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Bridging the Ambition-Implementation Gap in OGP Africa

Cerrando la Brecha entre la Ambición y la Implementación en OGP África

Lesly Baesens|

Electoral boundaries in Kenya. Unifying all national bank accounts in Sierra Leone. Mapping conservation areas in South Africa. Land ownership data in Liberia.

For those who follow events in each of these countries, these are all big ideas with potentially big results. And they were all in the most recent OGP action plans of these African countries. When it comes to big ambitions and socially relevant commitments, the OGP participating countries in Africa lead the global pack.

Indeed this is supported by the data. The OGP Steering Committee gave OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (where we work) the task of assessing the “potential impact” of commitments. When we compare African countries to countries in other regions, we see a big difference.

But we see another difference.

Take a look at the graph below and we see that where African countries excel in ambition, by comparison, there is a lower rate of completion.

African action plans have seen more ambitious commitments but lower rates of completion than the OGP average.

This is clearly an important issue. OGP needs to strike the right balance between the ambitious and the feasible and we are not doing that quite right in many African countries.

The first challenge is to figure out why the gap exists. It might be easy to repeat platitudes about “political will” or to imagine that throwing money or expertise at a problem can solve it. But when we go beyond the headlines and read what the IRM reports say about action plans it turns out that a number of factors contribute to the ambition-implementation gap.

  • In Sierra Leone, there were some delays in a major archive reform bill while agencies sorted out who would be in charge of implementing the law. The Ebola virus outbreak also delayed some of the commitments.
  • Similarly, in Kenya, discussion over which agency was to lead OGP lasted for a number of months, delaying implementation of some commitments. The decision was finally made to move OGP out of the Information and Communications Technology team, in order to broaden the mandate beyond technological interventions.
  • In Ghana, the Cabinet had not approved the plan which meant that the budget had not been allocated to support OGP once an initial donor fund dried up.

This snapshot of the main problems in a few of the OGP countries in Africa suggests that making sure the politics are properly aligned (within government as much as between government and citizens) is a critical first step to making sure that the right agency has the mandate to coordinate the action plan.

Second, it suggests that outside financing can motivate, but only temporarily. Getting the agencies, departments and ministries to work with the public to develop and implement commitments–to really own those commitments–can make just as much of a difference.

Of course, none of this is news to people in these countries or to those working in development. We have known for a while that “politics matters.” What makes OGP special, and why we should get beyond the platitudes is that OGP’s approach is built on the idea that politics matters and that we need to use politics–both national and international–to get the organized public, elected officials, and civil servants to collaborate. In most OGP countries in Africa, that will mean making sometimes difficult, but entirely necessary decisions about who should be in charge of implementation, how to bring other agencies and sectors on board, and how to collaborate with the loyal (and sometimes not-so-loyal) opposition.

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