Uganda and the APRM in 2014: Plenty of fire but where is the smoke?

Uganda FlagFollowing on from last week’s engagements with civil society organizations (CSOs) in Tanzania, my research team traveled to Uganda for the second of seven separate country validation conferences (co-hosted by the Uganda NGO Forum) discussing the findings of the EISA APRM and Governance opinion survey conducted in 2013. Two identical events back-to-back in two different countries naturally invite comparisons, and there are some noticeable distinctions between civil society and governance in the two East African states. Where Tanzanian civil society operates in a sedate, generally informal manner; the immediacy of the zeal and passion in Uganda is almost overpowering in comparison. Dispensing with the formalities of introductions in short order, participants zeroed in on the burning issues facing Uganda  – the highlight, a frank exchange between Honourable Matia Kasaija (Uganda Minister of Finance, and APRM Focal Point for Uganda) and the former Chairperson of the APRM National Governing Council (NGC) in Uganda, Reverend Zac Niringiye. That Ugandans are ready and willing to debate governance was unequivocal; the interactions themselves highlighting the real challenge facing civil society in Uganda: engaging the national government. Continue reading

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The APRM in Tanzania: Missed Potential or Potent Reform Tool in 2014?

TanzaniaAPRMOn 5-6 November 2014, Tanzanian civil society organizations (CSOs) and representatives from governance agencies met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to reflect on the findings of a survey conducted by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). The findings of this survey, the first of its kind in Africa, reflected on the opinions of non-state actors in respect to the performance of both the state and civil society in promoting good governance practices through the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), in seven APRM member states, enabling for the first time an objective comparison between these states; their commonalities and distinctive differences. Continue reading

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Can a Coup by any other name….? Egypt after Morsi

800px-Demonstrators_on_Army_Truck_in_Tahrir_Square,_CairoBeing a South African watching the events unfolding in Egypt right now (the deposing of President Mohamed Morsi and the dissolving of Egypt’s Constitution in the last 24 hours), is much like being the neighbor of a particularly randy couple who have left their curtains slightly ajar when engaging in their private affairs. There is the voyeuristic excitement of watching a truly dramatic and (lets face it) entertaining spectacle unfold, without having to face any of the consequences of this dramatic denouement to the crisis in Egypt. And yet, as with the Peeping Tom, we here in South Africa ought to be left in the aftermath of our voyeurism with the discomfort of knowing that our own private fantasies of popular revolutions and overthrowing our democratically elected government (because we, like the Egyptians can relate to a President whose actions can be very unpopular) should remain nothing more than guilty fantasies. Continue reading

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Citizen responsibility: Ignorance is just a lazy way of ignoring our problems

parliamentEarlier today, my morning schedule took a turn towards the unexpected. In the midst of finalising reports and responding to emails, an unsolicited visitor wandered into the EISA lobby looking to speak to someone about ‘our democracy’. The visitor, an 80-something white male (lets call him Bob), wanted to understand more about how the South African democratic system works. This being an extremely noble goal, and partly because I was intrigued by the idea of a gentleman in his later years finding all this so engaging, I set about trying to answer his questions as best I could.

What followed was a 30 minute discussion that ranged widely from the way in which South Africa’s MPs are elected, to why Mamphela Ramphele is being touted as a new political force in the mainstream media. We discussed the theoretical ideas around rewarding citizens who honour their civic duties with additional or elevated voting rights, and why Apartheid would have been wrong even if the government hadn’t separated voters by race (i.e. if economic status or education were the determinants of whether or not a person gets to vote). Along the way, he reflected on how for his entire life, he has lived with blinkers on and how he never understood why any of the questions he was asking were important to him personally, but now, at the tender age of 80-something, he is beginning to connect the dots. Continue reading

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Watered down governance in SA

Economist Russell Lamberti has landed in hot water this week by suggesting South Africans don’t pay enough for their H2O to make it a sustainable resource. I discuss what’s bubbling under his thinking, and find that it is in line with both the government and civil society views on the issue according to existing reports. I also look at the notion of a looming South African ‘water crisis’ and conclude that even if Russell is right, pricing adjustments won’t drive the behavioural changes we need to our long-term supply until we sort out the local government governance structures. Continue reading

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[Commentary] What Sata’s victory means for Zambia

Newly elected Zambian President Michael Sata’s election victory in Zambia’s September polls has shaken up the political landscape of Southern Africa in more ways than might be expected. His election victory over his incumbent rival Rupiah Banda points to a number of shifts in the political landscape. This has important consequences, not only the small copper-reliant nation, but also the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and even Africa’s partnership with China. Continue reading

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[Commentary] Missing the point: Media and the APRM in South Africa

I don’t believe that sustainable and broad-based socio-economic development is possible without democracy. I am also convinced that the closest we can get to a satisfactory form of government to achieve that goal is one which allows, nay encourages, a diversity of opinion, across the spectrum. Even opinions which I might personally find abhorrent ought to be given the freedom to be aired in the public space, because only by allowing freedom of speech and expression can we work out as society where we want to go and how we want to get there. When one opinion becomes pervasive in a society, history reminds us of the inevitably tragic consequences which accrue. I therefore wholly subscribe to the libertarian notion first popularised by Voltaire who stated that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”.

Yet it saddens me sometimes to have to defend the rights to opinions which seem to relate only tenuously to reality. Continue reading

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