Africa

CONTINENTAL SHIFT

A stronger post-pandemic Africa requires crucial governance reforms

A young boy in the Korogocho slum, one of the largest in Nairobi, Kenya. These slums are plagued with poor infrastructure, overcrowding, few resources and poor sanitation facilities leading to a high disease and morbidity rate. The number of people living in poverty in Africa is expected to rise by an alarming 29 million in 2021 alone. (Photo: EPA-EFE/DANIEL IRUNGU)

Frameworks for this exist, so civil society and governments can leverage them to co-create and implement reforms combining openness and transparency by governments with citizens’ participation and oversight to drive socioeconomic development.

Africa is facing a confluence of crises, posing unprecedented threats to its economies and citizens. The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed the first recession in 25 years, with a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. While vaccines have not reached many African countries, the roll-out systems are exposing weaknesses within governance and social systems, and testing our countries’ ability. 

The average African economy contracted by 2.5% in 2020, while massive job losses, businesses closing and lack of access to resources have further exposed underlying inequality. The number of people living in poverty in Africa is expected to rise by an alarming 29 million in 2021 alone, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

These challenges continue to prove to be beyond any government or stakeholder group’s scope to address on their own. Fortunately, a growing movement of open government champions across Africa – coming from government and civil society – is showing an alternative, more hopeful path forward.

Governments and civil society leaders can leverage the overall governance frameworks provided by the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – a homegrown initiative to improve governance dynamics at local, national and continental levels through peer review and identification of governance aspects that need reforms – as well as the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The frameworks create an opportunity to co-create and implement governance reforms that combine openness and transparency by governments with citizens’ participation and oversight to drive broad-based socioeconomic development. 

The OGP, a global partnership of 78 countries, includes 15 African nations, 12 of which are members of APRM. 

In Africa, our collective imperative must be to scale up these transformative reforms, so that societal stakeholders can tackle crises together and make progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 to achieve The Africa We Want. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed the first recession in 25 years, with a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods.
(Photo: timeslives.co.za/Wikipedia)

We must document how African governments respond to the pandemic and ensure that government and civil society leaders across the continent capitalise on APRM and OGP processes to advance three transformative reforms.

First, societal stakeholders must join forces to ensure the massive Covid-19 stimulus achieves its vital goals. With this in mind, the APRM and OGP recently brought together ministers and government officials from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa. Already, $60-billion has already been disbursed to the region, with more being sought to procure vaccines. A fast flow of money like this can create an environment ripe for corruption. We need open budgets, open aid and open contracts so citizens can follow the money. 

In South Africa, Vulekamali, a platform that publishes budget expenditure, is doing just that, engaging citizens to track Covid-19 funds and contracts. In such collaborative efforts the African Follow The Money network of civil society organisations is a great asset because it tracks Covid-19 spending and aid flows to ensure these funds reach their intended beneficiaries.

Second, reforms must prioritise the societal inequalities related to income, race and gender that have been laid bare and even accelerated by the pandemic. We need inclusive decision making to speak for these increasingly vulnerable groups.

For example, Kenya and South Africa are achieving remarkable results by empowering women through open contracts and access to justice, respectively. In Kenya, reformers committed to a notable 30% of public procurement opportunities for women, young people and people with disabilities. We also need transparency of company ownership to ensure bailouts and contracts are not captured by the politically connected. 

Finally, reforms must rebuild citizen trust and reinvigorate participatory democracy. Africa continues to experience many of the weakest civic space protections of any region. Specifically, civic space must be protected so that citizens can freely shape and oversee recovery efforts, such as the Tunisian government committing public funding for independent media to operate during the pandemic.

With open civic space we can foster robust civic participation. In Côte d’Ivoire, efforts aimed at participatory budgeting empower citizens to fund projects that more directly respond to their needs. Through innovations such as Eyes and Ears in Kaduna, Nigeria, governments build trust by empowering citizens to become on-the-ground monitors of public services. 

In this respect, in the midst of the pandemic, the APRM has collaborated with its national structures within member states to produce a preliminary report, Africa’s Governance Response to Covid-19. The report recounts efforts by various institutions and provides recommendations for countries to adopt, such as ensuring their Covid-19 containment measures protect human rights. 

A fast flow of money can create an environment ripe for corruption. We need open budgets, open aid, and open contracts so citizens can follow the money.
(Photo: occrp.org/Wikipedia)

The year 2021 is sure to bring unprecedented opportunity for reformers, but it will require leadership to seize it. As South Africa and Kenya have done in the past, leaders can leverage the APRM to advance broader governance reforms while using the OGP to advance specific commitments within that on Covid-19 monitoring. 

All of Africa will benefit by broadening the larger open-government community. That means a movement strengthened by more ministries, development partners, legislatures, youth engagement, women’s groups and others. 

Looking back at 2020, it could be remembered for the bold, more inclusive strength that emerged as much as for the challenges it overcame.

A more hopeful way forward, indeed. DM/MC

Eddy Maloka is CEO of the African Peer Review Mechanism. Sanjay Pradhan is CEO of the Open Government Partnership.

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c), it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are, therefore, disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information we should know about, please email [email protected]

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"