Model Access Law for Africa: A Response to Felt Need

22 April 2013

By Gilbert Sendugwa

Sendugwa is Coordinator & Head of Secretariat, Africa Freedom of Information Centre.  

The Model Law on Access to Information for Africa recently launched by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) an outcome of felt need and an inclusive process.

The past decade marked an explosion of access to information with the largest number of right to information laws being adopted. Worldwide there were 12 laws at the beginning of the year 2000 and over eighty at the close of that decade, with only five in Africa- South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda and Ethiopia. Now there are 11 laws in Africa (94 internationally).

During the Africa Regional Conference on Access to Information organized in 2010 by the Carter Centre, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that enabling people a right to know was essential for a modern democracy built on an enduring relationship between the state and its people.

Origins of the Model Law 

A participant representing the Government of Ethiopia observed that his government and other Governments in Africa were committed to advancing the right to information on the continent but needed guidance how it should look like. He noted that such a model would help not only countries contemplating adoption of access t to information laws but also those that already have such laws but were struggling with implementation.  

This was the beginning of a demand driven Model Law on Access to Information for Africa. Following this recognition and request, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted Resolution 167 (XLVIII) 2010 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights ACHPR), authorising the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa to initiate the process of developing a model access to information legislation for Africa.

The draft model law went through an extensive consultative process from online inputs to physical regional consultations in East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa and Central Africa and North Africa. During the regional consultation meeting on the draft jointly organized by the Special Rapporteur, Human Rights Centre and Africa Freedom of Information Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, from Aug. 29-31, 2011, Government and civil society leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and South Sudan appreciated the initiative and made significant inputs into the draft.

A Significant Development

The Model Law on Access to Information for Africa is a significant development for the right of access to information.

In addition to providing a framework to guide governments in developing national legislation in line with Article 9 of the African Charter on Humana and Peoples’ Rights as well as Article IV of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, it provides a framework for ACHPR to engage with state parties on the quality of RTI law as well as implementation especially when state parties to the Charter make reports to ACHPR in line with article 62 of the Charter.

The model law and its development process are already creating positive impact.

During consultations, state parties were encouraged to ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance “Democracy Charter”. They were also encouraged to adopt and implement access to information laws. Within a few months more than seven countries ratified the Democracy Charter, helping to bring it into force on Feb. 15, 2012.

AFIC and its members used the model law in its draft form together with the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) Declaration to analyse and provide inputs into draft Freedom of Information Bills for Kenya, Zambia and Botswana. It was also used in analyzing access to information laws of Niger, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Angola.

No doubt the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa will change the landscape of the right to information in Africa.

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