On September 20th 2011, the governments of 8 countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) endorsed an Open Government Declaration. The Declaration makes clear the objectives of a new Open Government Partnership (OGP) which aims to:
- Increase the availability of information about governmental activities.
- Support civic participation.
- Implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout government administrations.
- Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.
The same 8 governments also presented their action plans and invited 38 other governments who were represented at the launch to join the Partnership.Tanzania was represented at the launch by President Jakaya Kikwete, and is due to submit a draft plan on December 7th 2011.
Twaweza’s Rakesh Rajani was also present and delivered remarks, representing civil society organizations and the Open Government Partnership steering committee. Laying out the precedent in which technologies are positively affecting livelihoods globally, Rakesh encouraged governments to take an active role in the process. He also referred to the need to participate among citizens as being a basic and acknowledged right:
Open communication also heightens aspirations. No longer are people willing to bear it, remain silent in the face of humiliations, and indefinitely defer dreams. Ideas travel, we see how others live and make a difference, we wonder ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?,’ we learn lessons, we make meaning, we craft tools, we organize, we act.
President Obama, who spoke more than once at the launching event, endorsed this sentiment:
As Rakesh I think said so well, the more open we are, the more willing we are to hear constructive criticism, the more effective we can be. And ultimately, governments are here to serve the people, not to serve those in power.
As a presentation from Twaweza shows, there are a few steps for participating governments:
- Eligible countries sign up to Open Gov Declaration (Tanzania has done this already as of September 20th).
- Countries identify key areas to strengthen openness + develop concrete OGP Plan with public consultation (Tanzania will do this by December 7th).
- Countries secure peer review and technical support to implement plan (2012).
- Provide annual reports that are subject to independent review (2012).
Twaweza’s website also reports that public consultations are being carried out at the moment in order to draft a plan that is due on December 7 at the Ministerial level meeting.
Where have we reached at this very moment?
Quite a bit is going on, and there is no better time for you to contribute to Tanzania’s government decisions. Ben Taylor from Daraja has covered the Open Government movements from Tanzania’s perspective comprehensively, outlining general missions and also providing suggestions for priority areas.
Here on Vijana FM, Michael Dalali suggested that we consider making government documents available online. Citizens as well as media and educational institutions could use e-government as a resource. Another Vijana FM author, Bihemo, commented:
Technology and in this case we are talking about software technology is expensive. The initial idea of creating an e-government is easier than the commitment that follows [...] Computer scientists are available. Everywhere. And can commit themselves to such activities but we need a committed body – a body that wants to see things done.
On the Afrinnovator blog, Mbwana Alliy who has also discussed technology with us before, discussed his first impressions of a Data.go.tz website and encouraged thinking about leadership concerns first. The website (Data.go.tz) appears to have been up by the Tanzanian OGP group, but we are told that it was released early and not all features are fully operational. This raised questions about who was leading the effort and where exactly proposals should be directed. Mbwana suggested that Tanzania observe Kenya’s open data initiative to set clear benchmarks and intuitive direction for users.
The aim of the OGP in Tanzania seems to have a different kind of beginning, however. As Ben Taylor commented on Afrinnovator:
The Tanzanian site is designed at this stage as a space for consultation and discussion. Hopefully it will grow into something more like its Kenyan and US cousins over time, and I believe there are elements in the Tanzanian government that would like it to become so, but at the moment its not pretending to be a site for sharing data.
Rakesh also commented on the blog, saying:
The people implementing the consultations are doing so at instructions of their higher ups, but they themselves may not be fully in the picture or share the full ethos of what’s up. Everything is pretty fast paced compared to normal govt pace, and lots of other things are going on at same time involving the same people. So in the process a combination of old habits, circumstances, lack of clarity about good standards, errors, etc have made consultation process be far from ideal. I could bemoan that fact, but I choose to give it benefit of doubt for now, and concentrate energy on how to get best out of the opportunity.
Daraja blog has provided an address for your suggestions and ideas to the Tanzanian government:
- By post, to PO Box 9120, Dar es Salaam.
- By SMS, to 0658 999222.
- Online, at wananchi.go.tz – click on “Tuma” or “Wasilisha Hoja”
In addition to this direct communication, numerous blogs are trying to cover the OGP in Tanzania. Contributing your thoughts to blogs as well as commenting on them will increase your chances of the people coordinating the OGP hearing your suggestions and ideas.
So, what exactly can you do with Vijana FM?
There are a few things you can do at the moment here on Vijana FM to begin proposing your ideas to the government:
- We have setup a UserEcho for the exchange of ideas and questions specifically for the OGP in Tanzania. Please explore this crowdsourcing tool; it will allow you to suggest ideas, ask questions, and vote on other ideas and questions. We hope this tool will help those steering the OGP.
- Talk to us directly or through comments about what you think of the big idea: Do you think this is going to be useful for you?
- Talk to you friends about the idea: Do they think they would use the opportunity to talk to government and provide ideas?
- Write, draw, paint, record or act your idea of making governments better through transparency: We are willing to hedge our resources to help you do this.
- Enagage your interest group – whether it is music, school, mazoezi team or a combination of all three – to communicate with government.
Following the December 7th 2011 meeting and further meetings in 2012 which will endorse Tanzania’s government as an Open Government Partner, we will keep you posted about where OGP goes. We hope that it will involve as many of our readers and supporters as possible, especially our young and innovative friends.
Further reading from The East African: