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Around 80 per cent of African people live on less than US$2 a day. Corruption is one factor perpetuating poverty. Poverty and corruption combine to force people to make impossible choices like “Do I buy food for my family today or do I pay a bribe to get treated at the clinic?” Poor people often have low access to education and can remain uninformed about their rights, leaving them more easily exploited and excluded. In order to fight against their social exclusion and marginalisation, poor citizens need a space for dialogue with the authorities.
To escape the vicious cycle corruption creates for disadvantaged groups, people need to be able to speak up for their rights and demand accountability from their leaders, ensuring access to basic social services and resources. If the social compact between the government and the people fails, citizens – and especially the poor – are forced to compromise on the quality of their livelihoods and their social and human rights.
Our Poverty and Corruption in Africa (PCA) programme enabled disadvantaged people to take part in development processes by opening dialogue between them and their governments. From video advocacy to pacts binding officials and communities to agreed development targets, every activity was tailored to the national and local context.
Communities focused on their most pressing issues – such as agricultural support, water supplies or free medicines, all underpinned by the common principles of community participation. With its universal principles and adaptable methods, the programme’s approach is applicable in communities far beyond its scope.
If people have a say in how they’re governed (participatory governance) and officials are accountable to the people they serve (social accountability), poor people become aware of their power and the force their voices have when raised. Participatory social accountability tools increase contact between citizens and governments, and therefore increase transparency, accountability and good governance. They reduce the opportunities for people in authority to abuse their power.
Increased citizen participation means better informed communities, more public oversight and less corruption in planning and monitoring local development. This creates a win-win situation: the poor benefit from local development, and people in power benefit from being considered champions of integrity, all while the community prospers.
The PCA programme ran in six different countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Six of our national chapters participated:
These chapters used different social accountability tools they developed to engage poor people and their governments in constructive dialogue. Starting on a small scale at the local level, their experiences show how the community participation they initiated gains momentum and ripples outwards, increasing the citizen-government interface further.
In order to increase the voice the people have in shaping and monitoring service delivery, our chapter inLiberia set up poverty forums. These brought together authorities, service providers and communities for open discussions. These forums helped fill the information gap across a wide range of subjects, giving the people the confidence to contribute to decision-making and demand accountability from officials. Local officials now act with more transparency and integrity, unwilling to incur people’s criticism or loss of confidence.
Our chapter in Mozambique worked with community radio and activists to hold officials accountable for the quality of service delivery, by overseeing development budgets and planning. The community activists gathered information about irregularities in services and presented their complaints to local and provincial authorities. The process was reinforced by community radio programmes on fighting corruption, to inspire communities to demand accountability.
In Sierra Leone and Ghana, our chapters established monitoring groups to hold officials accountable. The committees monitor specific sectors such as health, education and agriculture. Members report their findings at quarterly meetings with public officials, where they agree on improvements needed. Monitoring team members then ensure these adjustments take place.
Using participatory video, the problems facing the communities are highlighted, and progress – or the absence thereof – can be recorded. Because making a video is easy and accessible, it is a highly effective tool to engage and mobilise marginalised people and to help them drive their own forms of sustainable development based on local needs. With community action at its heart, this approach opened dialogue between communities and the authorities.
Development pacts were used by our chapters in Uganda and Zambia as a way to hold officials accountable for public service delivery. These pacts act as a social contract, committing communities and officials to an agreed development priority. In Uganda, this meant transparent delivery of agricultural services, whereas in Zambia, the development pacts helped complete a bridge over a river that cuts a community off every rainy season. By opening projects to public scrutiny, in non-confrontational way, the pacts reduced opportunities for corruption, thus helping community members achieve their development targets