5 February 2010

Africa: Continent Ripe for Citizen-Led Development Plan

There have been real improvements in Africa over the past decade. Economic growth has been averaging about five per cent a year, 34 million more children are in school, malarial death rates have nearly been halved in a number of countries and more than three million people are on life-preserving AIDS medications. Africa can build on this progress to achieve sustainable development by establishing a new citizens' compact. This bottom-up approach would ensure that development is devolved, that citizens are connected with new technologies, that executive powers are diffused, that political parties are strengthened and that the integrity of leaders and governance institutions firmly take centre stage.
There are three urgent considerations for such a strategy.
First, African accountability efforts by civil society and think tanks must be expanded dramatically. Efforts such as Twaweza, an East African citizen accountability movement, can be scaled up across the continent and deliver great returns on investment by empowering citizens to demand their rights.
These efforts are easier with today's technology, especially mobile telephony. From the student who can text a hotline when her teacher does not turn up to the anti-corruption monitor who pores over statistics from national budgets online, new technology is the tool of the
Also, a new citizen strategy should not repeat past mistakes of lionizing specific political leaders – this makes it harder for Africans to hold them to account.
Second, experience shows that constant vigilance on transparency, especially with regard to national budgets, is critical. Thieves have more to hide. Regimes run by kleptocrats are more likely to fumble and fall, with wider security implications.
But it is not just African budgets that must be more transparent. One of the great scandals in development is the lack of good statistics to measure progress – this area needs much more investment. Another scandal is the hypocrisy of most high-profile global promises, such as the vague billions alluded to at the Copenhagen climate change summit.
Third, private investment can also drive the citizens' strategy. Proliferating mobile telephony is allowing Africans to leap digitally from the developing into the developed world. Africa has tremendous renewable energy potential that is ripe for investment. African stocks have been doing well, although this has been barely noticed by investors abroad.
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