Last month, President Obama invited four democratic, African Heads of State to the White House for discussions under the theme of “democracy and its link to economic development” and the cross-cutting themes of gender, youth, peace and security.
President Joyce Banda joined President Sall of Senegal, President Koroma of Sierra Leone and Prime Minister Neves of Cape Verde. Every meeting, discussion and event focused on how good democratic governance can move countries from aid dependency to trade, investment and economic growth and how the rule of law not only protects human dignity but creates a secure, predictable business environment.
Obama received a commitment from the four leaders to undertake actions to join the “Open Government Partnership” which he launched at the 2011 UN General Assembly. Malawi has met the minimum criteria for becoming part of the OGP, but will need to take ownership by developing a National Action Plan based on four core principles: transparency, civic participation, anticorruption, and using technology and innovation to make government open, effective and accountable.
The OGP aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance through institutions driven by citizens and responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy. It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.
The OGP’s founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, UK and US) have now been joined by 47 other governments. To participate in OGP, governments must exhibit a commitment to open government in four areas, as measured by objective indicators and validated by independent experts: fiscal transparency, access to information, disclosures related to elected or senior public officials, and citizen engagement.
About eight African countries have met the criteria to join the OGP (Malawi just met the minimum standards). Banda made a commitment to Obama that her government will take action based on its principles and is committed to join the Open Government Partnership http://www.opengovpartnership.org/
A measurement tool directly related to OGP comes from The World Justice Project. I was present at the WJP Rule of Law Index review in Lilongwe presided over by President Banda on March 13. Government, private sector, and civil society leaders as well as many other Malawians listened attentively to a substantive discussion—a comprehensive picture of the extent to which Malawi adheres to the rule of law, not in theory, but in practice. Nine factors and 48 sub-factors were laid out. For instance, the Rule of Law Index evaluates whether citizens can access public services without the need to bribe a government official; whether a basic dispute among neighbours or companies can be resolved peacefully and cost-effectively by an independent adjudicator; and whether people can conduct their daily activities without fear of crime or police abuse.
There was obvious satisfaction where Malawi has demonstrated progress, high ratings or at least better ratings than other countries on the continent or countries with similar income. (Factors in which Malawi ranks in the top 50 percent include absence of corruption, order and security, open government, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice).
Malawians should take pride in the positives but recognise that there is significant room for improvement. The diverse audience also paid attention to areas where there is a rule of law deficit that negatively affects the daily lives of ordinary Malawians (limited government powers and fundamental rights).
If there are to be positive results, it will be because each and every Malawian takes responsibility and plays his or her role.
—The author is US Ambassador to Malawi