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Building Knowledge Societies to ensure public Access to Information & protect Fundamental Freedoms in Eastern Africa

17-19 August 2021

One hundred forty-nine participants representing line Ministries, Parastatals, Agencies, Parliament, Private Sector, Civil Society Organisations, the Media and the UN system gathered online for a workshop to train stakeholders from across Eastern Africa on the Promotion of Knowledge Society Policy in National Information Policies in Eastern Africa organized by Africa Freedom of Information Centre with support from UNESCO for All Programme, and in collaboration with the African Union, Information Ethics Network for Africa, and the International Centre for Information Ethics.

We held the virtual training workshop from 17 to 19 August 2021 to strengthen the capacities of the key actors on the promotion of knowledge society for the development of national information policies in Eastern Africa.

Whereas access to information is essential in strengthening Governments’ capacity to address daunting challenges affecting the delivery of essential services in Africa, the workshop focused on:

  • Referring to Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which provides that: “Every individual shall have the right to receive information and the right to express and disseminate his/her opinions within the law.”
  • Appreciating that the Right of Access to Information has long been recognised by International and Regional Human Rights Instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Six treaties of the African Union, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
  • Acknowledging that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development plan of action adopted by all 193 United Nations (UN) Member States to protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone recognises public Access to Information within Goal 16 that covers the need to promote peaceful and inclusive societies (target 16.10.2);
  • Underscoring that Access to information is no longer a privilege, but a right enshrined under many international instruments.

While noting that 26 African countries have adopted respective national access to information laws, we are concerned that 29 African Union Member States are yet to enact specific laws on access to information, representing a lack of commitment to the realization of SDG 16.10.2 and violating the six African Union treaties that guarantee the Right to Information;

In Eastern Africa, 7 countries have specific laws that guarantee citizens’ rights to access information, including (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Seychelles). This, therefore, leaves 5 Eastern African countries without specific laws on access to information, including (Djibouti, Eritrea, Comoros, Madagascar, and Mauritius).

Acknowledging that key stakeholders, represented during the 3-day training workshop have on this 19th August 2021 committed to promoting the adoption and implementation of the Right of Access to Information, and to collaborating in ensuring open governance and public access to and use of accurate information towards effective service delivery and value for money.

Participants have on this 19th day of August 2021 under this arrangement, “Building Knowledge Societies to ensure Public Access to Information and Protect Fundamental Freedoms in Eastern Africa” organized by Africa Freedom of Information Centre through the support of UNESCO Information for All Programme and in collaboration with African Union Commission, Information Ethics Network for Africa, and the International Centre for Information Ethics agreed on the following thematic issues, experiences, lessons and recommendations to better the right of Access to Information;

Key Issues

  1. Public Access to Information is a fundamental human right and is a cornerstone for the enjoyment of all other human rights.
  2. There is a lack of implementation of the Access to Information laws and compliance with set regulations.
  3. There is a significant number of countries without specific laws on access to information.
  4. There is limited responsiveness and feedback mechanisms regarding access to information, reporting on the status of implementation of the right to information across member states.
  1. Limited disclosure of information frustrates citizens’ access and; participation in governance, service delivery, monitoring of public contracts, which limits transparency and accountability.
  2. There is a general lack of awareness about access to information legal framework among the citizens and public officials.
  3. Limited funding towards implementing access to information continues to be a major challenge in many countries.
  4. There is limited capacity of Government stakeholders to implement and follow up feedback from the citizens.

Commitments

  1. The African Union committed to working with various stakeholders to advance the right to information guaranteed by the AU treaties.
  2. UNESCO committed to providing technical support to the rest of the East African countries that are yet to enact ATI laws and support advocacy for implementing Access to Information in Africa.
  3. UNESCO committed to supporting African Member states and Civil Society organizations to achieve the SDGs by promoting Access to Information and strengthening other enabling legal frameworks.
  4. Government representatives and other stakeholders at the training workshop committed to increasing public participation in service delivery processes through access to information
  5. Stakeholders at the training workshop committed to call on all African Union member states to adopt and implement access to information
  6. The media committed to promoting access to information by raising awareness on its significance to the realization of other rights

Recommendations

  1. UNESCO and its partners should continue to support the Member States and other stakeholders to promote the realization of the SDGs
  2. Member States should comply with the international and regional legal framework on access to Information.
  3. Member states without specific laws on Access to information should immediately adopt these to promote access to information.
  4. Member States should incorporate Access to information in the national budgets and the parliamentary rules of procedure.
  5. We encourage development partners to support African Union states and Civil Society Organizations in implementing Access to Information.
  6. States should strengthen their legal framework for the effective implementation of access to information
  7. Civil Society should continue to engage and build the capacity of the citizens on access to information
  8. AFIC and its partners should organize annual RTI events and conferences as a platform for experience sharing and learning.
  9. We encourage the media to prioritize advocacy for access to information, develop articles on implementing the right to information laws and demand accountability for improved service delivery.

Conclusion

The training workshop organized under the theme “Building knowledge societies to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms in Eastern Africa” has been a forum for stakeholders to share and learn from experiences, challenges and knowledge gathered on access to information and fundamental freedoms.

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