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Finding a way for citizens to hold governments to account: the SDGs in Southern Africa

Fri, 2016-06-10 10:51
Masego Madzwamuse

With governments now responsible for delivering the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, IRF partner, OSISA, is working with civil society to explore options for increasing accountability. Masego Madzwamuse shared her thinking in an interview.

Photo shows children in Malawi

Can citizen initiatives hold states to account when it comes to implementing the SDGs for future generations? Photo: John Y. Can via flickr.com, creative commons licence.

In Southern Africa, there is growing civil society interest in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and questions about how citizens might work with parliamentarians across the region to increase accountability in delivering implementation. As part of its work with IRF, the Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa is exploring how this idea might be taken forward.

The role of OSISA

OSISA is a grant-making organisation focused on human rights. In the Southern African region we work in Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Our mission is to build democratic societies in the region, reducing poverty and inequality.

Our focus on the SDGs?

Our work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is part of our programme on promoting inclusive government and access to education and health services. The programme is designed to respond to the deep levels of poverty, the exclusion of marginalised populations – disabled people, youth, women, HIV positive, who are essentially excluded from being active citizens in the region. They are economically excluded and face structural barriers that they face in accessing services such as health and education which are essential for building human capacity.

There’s a lot of momentum around the SDGs, in civil society, but also parliamentarians realise that they needed to be part of the process. The SDGs have been part of public discourse, with civil society events about the goals. The education sector is looking at how to advance education for all, talking about the quality of education, how to connect education to build, groom and grow democracies, where people are not subjects of the state, but hold leaders to account on their commitments.

There have been discussions around access to quality health services and the role of community monitoring, which is expanding health services into remote areas. There have been discussions about how to scale up monitoring efforts, and about how you upscale these issues into the formal process.

There have also been discussions in the food security area. Southern Africa is one of the most food insecure areas. It is affected by climate change, by changes to the flood cycle, and that impacts on agricultural production. The SDG framework and the Paris Agreement will help governments to be more prepared. There is lots of focus on building resilience in communities, especially for small-scale farmers in rural areas.

Links to governance

We can make the connections. We know that these problems worsen where there are governance failures. Issues are gaining prominence around land governance, tenure systems and law reform.

These link to issues around agriculture and trade justice, and to broader food systems, where there are issues around a lack of access to food. It isn’t always about production. Farmers need better access to market, but there are also issues around affordability. People cannot afford to buy the food they need.

And you have to look at the role of large-scale agriculture in this context. People do not have access to land to grow their food because the land has been taken by large commercial farms – but they also cannot afford to buy food on the market. There are also issues with the mining industry expanding onto communal land, and the environmental impacts of the mining industry on water sources. There is a nexus emerging around these issues.

So the SDGs provide opportunities to look at mechanisms that allow citizen driven accountability.

A government barometer

OSISA has been working on an idea for IRF to develop a government barometer – a citizen driven platform that can be used as a tool to hold states accountable. It would draw on existing social accountability tools (community-led health monitoring for example) and apply them to the SDGs. And there is an opportunity to align this with parliamentarians – they represent citizens in the government and they can take the information and raise it at the government level.

It is an ambitious idea, and it isn’t feasible to do this for all 17 goals – at least not at this point. We have been trying to identify the goals that would be transformational – focusing on the goals on food security, poverty and income inequality and education. And we want to look at how issues such as trade intersect with these goals. You have to look at what is happening in the trade space, and the role of foreign direct investment in propelling growth, or failing to deliver growth.

So we have been building alliances, planting the seed of this idea with different civil society organisations and parliamentarians. And it is gaining traction.

Of course we have to see what would make it different from existing barometer tools – there is the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance and the Afrobarometer. How would it be different? But these are the ideas that are out there and it is a conversation that will unfold.

Masego Madzwamuse is a team leader for OSISA, one of the IRF partners.


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