative from 2009 to 2011, suggests that “in the long term, FOIA and open data may themselves converge as we move to a future where all government data sits in a secure but readily-accessible cloud.”
Such a happy convergence would require a commitment by government to have any new or merged systems reflect the goals of both FOI and open government. That would mean a system that both supported existing avenues for transparency while also adding new ones. As scholars, we are unclear which direction government will take and thus, whether the public interest will ultimately be served.