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Faces of Open Government: Fatou Jagne Senghore

Rostros del gobierno abierto: Fatou Jagne Senghore

Fatou Jagne Senghore|

Fatou Jagne Senghore is the Director for Article 19, West Africa. As the open government community observed Open Gov Week and World Press Freedom Day this month, Fatou reflects on the need to defend and enhance spaces for civil society organizations, activists, journalists and everyday citizens to express themselves freely, to organize in groups for a common purpose, and to gather together to make their voices heard.

Ambitious plans have been announced by governments in the region in response to the COVID-19 crisis. But some of these have been accompanied by shrinking civil liberties – exacerbating already existing civic space challenges in some of our countries. As a human rights and freedom of expression advocate – what should countries, and civil society organizations in particular, be doing over the next two to three years to improve civic space in the region?

Indeed, we have seen significant setbacks on civic space in West Africa over the past few years, including attacks on human rights defenders, political opponents and the media. We have even seen this in countries traditionally known for their history of democracy and for their relative respect for human rights, particularly on freedom of the press.  

There is more and more intolerance and repression of dissident voices despite commitments from the governments to adhere to democratic values and respect for human rights through their OGP commitments and action plans. These contradictions are of great concern and if not addressed, this will hinder the progress and the efforts made so far by all actors to entrench good governance and openness in public life. We need to reverse this pattern by working together to create trusted multi-stakeholder platforms at the national and regional levels that can help build genuine consensus on electoral matters, term limits, succession in power, management of natural resources, migration, border security, and building independent and sustainable public institutions. These are some of the issues that  actors in many countries are advocating for. 

We have also seen an increase in assaults on civil society organizations (CSOs) as more countries use cybersecurity laws and other criminal provisions to intimidate CSOs while others have tried to discredit CSOs – particularly human rights organizations – by calling them unpatriotic. Specific measures should be taken to strengthen judicial and regulatory institutions that have been weakened and are perceived in many countries as non-independent.

PHOTO: Credit: Photo by Article 19 West Africa

World Press Freedom Day was May 3, a day observed to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression. Why is it important to have commitments on this topic and how can open gov champions leverage OGP efforts and that of partners to protect civic space?

The theme for the 2021 World Press Freedom Day was “Information as a Public Good”.  This theme provides an opportunity to further assess the situation of the media in terms of the legal and financial obstacles that limit its work. But importantly, it gave us the chance to reflect on the role and responsibility of the media as a key provider of information to citizens in these critical times of governance crisis.

Open government champions should work in tandem to create an enabling environment for media to be free from undue interference and harassment. Meanwhile, governments should provide the legal and regulatory frameworks for independent media to prosper and be sustainable. Leveraging on existing initiatives at the international (UNESCO) and regional levels (African Union/ African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights) to support security of journalists and media works and the fights against impunity and mobilization for better access to information and media accountability could help protect civic space. 


Open Gov Week was on May 17-21, an opportunity for reformers in government and civil society to co-create commitments to rebuild democracies in a post COVID-19 world. What are some of the areas you think these reformers should focus on to ensure an open response and open recovery to the pandemic? 

To rebuild back post COVID-19, reformers need to reaffirm their commitments to openness and accountability and practice it on a daily basis and be more responsive to the needs of citizens. It is critical that public policies in a post COVID-19 world are built in consultation with the constituencies they intend to target/affect in order to reflect their views, needs and aspirations and ensure their smooth implementation.  Post COVID-19 will be challenging on many fronts,  so it will be important to include everyone in the process and for governments to demonstrate a stronger political will, lift the restrictions on civic space, strengthen the accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms and develop open door policies and improve efficiency of public service delivery through inclusive and participatory approaches. Key to this is unfettered access to information for all and ensuring the independence of the media and CSOs.

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