ODAC are exceptionally excited to launch our latest research on the state of access to information in Africa.
In 2016 UNESCO officially adopted 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information. The Day was adopted after intense lobbying by ODAC and the other members of the African Platform on Access to Information Working Group. To mark the Day in 2017, and to reflect on developments in the state of access to information in Africa, this study has been launched as a development on a 2014 study done on a similar methodology.
And some of the results are fascinating. The study covers twelve countries: Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Using the African Model Law we were able to develop a methodology for reviewing access to information laws. South Africa's law for instance received a reasonable 78%, which is unsurprising given how it has traditionally been lauded as a strong law. However, Malawi's new law received a 77%. It is worth noting then that – except for South Africa – the top three scoring African laws (Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania) all come into being after the AU Model Law, with the bottom four scoring laws (Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe) all coming into being prior to the AU Model Law being drafted.
And, as we know, the strength of a law is not enough to ensure that access to information is a reality. 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.
So, how best might you be able to use this report?
- Each country comes with a one page summary for easy circulation.
- Each country also has a slightly longer detailed analysis.
- The report as a whole can be read as a snapshot of the access to information environment.
- There is also some trends analysis over the twelve countries considered together.
An example of the South African summary can be seen below:
- By Lorraine Martin
ODAC have just begun a project this year which looks to building an African Whistleblowing Network, with the support of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. We plan on working in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Malawi. The goal of this project is to build the technical capacities of the Network to influence policies that encourage a culture conducive to whistleblowing. I began by visiting Namibia.
On my arrival in Windhoek on Thursday 20 July 2017 I was whisked off to a business lunch at the Fresh and Wild Utopia restaurant in Nelson Mandela Street in Windhoek where I met with the Executive Director of The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), the Strategic Coordinator of Namibia Media Trust , the Programme Coordinator, at FESmedia, the, chairperson of ACTION Namibia and the head of Legal Assistance Centre (LAC).
The conversation centred on our respective whistleblowing laws. Namibia has a Whistleblowing Bill which is in the final stages of passage through Parliament. South Africa has had a law since 2000 and an amendment bill has just been passed by Parliament. [Director's note: we are busy doing a refresh of our Code of Good Practice accordingly, and will soon launch a campaign to inform the broader public of the changes, most of which are terrific!]
The organisations mentioned above have been very active in providing input to the passing of the Namibian Bill. These organisations also form part of a coalition called the ACTION Coalition. The ACTION Coalition is an umbrella body under which a range of activists and civil society and media organisations are gathered in the furtherance of the cause of access/right to information and freedom of expression. The ACTION Coalition has been in existence since 2012 and has consistently engaged both the Namibian Government, and its development partners, on the issue of ATI over the years.
The following morning the Executive Director of the IPPR and I were interviewed on Good Morning Namibia, a breakfast television programme about whistleblowing in our countries. After that we were the presenters at a breakfast seminar at the Nice Restaurant in central Windhoek where the topic was: "Effective whistleblower protections are key to open democracies". The nature and extent of these protections shape the individual’s and the media’s ability to keep public and private institutions accountable. Together, how can we forward a culture of transparency and accountability to meet the needs of citizens? The attendees were mainly members of civil society organisations and media organisations. Lively discussions followed our presentations. It is clear that Namibia has a strong civil society and that the whistleblowing legislation is being followed very closely, and will be monitored once the law is enacted.
At about 11h30 I appeared on another television programme called "1 to 1". This was a pre-recorded programme which aired in the evening. The presenter said that he styled his programme on Hard Talk and he played devil’s advocate quite a bit, which was good because I realised how I was able to defend ODAC’s position on whistleblowing.
Later that evening I bid Namibia goodbye, happy in the knowledge that I had met people who were passionate about whistleblowing protections and happy to be a part of the African Whistleblowing Network.
The staff at ODAC will be working on Friday, in spite of calls for national stay-a-ways by different quarters, and we thought we’d write a brief note on why. The first reason is the simplest and most important: we are committed to advancing transparency and access to information, because we believe that is what will advance the lives of South Africans in the long term. As an organisation focused on a special interest that is of such immense importance, particularly during a time of uncertainty, we believe staying focused and available for citizens on this day (and all those to come) is the greatest value add we can provide, and we remain committed to it. As a JSE expert answered in the face of a question on eNCA about what is needed now: “Information, information, information”.
The second reason is a little pragmatic. We receive funds largely from foreign philanthropy organisations and charities. This is just an obvious reality, which is why we are subject to particular special regulation and audits (just to interject on critiques on our funding – many government departments and projects share some of our funders). Transparency organisations, particularly one like ours that focuses on open information and the protection of whistleblowers, will probably always struggle to receive financial support from our own government. This reality simply means our stay away doesn’t impact local productivity, and we have a duty to spend these resources responsibly, in the face of all politics, because they are donations.
We are focused on advancing transparency, and remain committed to values of openness, honesty and truth. There are of course many civil society organisations specifically focused on political mobilisation, so their mandates are different to ours, and we are here to support them as well. Social change is nuanced – and we believe information and openness are the fundamental grease between the gears of this process. As we noted in our recent statement in support of Mcebisi Jonas’ whistleblowing that exposed the scale of state capture, there are many public servants joining hands in fighting corruption. ODAC must stay available to support people such as him, as well as citizens and civil society organisations, and lend our assistance when the world can appear otherwise hostile to open information.
There is a lot of work to be done that will extend long after Friday, and has been needed for quite some time. We will be working alongside all people to create a South Africa that lives up to its constitutional promises. We deserve it.