The Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) is a pan-African, membership organisation and resource centre that promotes the right of access to information (RTI) and freedom of expression (FoE) across Africa. Established in 2009, it focuses on comparative research, capacity strengthening, technical support to national advocacy initiatives as well as leading continental and global advocacy campaigns, monitoring treaty compliance and implementation, facilitating information-sharing, and network development. Currently, AFIC has a membership of 40 organisations in 21 African countries. It strives to become a dependable and reliable freedom of information centre in Africa.
AFIC has been successful in influencing, or using regional and international mechanisms to address national, regional and international freedom of expression and access to information issues. Some of the results are, but not exclusively, the adoption of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution 222 on the expansion of the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression to include access to information, and the decision by the UNESCO General Conference of November 2015 to declare 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
Moreover, AFIC has successfully engaged ACHPR and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanisms through the provision of shadow reports on the situation of freedom of expression and access to information in Malawi, Angola, Namibia, Kenya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, among others. This work has provided a substantial legal framework for national and local advocacy efforts in advancing the Right to information.
Since 2014 AFIC has produced bi-annual State of Right to Information in Africa reports. The 2015 report focussed on access to information and anti-corruption in Africa, while the 2017 report, covering 23 African countries, focused on access to information and the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Public contracting is a major area where corruption manifests and significantly impacts the poor. This problem is compounded by the secrecy in public procurement. In 2015, AFIC conducted an assessment of the extent to which African governments were committed to open public contracting. The findings revealed that no government was committing to address corruption in procurement by opening public contracting. Following various advocacy efforts, the governments of Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria have since committed to embracing open contracting.
In Uganda, AFIC has successfully advocated for and worked with the government to open up procurement data. Using this information, it has monitored contracts and provided feedback to the Government of Uganda. Problems identified include high diversion of funds, disproportionate use of uncompetitive procurement methods, secrecy, fraud, and collusion, among others. The government has responded by improving access to information, with over 250 public agencies now registered and disclosing procurement information on the Government Procurement Portal. Based on this experience, AFIC and its members have launched a campaign to advocate for open contracting across Africa, starting with Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria.
AFIC’s work has demonstrated that enabling and empowering ordinary people with access to public information addresses corruption and helps to improve service delivery.
AFIC has also developed a resource kit containing training manuals to support capacity building efforts for civil servants, journalists, and civil society. These are widely used by AFIC, its members and partners across Africa to promote citizens’ access to information. In addition, working with the Government of Uganda, AFIC has developed an access to information platform, Ask Your Government Uganda, to facilitate online request of public information by citizens. Both information requests by citizens and the response by public officials are uploaded on the portal, helping to minimise the necessity for repeats. More recently, AFIC has developed the Budeshi Uganda platform which is used to analyse procurement information and identify red flags in the contracting process. In the coming weeks, this will be activated to access and analyse vast quantities of data directly from the Government Procurement Portal.
AFIC has Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and is a member of the CSO Joint Steering Committee of the partnership on human rights and democratic governance of the African-European Union partnership. It hosts the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet), Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition, and Construction Sector Transparency Uganda (CoST), and is a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Africa Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) Working Group, and International Alliance for Natural Resources in Africa (IANRA). It is also active in promoting African civil society engagement in the Open Government Partnership in Africa. In 2015, AFIC was appointed to the African Group of Experts to develop Indicators for the first 10 years of the African Union Agenda 2063.
Despite its success, AFIC is also confronted with many challenges regarding the strengthening and expansion of its activities. While AFIC has developed tools to advance the implementation on the right to information, funding to support the use of these tools is inadequate, thus frustrating its efforts to make a more meaningful contribution to the realisation of SDG 16.10.2 in Africa. Secondly, AFIC hosts global, continental and national networks and initiatives such as FOIAnet, APAI and UCMC, but these are not funded. AFIC struggles to service them by assigning staff from existing programmes which undermines its already overstretched capacity. Finally, AFIC’s ambition to promote the use of African human rights mechanisms and instruments has not been fully realised in part due to lack of resources to train and mentor AFIC members on these mechanisms.
The increasing threat to free space in many African countries, therefore, affects both AFIC and its members in a significant way.
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This is the twenty-first NGO profile of my 2018 #NGOs4Africa Campaign.
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