New Report Evaluates Access in 15 African Countries

27 September 2015

The Africa Freedom of Information Centre has issued a 124-page report analyzing right to information in 15 countries, reporting problems implementing laws that exist and difficulties getting new laws passed.

“Lack of transparency and corruption presents real threats to Africa’s vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force,” according to The State of Right to Information in Africa Report 2015, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The report includes chapters, each with recommendations on 15 nations, some with and some without freedom of information laws. They are: Algeria, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Three Conclusions

Three overall conclusions are drawn:

“First, achieving complete observance of the right to information in Africa requires broadening the awareness of the right with both the citizenry and the authorities.

Second: “… enhancing anti-corruption mechanisms requires governments ensure that the right to information and the principles of freedom of expression are observed absolutely. This is especially so in strategic and priority sectors deemed crucial for the recognition of civil, economic and political rights. In this regard, the report underscores the need for African countries to lift the main binding constraints to fighting corruption in Africa. These include an independent media, domesticating freedom of information legislation; amending or repealing existing laws and policies that continue to hamper the right to information; and improving open data.”

“A third message of the report is that more public investment, particularly through civil society, is needed to catalyze strong anti-corruption sentiments in Africa. The final message of the report is that African policymakers have to adopt a more coherent approach to promoting the right to information and freedom of expression for it to play an effective role in driving the anti-corruption cause in Africa.

A Sampling of Report Findings

Problems with implementation are reported for the countries that have FOI laws.

For those that don’t, the report describes political resistance.

About Nigeria’s four-year-old law, the analysts said, “The implementation of the FOI Act has been quite poor both at the level of usage of the Law and in terms of the level of compliance by public institutions.”

Ayode Longe and Edetaen Ojo, of the Media Rights Agenda, further reported: “Virtually all the public institutions have failed to abide by their obligations set out in the Act including obligations to provide appropriate training for their officials on the public’s right of access to information or records held by government or public institutions; to record and keep every information about all their activities, personnel, operations, businesses, etc.; proactively publish certain types of information, even without anyone requesting them; and properly organize and maintain all information in their custody in a manner that facilitates public access to such information, among others.

Rwanda passed an access to information law in 2013, and the report says that “citizens are yet to grasp the full extent of the ATI law” and that“information requests filed have been scarce.” About the government, the report found: “Despite the existence of mechanisms and a pro–active attitude to improve ATI, government officials tend to prioritize upward accountability and do not work sufficiently with the ‘end–users’ or beneficiaries in order to better fulfil their responsibilities vis–à–vis citizens and even non–citizens in the case of the ATI act.”

In Uganda, the report says that despite efforts to promote the right to information “the practical realities show that Uganda still lacks the political will to fully ensure that her citizens enjoy the RTI.”

Research on Zimbabwe “has exposed the institutions’ unwillingness to provide information on their operations, however innocuous the information requested may be.”

Difficulties Getting Laws Passed

The report looks at several countries where FOI laws have yet to pass.

Tanzania’s failure to pass a law despite commitments by President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete is chronicled as a story “of bold commitments but disappointing reality.

“Zambian politicians are synonymous with pronouncements of offering to give the Zambian people an ATI law only during election campaign periods but, without shame, they go to sleep or take up a defensive position immediately after assuming office,” according to the report

Overall Accounting

Eighteen African countries provide constitutional guarantees for citizens’ right to information while only 17 out 54 African Union member states have domestic legislation focused on the right to information namely; South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Tunisia, Rwanda, Corte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Mozambique, Sudan and Burkina Faso. Yet lack of political will and capacity to implement these measures continue to undermine efforts to address endemic corruption and abuse of state power and its resources.

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