I too hold the mantle: International Day of Democracy

Today, 15th September 2015, little or not so little fifteen year old Muteteli from Rwanda aspires to one day be Member of Parliament. She aspires to represent constituents from her region, help young children grow up to be the best they could possibly be; to live to their full potential. Young Muteteli aspires to assist farmers to produce more food for internal use and export, teachers be well qualified, hospitals to have well run facilities and to overall harness the energies and innovation of the promising Rwandan youth.

“I will one day be Member of Parliament, I will make good decisions and I will make Rwanda proud,” she muses amidst a smile. Are her dreams valid? Very much so.

(The Bring Back Our Girls Movement)

If one asks Muteteli whether she is aware of what a civil society organization is, she will quickly respond with a resounding yes. “They are the people who hold my Member of Parliament representative accountable and raise issues on what needs to be done more of.” If one probes further on whether she would want a civil society during her parliamentary tenure, the answer is also a resounding yes. “Just as my mother holds me to account on my wrongs, I too want people to tell me where I should focus my energies.”

Ban Ki moon rightly put it when he stated that civil society is the oxygen of democracy. It acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth and plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable; helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups; that being the women and youth.

Article 29 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance stipulates that, ‘State Parties shall recognize the crucial role of women in development and strengthening of democracy.’

What does this mean?

In the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, “No one benefits if women are held back; we have to change mind sets, not just laws. In Rwanda, more women than ever before are serving in positions of responsibility and leadership in government and in the work place. These role models, in turn, shape the expectations and the missions of the next generations”.

Pic Credit: Huffington Post

Democracy and its ideals as defined by the United Nations is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. This means that there is rule of law whereby constitutions are upheld, term limits are respected, civil society groups can exercise their freedoms whilst holding government to account, elections are free and fair and the institutions within the state are free to deliver on public services equitably without interference from bureaucratic red tape and corruption.

This year’s International Day of Democracy theme is on creating spaces for civil society and a study by Civicus indicates a nexus between democracy, civil society engagement and women’s leadership.

Beginning with its leadership, it is reported Rwanda claimed the world’s highest percentage of women in parliament in 2003 and today, its women hold 64% of the country’s legislative seats. Rwanda is arguably run efficiently and effectively with a fast rising private sector and civil society which is steered by pragmatic sound policies and legislation from its political institutions. The study indicates that Rwandan civil society’s greatest strengths is its relatively positive values; that its civil society, to a great extent, nurtures and upholds positive values such as anti-corruption practices, gender equity, poverty eradication, tolerance and democracy promotion. This is a country that survived genocide in the 90’s and more or less built its economy from scratch.

The African Union came to the succinct realization that women hold the mantle in promoting democracy and good governance and as such, during its 24th Heads of State Summit in January 2015, ended with a strong call for women’s empowerment in Africa as a step towards achieving the goals of Agenda 2063, its blueprint development strategy for the next 50 years.

 

Pic Credit: Afronline.org

It cannot be overemphasized how crucial the role of civil society and more so women’s participation in democracy building is.  Ban Ki moon also rightly put it when he stated as follows:

Women hold up more than half the sky and represent much of the world’s unrealized potential. They are the educators. They raise the children. They hold families together and increasingly drive economies. They are natural leaders. We need their full engagement… in government, business and civil society.

What does a Data Revolution in Africa look like?

(Pic credit: Onthinktanks.org)

The Heads of State and Government at the 23rd AU Summit within the Common Africa Position on the Post 2015 agenda were convinced of the need for structural transformation for inclusive and people centered development in Africa. They tersely came to an agreement on how such a developmental approach requires the creation and enhancement of adequate policy space and productive capacities, notably through infrastructure development; science and technology; transfer and innovation; value addition to primary commodities; youth development and women’s empowerment. They also agreed that this approach requires addressing the challenges posed by climate change; desertification and land degradation; drought, loss of bio diversity; sustainable natural resource management; and the promotion of a responsive and accountable global governance architecture.

Critical to this discussion therefore is: how can data assist in mitigating these challenges and existing gaps whilst offering new insights on how to accelerate development across the continent?

During the two day National Forum on harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development held in Nairobi Kenya between 28th and 29th August 2015, multi stakeholders from government, private sector, academia, nonprofit organizations, local communities and development partnerships convened a midst whetted ambition to begin addressing the informational aspects of development decision making in a coordinated way.

“Where will the locus for disaggregated data be situated with the shift in development trends? Will it be open data sources, national statistics offices or will it be with philanthropy organizations that are increasingly shifting to partnerships with the private sector? ODA is decreasing in countries such as Kenya which have shifted to middle income status. Will it be in conjunction with private sector organizations? How will this revolution look like?” asked a keen participant in the audience.

These are fundamentals questions reeling in everyone’s mind as crucial conversations on the data revolution embark in Africa ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals being acceded to in September 2015 and the convening of the World Data Forum scheduled to be held in 2016.

Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time to the right people; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible. Institutions require bolstering to manage and steer this new shift in development with adequate resources and political will being the key priorities to making this a reality. How will this happen amidst the current challenges facing the continent? Below is an info graphic highlighting some of them.

(Pic Credit: APHRC)

The sparking of  a conversation on harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development marks Kenya’s first step in working towards a global partnership for a data revolution, establishing the country as a leader on the African continent and globally.

Nonetheless, a common challenge facing majority countries in Africa today, Kenya not excluded,  is the lack or inadequacy of fundamental statistics measuring the quality and quantity of taxes and trade, births and deaths, or even growth and poverty.  Add on to this the mis-match in priorities between governments in Africa and the donor community. Governments alike require sub-national data to help guide budgetary and policy decisions while on the other hand external donors often want national level data to make allocation decisions across countries; this priorities have often been misaligned further exacerbating the already existing data gap.

As the deputy president of the Republic of Kenya Hon. William Ruto rightly put it, “the data revolution must not become a struggle between an ancient regime of traditional official statistics and a new big data republique. A worthwhile revolution should develop greater capacity for national statistics offices while fostering integrated and harmonious relations with other data producers. “

As espoused in the Africa Data Consensus, a sustained data revolution is needed to drive social, economic and structural transformation in every African country. Such a revolution will also make it easier to track our countries’ progress towards meeting national and globally agreed sustainable development goals, with a view to leave no one behind. The building blocks for an African data revolution are already in place. National Statistical Offices have long been the backbone of data production and management, producing official statistics and supporting data activities to create accurate and timely data for decision making. However, today’s development challenges and prospects call for a broad data ecosystem that spans the entire value chain driven by national priorities and underpinned by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. This ecosystem must be inclusive of all forms of data – including official and other data – and involve all stakeholders.

*This article by the author was originally posted on www.dataforum.or.ke

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