Environmentalists Begin Effort to Seek Information in Africa

8 April 2011

A U.S. environmental group and partners in Africa have begun an effort to request environmental-related information from the governments of Ghana, Uganda and South Africa, and hope to find new strategies to promote freedom of information reform.

The project was announced by the World Resources Institute in Washington, the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) in Ghana, Greenwatch in Uganda and the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) in South Africa.

At the core of the project will be numerous requests for information to be made by nongovernmental organizations, journalists and poor persons. They will seek information in four categories: lists of those who hold such things as mining and forestry concessions; legal agreements between governments and corporations, such as mining companies; government monitoring reports; and information on displaced persons.

One aim of the project, according to Peter Veit of WRI, is to identify new openings for advocacy campaigns for better right to know laws.  Such laws exist in South Africa and Uganda, although efforts to get some key pieces of information about extractive industries in Uganda have been frustrated in the courts.  In Ghana, efforts to pass a FOI bill are currently stymied in parliament. (See last FreedomInfo.org posting on Ghana.)

The “human rights approach” to lobby for freedom of information laws “has stalled,” Veit said, so a sectoral effort to identify problems and build support is needed as “a new angle.” One part of the project will be to identify reform goals and “influence strategies.”

“While there have been recent reforms in Africa that have helped usher in multi-party politics and elections, there are still many gaps in accountability mechanisms, such as access to information laws,” said Victor Brobbey, research fellow for Governance and Legal Policy at CDD. “This initiative is designed to advance reforms in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa that will improve the quality of governance and protect people’s rights in these countries.”

The project has core funding of $500,000 from the Canadian government, with more support expected from other sources.

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