Why Access to Information in Africa Matters?

25 African countries have adopted Access to Information (ATI) laws while 30 are yet to do so. Through multiple treaties, the African Union recognizes the right of ATI by every individual, as a human and peoples’ right, and also as a tool for the promotion of democracy, anticorruption, and public participation.

Africa Freedom of Information Centre supported and collaborated with partners on campaigns that have increased the number of countries with ATI laws from 15 countries in 2016 to 25 in November 2019. Over the years, AFIC strategies have included: shadow reporting to treaty bodies like the Human Rights Council and the ACHPR; analysis of draft bills and providing feedback to national legislators; technical assistance to our members and partners at national level; mobilizing OGP commitments on ATI laws; petitions and letter campaigns; promotional missions; and working collaboratively with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

Through shadow reporting, direct advocacy engagements, petitions, and meetings, AFIC secured commitments, resolutions, and decisions in favor of ATI. Key among these is the United Nations General Assembly and UNESCO General Conference Resolutions Proclaiming September 28th as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

There are many issues and lessons learnt from previous engagements now inform AFIC’s work and debates about the future trajectory of ATI. These include concerns about the practical implementation of ATI laws and relatedly the enforcement of ATI rights. Initiatives such the Open Government Partnership, to which nearly 50 countries have signed up, have prepared country-level action plans.

3 reasons you should be talking about Access to Information in Africa.

Implementing commitments requires technical capacity and co-creation

While there is evidence of change arising from the implementation of ATI in Africa, much more work is needed, based on a methodologically sound approach underpinned by a clearer theory of change.

Our theory of change is built on four strategic priorities: Right to Information, Transparency and Accountability, Membership Strengthening, and Institutional Strengthening. Our first two strategic priorities—Right to Information, and Transparency and Accountability—are fundamental to sustainable development. We have set ultimate outcomes for our work in each area.

Under Right to Information, we aim to ensure that every individual in Africa can realize their right to information in practice. In Transparency and Accountability, we focus on making public services transparent, efficient, competitive, and able to deliver value for money for citizens in Africa. These outcomes are prerequisites for good governance and for ensuring that public resources lead to effective delivery of public goods and services. Most African countries are far from achieving these outcomes.

Regional and global bodies need civil society input as much as national and subnational governments.

The effectiveness of regional and international mechanisms such as ACHPR, UN special procedures, and UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review depend on the quality of feedback they receive from CSOs, which is used to provide feedback and/ or recommendations to states parties.

To get there, we need to see a variety of changes: in government laws, regulations, practices, and systems; and in citizen and civil society engagement and ability to advocate for change. AFIC works with both citizens and states, building the capacity of the former to demand change and the capacity of the latter to respond.

Coalition building is critical.

The participation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in multi-stakeholder advocacy coalitions enables them to have a voice in decision-making processes alongside ‘traditional’ decision makers such as governments and the donor agencies. From the perspective of the government, coalitions provide an opportunity to engage with a coordinated ‘CSO voice’, rather than dealing with multiple and disparate CSOs.

AFIC members are at the forefront of defending the rights of citizens to access information in their various countries. Much of AFIC’s work happens through our membership—hence our third strategic priority, focused on Membership Strengthening. Our goal there is to equip our members with the skills, capacities, and evidence base to make the case for change, and help them to be more effective through coordination, especially on work at the regional and global levels. The exact path to change varies depending on issue and context. For that reason, we partner closely with our members and other CSOs that have deep knowledge of their contexts.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights laid a strong basis for ATI laws in Africa, and set standards for member states of the African Union (AU), when it adopted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in October 2002.

In conclusion, Access to Information is a right that has ripened since the 1990s. CSOs in Africa can play a highly significant and timely role, for which AFIC suggests, in affirming the importance of the right as a human right, and in elaborating its basic contours.

We welcome you to support our new Strategic Plan which seeks to advance Access to Information: The Bridge to Sustainable Development.

Photo Credit: Matheus Ferrero

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