Pan African Access to Information Conference

The conference was a crash course in African media and information access. Delegates from most African countries conveyed some optimism in spite of daily dealing with repressive governments. One example is the Ethiopian government that flicks the internet switch on an off at its leisure being the only internet provider in the country. This poses some logistical challenges for courageous regime critical blogger Endalk. He was on my panel in the workshop about media literacy. What he and other colleagues do in Africa humbles me. Things that we take for granted, like free speech, reliable independent internet connections and open and free debate are still being bitterly contested. If you want to get informed about Ethiopia read Endalk’s blog.

Another high light of the conference was to have input into the Pan African Access to Information Charter. This powerful and important document comes 10 years after the Windhoek declaration that started the movement towards greater access to government held information in Africa and increased transparency.

When I did the first assessment of the South African FOI system in 2004 it was the only country with an access to information regime in Africa – now there are nine (some of the laws are however dubious in that they seem to be counterproductive to the aim of FOI laws). It will be fascinating to follow FOI/RTI in Africa. However, as I’ve pointed out before. Passing the law is the easy bit – making it work in practice is much harder.