The Open Government Partnership-Africa: Regional Meeting, 2013
June 1, 2013
By Michael M. Murungi
May 30, 2013
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) held its African regional meeting in Mombasa, Kenya between May 29-30 2013. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Connected Kenya Summit 2013 which is hosted annually by the Kenya ICT Board and which has become arguably the largest and most important calendar event for partners, stakeholders and players in Kenya’s burgeoning ICT industry.
The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to help governments become more effective and efficient in serving their citizens. It is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. OGP is overseen by a multi-stakeholder steering committee so far comprised of nine governments and nine civil society representatives. The governments of South Africa and Tanzania are so far the only African government members of the steering committee.
The meeting was attended by representatives of private sector, government, civil society and media from a variety of countries including: Kenya, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom, the USA, Belgium, Cameroon, Uganda, Senegal, Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia and Ethiopia.
The Kenyan government’s delegation was led by Dr. Fred Matiangi, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of ICT and Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary in the same Ministry.
The National Council for Law Reporting attended the meeting as a key partner of the government of Kenya and as one of the institutions in the Kenyan public service that have embraced and are implementing the principles of open government – from the provision of free access to public legal information (judicial opinions, the Laws of Kenya; the Kenya Gazette, Parliamentary Proceedings; Treaties and International Instruments, etc), to its membership of the Free Access to Law Movement; the adoption of Creative Commons messaging for its online content; its role as the legal lead for both Creative Commons Kenya and the Kenya Open Data initiative.
Dr. Matiangi delivered President Uhuru Kenyatta’s message reaffirming Kenya’s commitment to the both the concept of open governance and the OGP initiative. He confirmed that his Secretariat will be taking to parliament a number of pieces of legislation “to actualize the constitutional guarantees of access to information”, adding that there was a need to get some “conceptual clarity” around the meaning of open government. Decrying the disconnect that exists between the expectations of the Kenyan public and the actions of their elected representatives, Dr Matiangi said that the Kenyan democratic space had opened up for constructive dialogue and engagement between civil society and government. This engagement, he emphasized, should be based mutual respect, it should be driven by the need to partner in finding solutions rather than to criticize and antagonise. He also observed that whereas a lot of work was being done in making governments accountable and public information more accessible, a lot more work needed to be pointed in the direction of empowering the public on how they can use that information to engage and participate in governance.
It was convened by the Kenya ICT Board with the support of a local planning team that included African Centre for Open Governance (Africog), one of the pioneering civil society movements behind OGP; African Freedom of Information Centre; the South African Department of Public Service and Administration; Federation of Women Laywers – Kenya; Hivos; International Commission of Jurists – Kenya; Kenya National Bureau of Statistics; Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications; Open Government Partnership Support Unit; the Open Institute; Transparency International – Kenya; Ushahidi and the World Bank Institute.
Highlights: Dr. Bitange Ndemo – a lot of intellectual and conceptual input is going into open government, in seminars, workshops, papers, presentations – but we have not even began to scratch the surface as far as grassroots understanding of and utilisation of open government is concerned. The mobile platform is potentially the medium that will break this disconnect.
Rakesh Rajani: So what are the practical steps that we can take to break this disonnect? What would the realization of the goals of open government mean for the citizen? I give a scenario of a farmer in Imenti village of Meru who eats what he and his family grow from the small piece of land, whose daughter dropped out of school after an unplanned pregancy.
Michael Murungi: I think the realization of open government for the Meru farmer would be the ability to use an internet based service on his mobile platform, on which he can access government statistics on school-drop out rates and unplanned pregnancies, with links to the government and civil society institutions that have interventions for girl-child support, a visual map of the public health dispensaries within Imenti that provide post-natal care and advisory support to young mothers…. and these are only possible if government has provided open, accurate and timely statistics and incentivised the development of mobile applications that build service/business models around these statistics.
Rakesh: We have examples of great technology platforms that have been developed for public engagement, very robust, very interactive and very open, but with very little or no participation from the public. Part of the problem could be that especially where the platform is designed to report failures or lapses in public service provision, the public might feel that nothing will be done even if a report is made on the platform. Is there an example that anyone can give of an engagement mechanism or platform that depends on the receiving of data or feedback from the public that has worked well?
Sandra from Article19: One example of an initiative that led to a very interactive and effective technology platform for a public-driven data or information service was a pioneering service by Ushahidi, which created a hot-spot map of the the areas of Kenya affected by the post-election violence of December 2007 by enabling citizens in conflict areas to send a text message through their mobile phones giving information on what was happening in their area. Mr. Daudi Were from Ushahidi, also in the audience, spoke more about the idea and the technology behind the platform (http://legacy.ushahidi.com/)
Paul Kukubo – moderating an open discussion on: Is OGP relevant to Africa? What are the Priorities for Africa? How do we increase OGP membership in Africa? How do we create a regional movement for open government reformers that moves beyond open data and embraces true transparency, accountability and participation? Is there a collective responsibility in Africa to take up OGP? Is there a possibility for individual success in OGP or is exclusively predicated on a collective uptake and a collective movement towards a success horizon?
Though the plenary gave different views about the institutional structure and the governance structure of OGP, I think the comment that rounded up the discussion quite succintly was one by a member of the Nigerian delegation: that citizens in Africa and all over the world are continuously demanding for increased openness of their governments, it is inevitable and the pressure from the public cannot be resisted for too long. Therefore, while we may sit in conferences and workshops and interrogate the set-up of the OGP as an institutional brand, we cannot ignore the idea, the principles and the concept behind OGP because it is an organic demand from the grassroots which government must answer. Therefore, even if we find that we are not impressed with the OGP brand, we will still find ourselves compelled to meet the growing public demand for our governments to be more open – whatever brand or special purpose vehicle we want to use to satisfy that need and track our progress is up to us.
The conference adjourned at 1300hrs on May 30, 2013.