Reasons Advanced for Lack of African FOI Laws

24 May 2011

Why does Africa have comparatively few freedom of information laws?

The reasons were explored in a number of papers presented at The First Global Conference on Transparency Research held May 19-20 at Rutgers University-Newark, N.J. (See overall report in FreedomInfo.org.)

One reason is that the western, liberal concept of access to information conflicts with different traditions of citizenship and governance in Africa, said Colin Darch, of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. “Indeed, the fact that the African campaigns for legislation per se have either lasted for decades or failed to get off the ground at all may be evidence that the wrong tree is being barked up.”

In a less theoretical look at the African access to information experience, Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator and Head of Secretariat of Africa Freedom of Information Centre, summarized: “The slow progress towards the enactment and implementation of access to information legislation in Africa is a combination of inadequate incentives for both government on the one hand and civil society on the other.”

He also wrote:

Actors on both sides have not seized on the existing incentives, however limited to provide a spring board for greater forward movement. Clearly lack of successful implementation in countries that have such laws has been a disincentive for those that lack them to adopt ATI legislation.”

Fatima Diallo, also with the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers and a PhD researcher African studies Centrum, Leiden University, also addressed the African experience, where, she said, “…even when legislation or voluntary systems for transparency are put into place, they often clash, in various inconclusive interactions, with the basic culture of secrecy and the lack of any concept of public service.”

There is a “need for an historical understanding of a model of transparency that is established alongside informal structures and traditional systems, with which it must co-exist,” according to Diallo. She wrote further:

The paper is based on the Senegalese case and argues that the legal-institutional framework that has been established to introduce transparent and democratic governance remains very largely marginalized.  The model of the state inherited from colonialism has been refined by decades of “new policies‟ but is unable to overcome the traditional and informal practices that constitute, in fact, an alternative model for the production of policy.

Issues in Kenya, including a “culture of secrecy,” were examined in a paper by  Edwin Abuya of the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers.

Another paper on Africa focused in detail on implementation of the laws in Uganda and South Africa and on the pending bill in Ghana

Constitutional guarantees in South Africa and Kenya that permit access information from private bodies “were not effective,” according to author Fola Adeleke, a doctoral student at the University of Witswaterstrand, who predicted that interest in coverage of corporations will grow as private entities increasingly carry out public functions.

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