How far have rights to information progressed in Africa? The conditions that make information access rights both important and hard to implement are seen in their most extreme forms in Africa. This chapter presents case studies from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. The advance of information rights in Africa has been limited. However, low-key activity indicates that some awareness exists. Further, if any resistance to the state is arguably a struggle over information, then it is important to listen for ‘stifled voices of protest’.
The implementation and maintenance of access rights depends on highly specific features of the social history of particular countries. This includes factors such as how bureaucracy and citizenship are conceived. In African nations, additional hindrances include the fragility of post-colonial state formations, cultural and ethnic diversity, violent conflict and inadequate economic and social infrastructure. Demand-driven state compliance with the requirements of transparency and freedom of information is therefore rare.
Only a handful of African countries have laws enabling access to information. Even some of those that do, make no pretence that these laws are intended to encourage a new kind of relationship between the state and citizen.
- Zimbabwe implemented an access to information law in 2002. However, this law has been used to stifle the free press rather than encourage rights to information. This is despite having well trained records management staff.
- In Nigeria civic organisations have been monitoring human rights abuses for some years. However, after a nine-year struggle a freedom of information bill was rejected by the House of Representatives.
- In Angola the biggest question related to freedom of information is what has happened to the country’s oil wealth. Angola has a freedom of information law in place, but it has no constitutional foundation other than parliamentary initiative.
- In Mozambique the government makes much information freely available. However the media do not use it to hold the political class accountable in new ways, and a draft access law has not gained widespread support.
- South Africa’s access to information law is regarded as the ‘gold standard’. However, citizen demand for information is apparently low and bureaucratic compliance is inadequate.
Freedom of information, as a piece of national or local legislation guaranteeing individual citizens and others access to government information, has not really caught on in Africa. The reasons for this are complicated:
- It can be attributed at least partly to the intransigence of ruling elites in the face of transparency challenges.
- The conditions for implementation are absent. These include an adequate registry, a widely shared administrative language, and a citizenry with the self-awareness, skills and resources to challenge the state.
- The existence of demand for information cannot only be measured through the mechanisms of freedom of information legislation. Wherever resistance to the state occurs, a struggle over information is taking place.
- Accordingly, the idea of freedom of information may be under wider examination in Africa than surveys suggest. Unexpected progress has been made in the past decade in apparently intransigent countries such as Botswana and Tanzania.