Lifting the lid on policy decisions across Africa

April 11, 2020

Original article featured on the World Economic Forum website. Follow this link to read.

As a leader on a policy reform project that I worked on in Africa a few years back, I learned many things.

First, finding policies of African national governments in the open is like looking for a needle in a haystack. This puts a strain on interventions and investments by Africa’s global partners. Nonprofits seeking to work on policy reform and companies seeking to enter a foreign market such as in Africa will need to find existing policies to develop campaign and make investment decisions.

Second, campaigns targeting multi-sector in most African countries still struggle to rally stakeholders behind a common goal because policymakers often do not see how policy from one department is extrinsically linked to the other. This hurts collaboration and collective impact. There’s also that part of using big words by drafters of policies which makes understanding these policies a complex task.

For all these problems, there’s now a Policy Vault. Since we launched, the responses have been exhilarating from academic institutions to philanthropies, from nonprofits to national governments and from individuals to investors.

In one instance, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), a group that supports human rights, rule of law and democracy in more than 60 countries has found a nexus between the work of our organization and its own commitment to Africa. This week in Berlin, my colleague, Zarina Bentum, who is the country manager for Ghana, will sit with the FNF team on a panel at the United Nations Innovations event to speak to a large audience with diverse background and interest in Africa.

For me, that is inspiring and encouraging, but there are more institutions that are making the moment a special one for all of us because of the interconnectedness of our works in Africa—research, policy, advocacy and development.

That list includes Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ONE Campaign, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, and several research universities, including the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. I can rightly tell now that Africa has something of value in this age of open government. It is a win-win for both the African governments and their citizens.

Policy Vault won the 2019 Friedrich Naumann Africa innovation Challenge

For example, the development democracy that has eluded Africa for decades is traceable to bad policies among other issues. Fixing this requires active and involved citizens. I believe Policy Vault Africa will spur rapid reform as citizens gain access to these policies, understand the context and make a demand for reform and implementation from a resentful government, where necessary. But African governments can take this opportunity to scale up policies that spur democracy, creating a strong future for their citizens through policy reforms that prioritize quality education, healthcare, and job creation.

This momentum shows what can be done. Innovative idea such as Policy Vault Africa can be a catalyst for change on a continent where citizens face uncertain future due to underdevelopment.

There is the urgency it requires to move Africa to the front from policy backwater and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals emphasize how open data can help achieve the SDGs. Critically linked, statistics of measurable outcomes from the implementation of the SDGs can be a pivot for policymaking and reforms.

Thus, the international and local nonprofits working in Africa will find the infrastructure built by the Policy Vault Africa a ready tool in their advocacy, as insights into a country policy on healthcare or agriculture can inform goal of a campaign and at the same time help determine the most effective paths for action on national issues.

I remember that in my work on international treaty negotiation, one question that negotiators asked too often was “what is the national policy in countries A and B?”. In most cases, the countries in reference are in Africa. This riddle has now been solved with the opportunity provided by Policy Vault Africa to make access free, understanding easier because of contextual analysis of the policies and engagement with policy leaders rapid as partnership is forged around a policy for development initiatives.

Finally, let me give you a glimpse into the demographics. Since Policy Vault Africa was launched, the highest traffic came from research environment. That tells us one thing: students, academics and Think tanks—the go-to organizations for proposals and policy advice on key economic, health, security, social and environmental issues—are seen Policy Vault Africa as a darling.

It is worth repeating that fixing Africa problem requires active and involved citizens. I believe Policy Vault Africa will spur rapid reform as citizens gain access to these policies, understand the context and make a demand for reform and implementation from a resentful government.

Adeola Akinremi is the Director of Strategic Communications at Policy Vault Africa