By Levi Kabwato
The enactment of Access to Information (ATI) legislation in Kenya and Tanzania marks an important milestone in the evolution of transparency and accountability across Africa. As key political and economic players on the continent, these developments are a step in the right direction and signal progress from both countries.
In practice, Kenya’s attitude towards Open Data has already shown what possibilities can exist if information is central to developmental aspirations. Hence, the existence, now, of an enabling legal environment will broaden access to information in Kenya and allow for more transparency and accountability work to be carried out.
Tanzania, too, is likely accelerate its development as more and more information becomes publicly available. Under president Magufuli, who has demonstrated commitment to public accountability, the country has the right political will to turn ATI into a critical tool for holding power to account as well as uplifting many people out of poverty.
It remains to be seen, however, to what extent the ATI laws in both countries will be implemented. Some concerns raise about both laws have not been decisively dealt with.
In Tanzania, for example, information requests will take long periods of time to process. This might disenfranchise citizens and defeat the spirit and essence of the law itself. In the Kenya law, the loose definition of national security and provisions that cabinet deliberations and records are exempt from the law set a worrying tone regarding the president’s commitment towards openness, transparency and accountability.
The fact that more countries in Africa are passing ATI laws is positively significant. It remains critical that the development phase of ATI laws be as open and comprehensive as possible so as to decidedly account for concerns that might arise.
For countries that already have laws, implementation remains a critical challenge. ATI is not about only ticking the right boxes. It is a fundamental right that must be guaranteed in a democracy. Hence, monitoring the implementation of ATI laws should be able to inform adherence to legal obligations.