An optimistic journey to sustainable institutions in Africa

Blog by Tony Kirita, June 19, 2019

Hivos Project Officer for Open Contracting

This year, I had an amazing opportunity of experiencing first hand reflections on the path to sustainable development in Africa. This experience cut across two fronts: drafting the civil society report to the Tanzania National Voluntary Review report and participating in the fifth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD) hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco.

What appeared strongly in these two interactions is that, Africa is ripe for a seismic shift in its institutions to more resilient, inclusive and responsive structures for the following reasons. Firstly, when it comes to conversations between governments there is a rise of true reformers in some governments, people who want progress and not just mere political jargons on podiums. Secondly, there is an emergence of voices that persistently seek and speak truth to power with an understanding that civic, political space and accountability measures are a must for Africa to achieve sustainable development goals. Nevertheless, civil society organizations have continued to grow resilience tentacles, despite emerging challenges. Simply put, there is a growing appetite for boldness and hope.

Critical for institutions to reform

During these forums, there were many critical discussions about sustainability of the continent from climate change, gender, employment, trade to infrastructures and energy development. These conversations have come at an opportune time when building sustainable institutions is necessary. This is a component that  falls under UN SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions with necessary actions needed to contribute to the achievement of this goal . Corruption, illicit financial flow, human rights abuse and violence were listed as some of the factors inhibiting the rise of just and fair institutions that adhere to the principles of democracy. Requisite solutions in transparency and accountability got tabled as some of the measures that can be taken to curb this norm.

Arguably, Africa is in need of capital for attaining sustainable development and it was evident that the political and economic landscape calls for transparency and accountability on the management of available resources in the continent. There is a looming shadow of a dark past and troubling present; for example the 2014 disappearance of oil revenue in Nigeria, Anglo leasing and Eurobond scandals in Kenya, US$2.2 billion debt scandal in Mozambique, escrow scandal in Tanzania and many more of this stories. Looking at this context, the continent is in need of a sustainable solution in reducing wastage, corruption and ensuring accountability. One of the emerging proposed solutions from the Tanzania civil society organization report and later on in the ARFSD major group statement is the adoption of open public contracting and beneficial ownership registers.

Transparency and accountability needed

Open public contracting is an approach that calls for openness of government contracting, not just publishing of the contract but openness and participation of citizens at each stage of contracting. For example in public procurement, openness of the process from planning stage, to execution of the contract is paramount in wading off systemic corruption. Even in sensitive areas such as security, use of public funds through procurement needs to be transparent.  Parameters that validate sensitivity as a reason for not disclosing information should be clear with institutions that are empowered to oversee accountability. Also, there is a growing current trend of African governments borrowing loans from developed countries and other financial institutions. Civil society organizations are calling for accountability, transparency and openness even in negotiation and in servicing public debts.

Participatory decision-making in management of public funds

The extractive sector in economies such as Nigeria, Congo Brazzaville and Angola continues to be prone to corruption, have systemic opaqueness in contracts and mismanagement of funds. There is a case in Angola where a government official directed an oil company to partner with a proxy company owned by government officials. These cases have compelled civil society organizations to make a case for having beneficial ownership registries where companies should disclose information about real owners.

There is an understanding in Africa, that among other things the road to sustainable institutions needs a transformation of public contracting from elite businesses to citizens’ businesses. Years of experience have proven that opaqueness breeds corruption, mismanagement, patronage and gross poverty. Political willingness is crucial to facilitate this transformation. To date, some progressive champions in various governments such as Kenya have started to push the drive for open contracting. In Tanzania during the anti-corruption summit the Prime Minister made a commitment for establishing a beneficial ownership register in the country and work has commenced through EITI. Similarly, Uganda government is working with the civil society organization in transforming its procurement along the line of Open Contracting Data Standard.

Looking at the future of Africa institutions, citizens’ participation is the key ingredient to sustainable government structures in Africa. This has to be complemented with vibrant and resilient civil society organizations and media that will create bridges where there is lack of political will and capacity of citizens is built where to demand disclosure. This brings in the dire need of the semblance of social structures with accountability, daily questioning, analysis and monitoring.