The government of Tanzania’s recently announced unilateral decision to withdraw from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is disappointing, but not surprising. The recent evolution in the domestic political climate meant that it had probably become inevitable.
Then-President Jakaya Kikwete had seen the OGP as a way of enhancing both domestic accountability processes and the country’s international reputation, as well his own, as a leading open government reformer. President John Magufuli has sought to signal a departure in both style and substance from his immediate predecessor.
With hindsight, when the Big Results Now programme was closed in June 2016, it was clearly a matter of time before the same fate befell the OGP, although the passage of the Access to Information Act in September offered a glimmer of hope.
Tanzania’s third OGP national action plan was due in July 2016. This plan was drafted through consultations between the government and civil society. We were encouraged by the hosting of the CSO dialogue to review the draft action plan in State House in September 2016 and by the affirmative speech by Minister Angella Kairuki as recently as July 2017.
Sadly, Tanzania sent a relatively junior embassy official to the OGP Summit in Paris in December 2016, in contrast to very high-level representation at previous summits. And ultimately, the third national action plan was never approved. In practice, Tanzania had been largely absent from the OGP for more than a year before the formal decision to leave was announced.
More importantly, however, President Magufuli’s approach to governance has proved to be at odds with the principles on which the OGP was founded. Tightening control on traditional and social media, suspending newspapers, restricting opposition party activity, and more, all run afoul of the principles of transparency, accountability and participation.
To be fair, these tensions began under President Kikwete, most clearly in the criticism that was raised about the Statistics Act and Cybercrime Act, both enacted in early 2015. However, the glaring contrast between official action and the OGP principles had become ever more untenable in the past 12 months.
At Twaweza, we continue to believe in the OGP, and in Tanzania’s participation in this global partnership. When government and civil society sit together as co-equal partners to develop a set of commitments to improve ordinary citizens’ lives, and work through the inevitable tensions and disagreements, mutual trust between citizens and government is rebuilt and strengthened.
Though it struggled to achieve its considerable potential in Tanzania, withdrawing from the OGP is a significant loss for the country. It represents yet another step back from inclusive, responsive and accountable government. The lost opportunity is significant.
Government has put itself on the wrong side of public opinion about the right to information and freedom of expression. It is also surrendering valuable public feedback and constructive criticism. It is depriving itself of new ideas and an energised citizen engagement. Citizens are losing this chance to benefit from the fruits of transparency, accountability and participation – reduced corruption, improved public services, and a more responsive government.
The door remains open for Tanzania to re-join the global partnership for a more transparent, inclusive and accountable government. That is a powerful way for us to assure a stronger, fairer and more productive future for everyone.
Mr Eyakuze is executive director of Twaweza