Three Reasons Why Ethiopia Should Join the OGP Initiative
Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral, multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to enhance civic participation, promote transparency, increase access to open data, use better technology to strengthen governance, fight corruption and strengthen accountability. OGP was initially launched on September 20, 2011, on the sidelines of the 66th UN General Assembly meeting during which the 8 founding governments: Brazil, Indonesia, Norway, Mexico, UK, US, the Philippines and South Africa endorsed the Open Government Declaration. Since its foundation, OGP has welcomed over 2,500 commitments from its 75 participating national governments and 15 sub-national governments, some of which are African countries including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and recently Morocco.
Ethiopia is not a member of the initiative; neither has she fulfilled the eligibility criteria of the initiative. However, before the ongoing civil war, the country has been undergoing historic democratic reforms following the nationwide antigovernmental protests. Corruption and the lack of transparency and accountability have been some of the root causes of the recent political and economic crisis and the ensuing violent antigovernmental protests throughout the country. More than ever before, citizens are aware of their rights and demand a more transparent and accountable system. The Ethiopian new leadership, led by Dr. Abiy Ahmed, in its first three months of tenure, has shown greater interest and taken some concrete measures to increase the political space and promote transparency and accountability. Measures include lifting bans on domestic and Diaspora-based political parties, websites and media outlets, which were formerly classified as terrorists by the ruling party, and letting them (re)operate in the country; the ongoing revision of the media, anti-terrorism, and charity laws; and reforming of the security sector to restore public confidence. Hence, at this juncture, it is necessary for the country to initiate discussions to join the OGP as a sign of its commitment to promoting accountability, transparency, and civic engagement. In particular, there are three significant reasons why Ethiopia should join the initiative: restoring public trust, securing global reputation, and access to the OGP resources and expertise.
Restoring Public Trust
The public trust of Ethiopians in their national government and institutions is lower than other African countries. The survey conducted by Gallup Poll in 2007 shows that “Ethiopians’ level of trust in their national government, judiciary, and the honesty of elections is lower than the regional medians for sub-Saharan Africa by roughly 30 percentage points.” In addition, international rankings such as Transparency International and the World Bank World Wide Governance Indicators (WGI) show that Ethiopia is among the poor performing countries in terms of fighting corruption and promoting accountability. The rampant corruption, lack of transparency and citizens’ widespread feeling of exclusion in policy making and monitoring have fueled citizens’ distrust of public institutions. The antigovernmental protests reveal citizens’ high demand for public administration reforms that accommodate openness and greater public participation in policymaking. Therefore, by starting an engagement with the OGP, the new leadership would have the opportunity to become a leading force in building up public trust and open up the public institutions for greater accountability, transparency and responsiveness to its people. It is high time for Ethiopian leadership to prove that the officials and institutions hold a high standard of transparency, accountability and integrity, and ensure public participation in their decision-making.
Securing Global Reputation
Besides presenting the opportunity to promote civic engagement and restore faith in public institutions, joining the OGP initiative would secure and fortify Ethiopia’s global reputation in areas of transparency, integrity and citizen engagement. By joining the partnership, Ethiopia can show the rest of the world that she is committed to genuine public administration reforms and the principles of open government. Since Ethiopia receives a large amount of aid from donors such as the US and EU, whose aid policies aim to promote democratic reforms in the recipient countries, implementing openness in governance might enhance her credibility and increase donors’ investment in support of the reform process. In addition, increasing the country’s reputation and credibility would have a spillover effect on the economy. Open government and open access to public information could restore both local and foreign investors’ confidence in the system which in turn might help to increase economic growth through improved government efficiency and creating opportunities for business development.
Access to the OGP Resources and Expertise
Since joining the partnership provides an opportunity for international networking, empowerment and support, Ethiopia would learn from the experiences of OGP member states on drafting, implementing and monitoring various open government reforms in multiple areas including access to information legislation, asset disclosure, procurement, budget transparency, civic and political spaces, and use of better technologies in governance. In addition, Ethiopian political leaders, civil servants, and civil societies would have the expertise, technical assistance and resource of the OGP that would help them to participate in and facilitate the reform processes.
Note: the article was first written on August 17, 2018 (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/three-reasons-why-ethiopia-should-consider-joining-open-teka/). It was a time when the hope for reform was high and certain measures were undertaken to implement meaningful reform. However, today, the government has rolled back democratic reform gains and turned into full-fledged authoritarianism. Reform has almost become the government’s least priority. The government should prioritize opening governance and promoting accountability, transparency and eradicating corruption.