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Ibrahim Index of African Governance: Citizens' Voices - Human Development

Following the launch of the 2020 IIAG, the Foundation’s Now Generation Network (NGN) reflect on findings from the new Citizens’ Voices section of the Index which showcases African citizens perceptions of governance performance.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Why are citizens' voices important for ensuring good governance? 

Citizens are the most important stakeholders in any country as they are the chief contributors, and ultimately the chief beneficiaries to a nation’s resources. Citizens determine the leaders that they wish to entrust in public offices in order to steward their resources. It is therefore important that as key stakeholders their voices are heard in as far as governance of their common resources is concerned.

Good governance is stewarding resources well, and this can be difficult to achieve without accountability and transparency from those in positions of leadership. The voices of citizens help in holding leaders to account for their actions, demanding greater transparency where necessary, as well as playing an important role in contributing towards decision making and providing solutions to the needs within societies.

How can African leaders better engage their citizens in decision making processes? 

Constant dialogue across all levels of society helps to better inform decision makers of progress and challenges being faced by citizens. Such dialogue has to begin at a grassroots level and extend right through to a national level.

African leaders have to be intentional about reaching out to citizens and creating platforms for engagement, as without intentionality it is difficult for citizens to engage with their leaders. Leaders should leverage various tools available which include social media platforms to engage citizens, especially during this period where most people are under lockdown and physical gatherings are being discouraged. 

It is also important to apply values-based engagement, encompassing values such as transparency, honesty, inclusivity and integrity. Transparency is key within the engagement process as this provides citizens with adequate information to make choices which better serve their needs. Citizens need leaders who are honest in both their success, failures and facts pertaining to issues that require decisions to be made. Better engagement of citizens requires that the process be inclusive across demographic, gender and tribes, being mindful and respectful of the diversity of citizens.

Why do you think African citizens are more dissatisfied with their countries' health and education provision? 

Over the years, education has and continues to change globally as it adapts to new skills which are now required in the marketplace. Citizens are therefore not satisfied with their countries education provision because they feel their governments have failed to upgrade the quality of their education curriculums which will aid their citizens by making them better equipped for the job market. 

Most citizens feel that they are not adequately prepared for the jobs of the future as they are still stuck on curriculums that go back decades in some instances.  

From a health perspective, citizens feel there is not enough access to quality healthcare as there has not been significant investment made in the healthcare space relative to the increase in population on the continent, as well as very limited investment in upgrading the equipment to cater for the needs of patients, thereby forcing African citizens with means to seek medical attention in other countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this, as we have witnessed a shortage in basic items such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and clothing.

Some countries have lost a number of healthcare professionals due to untenable working conditions which include low remuneration thus affecting service provision to citizens.

How can African governments, citizens and civil society work together to address challenges in the education and health sectors?

Collaboration and cooperation are needed in order to collectively address challenges in the education and healthcare sectors on the continent. Governments, civil society and citizens should not work in silos as their efforts are complimentary and feed into the overall reform process required in most of the healthcare and education institutions on the continent. 

A multi-sectoral approach would be best suited when dealing with healthcare, for example, solving water and sanitation health needs will aid in reducing the level of disease spread across a number of diseases such as Neglected Tropical Diseases. 

Citizens and civil society can push for education policy reform from their governments as well as to hold them accountable to any promises or commitments made. Civil society plays a key role in being a bridge that can foster dialogue between citizens and governments as it can assist citizens in articulating their asks from governments, but also provide a platform to showcase ingenuity and innovation by citizens which can be a source of solutions for the challenges being faced in these sectors. 

Civil society can also collaborate and/or support governments in rolling out awareness programs targeted at citizens.