The African Network of Constitutional Lawyers recently distributed two papers - country studies on access to information in Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Access to information laws are far and far between in Africa, with only six countries in Africa having dedicated access to information legislation - South Africa, Uganda, Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia and Nigeria. Despite a number of initiatives in recent years, including a Draft Model Law on ATI in Africa, there has not been much change.
The two papers produced by the ANCL discuss access to information in an environment where such is not directly legislated. The executive summaries of the papers are below and the papers are attached to this blog.
Access to Information in Kenya
This paper examines the issue of access to information within the Kenyan context. Drawing on fieldwork, it evaluates challenges facing the right to receive information.. The study demonstrates that the public faces several difficulties in the quest to enjoy this fundamental right. This work makes specific legal and policy recommendations that could alleviate these challenges.
Access to Information in Zimbabwe
Access to Information is by no means an end in itself, rather it is a means through which communities and individuals alike obtain knowledge of the rights that accrue to them and demand their fulfilment. Further, it is a tool for enhancing citizen engagement and participation in their governance, attaining mass-based empowerment and local level poverty reduction as well as building the organisational capacity of local communities by building a critical mass for the demand of accountability and realisation of other fundamental human rights.
Yet, the centrality of information to maintaining political power in countries such as Zimbabwe mean that access to information is sternly restricted. The culture of secrecy prevalent in most government departments suggest that access to information is not seen as a right but a privilege that government officials dispense at will. To maintain that secrecy, legislation such as the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act widely limit the information accessible to the public while other legislation like the Public Order and Security Act effectively control dissemination of any information to the public by restricting public gatherings.
Based on focus group discussions and interviews conducted, it was noted that people in Zimbabwe are generally unaware of their right to access information and the procedure of requesting information from government departments; on the other hand, it was revealed that the media has dominated the campaign for access to information thereby erroneously sending a message that access to information is only for media practitioners. The effect has been the lack of nationalisation of the access to information campaign. As a result, it has been recommended that civic education to raise the public’s awareness of the right of access to information is essential while at the same time the government is lobbied to implement a proactive information disclosure policy for all its departments. Meanwhile, the current legislative framework could be transformed through the current constitution-making process which provides an indelible opportunity for reform of access to information laws and a constitutionally guaranteed right of access to information.