Bringing government and citizens together was the focus of a panel discussion hosted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) during the sixth Africities Summit in Dakar, Senegal. The panel looked for solutions to the lack of democratic governance in Africa and how the development and stability of African countries requires a greater emphasis on principles of democratic governance.
Panelists developed a list of recommendations that will become a part of a larger set of recommendations from the more than 100 sessions that took place during the summit. The recommendations were:
- Governments must engage citizens in a systematic way, with established mechanisms and policies. Governments must devote significant effort to increase citizen awareness of these mechanisms.
- Local authorities must understand that public participation is beneficial, that the public is not their adversary but their partner, and they must believe this to be true. Governments must invest in citizen participation training for staff to enable sustainable participatory initiatives.
- Governments have to be honest and open about its responsibilities and ability to meet citizens’ needs and it must give realistic timeframes to citizens so they know what to expect.
- Citizens need to understand that it has to contribute to government in order for the system to function – whether through the payment of taxes and fees or respecting of laws.
- Citizen control of government needs to become more tangible, combined with civic education about their role and responsibilities. Tools for citizen oversight must also be implemented.
The discussion opened with panelists from Ghana, Kenya and Senegal highlighting specific initiatives in their respective countries, described lessons learned and challenges they still face and their plan to address those problems in the future.
Hamisi Omari Mboga, the Secretary General of the Association of Local Government Authorities of Kenya; and Tubman Otieno Ochogo, a Town Clerk for the city of Mombasa, Kenya, discussed how citizen participation is embedded in Kenya’s constitution and stressed the importance of participation in ensuring accountable, effective, equitable and transparent governments.
Kofi E. Taylor-Appiah, a Metro Development Planning Officer with the Tema Metropolitan Assembly in Tema, Ghana, highlighted the need for governments to communicate important information, particularly regarding budgetary facts, in language or graphics that the average citizen can understand easily.
Binete Ndiaye Mbengue, with the Forum Civil in Dakar, Senegal, described an innovative citizen evaluation program, Citizen Certification, which allows self-organized groups of citizens to evaluate the performance of their local government using 38 clear and specific indicators.
Additionally, IRI sponsored a booth in the Africities Exhibition hall, where IRI staff were available to discuss the Institute’s work on democratic governance programs in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. The exhibition hosted international aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations and companies to share information and expertise on improving local government’s capacity to govern more effectively.
The Africities Summit and Exhibition are organized by the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa and is held every three years. These events are an opportunity for African local governments, local government associations, nongovernmental organizations, international aid agencies and other stakeholders to discuss important topics related to the empowerment of local government.Top