What the global open government partnership can do for Africa

The Open Government Partnership can play an important part by increasing trust among citizens and public accountability in Africa. shutterstock

South Africa recently took over as chair of the Open Government Partnership. This represents an important opportunity for the country, and Africa.

The partnership is a voluntary initiative that aims to promote transparency, public accountability and civic participation in government. Ten of the 69 countries in the good governance partnership are in Africa.

It is hoped that, with South Africa leading, the partnership will continue to grow in Africa. The importance of promoting transparent governance that puts citizens at the centre cannot be overemphasised in Africa.

Most participating countries are in south, central and north America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. They include the US, Brazil, the UK, Turkey, South Korea and New Zealand. The significance of the partnership is that it has become a central policy-making platform in partner countries.

Member countries use the platform to formulate accountability standards and share knowledge about how to go about making good policies. This could include drawing up legal frameworks. The goal is to improve the transparency of government and eliminate corruption.

Each country has to produce action plans, in collaboration with civil society. These plans contain commitments to advancing access to government information, civic participation and public accountability. This can also include a technology and innovation component (e-government).

Individual country commitments to the partnership are internationally bench-marked and evaluated annually by independent country researchers.

In South Africa’s case, a recent assessment showed that the partnership still plays only a peripheral role in national policy making.

The fight against corruption

Tackling corruption is especially pertinent in the developing world. Many of the countries are too poor to absorb the damaging effects of corruption. This is particularly true in South America and sub-Saharan Africa.

The two regions also have high levels of inequality. South Africa, in particular, is among the most unequal in the world.

Social and economic upward mobility in these countries is often significantly curtailed. This is primarily, but not exclusively, because of a host of historical, physical and institutional weaknesses. These impose significant transaction costs on already marginalised societies.

One of these is high levels of corruption, which diverts scarce resources from areas of critical need, perpetuating the inequality trap.

The partnership can play an important part by increasing levels of trust among citizens and accountability in government. An important way this can happen is by opening up government to citizens.

Tunisia won a partnership award for its innovative e-procurement system that tackles public sector corruption. The system provides real time public procurement information to the public. It lists the number of tenders, tender results and how the funds will be allocated.

An increasingly popular commitment involves countries signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. This is a voluntary multilateral initiative aimed at instilling transparency and accountability to avoid the risk of corruption and bad governance .

It is especially relevant in Africa. Factional interests often hijack countries’ natural resource wealth, at the expense of national interest and development.

(Un)accountability of office

Another challenge is democratic consolidation following political transition. Many former liberation movements struggle with the transition into modern democratic governments. And they are often unwilling to cede power as political office and privilege are intertwined.

For example, political leaders such Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni have clung to power for too long. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza has extended his time in office despite widespread discontent. His actions have brought the country to the brink of civil war.

In South Africa, after 21 years of freedom, questions are being asked about the scope and quality of democracy. The recent overarching recommendation for the partnership’s action plan for the country highlighted the need for a greater commitment to public accountability. It also called for consequences for errant public officials and elected officials.

In particular, the assessment recommended that South Africa’s office of the Public Protector be adequately funded. The office should also not be hindered in any way in carrying out its mandate.

It is hoped that as head of the partnership, South Africa will play an increasingly important role in addressing common governance challenges on the continent. This is where the peer learning aspect presents a significant opportunity. Countries can share innovative ideas and good practice.

In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, the partnership can serve as an important and useful shared source and policy development platform. It could also play a key role in developing policies to address the new sustainable development goals.

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