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Freedom of Information in Africa

UNESCO’s 2008-2013 Medium-Term Strategy (34 C/4), designated Africa, along with Gender Equality, as its two global priorities. In line with the above, the Organization’s Communication and Information Sector promotes freedom of information (FOI) in the region, recognizing it as being instrumental to the achievement of other rights.

UNESCO seeks to contribute to an enabling environment for FOI by supporting processes leading to the drafting and enactment of FOI laws through the provision of technical assistance and the facilitation of dialogue between different sectors. The Organization also helps build institutional and human capacity for the adequate implementation of such legal instruments, all while fostering their active use by supporting awareness-raising efforts targeted to the general public and specific social groups. Even in countries where a FOI law is not yet in effect, UNESCO also supports actions seeking to make public information available, in pursuance of its mission to build inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.

Freedom of information (FOI) is upheld as an integral part of the right of freedom of expression in the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. Eleven African countries have passed national FOI laws (Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia,Niger,Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe), while draft FOI laws in other African states are at different stages in the process towards their adoption. The implementation of FOI legislation in Africa has faced important challenges.

Advocacy actions to advance FOI both at the country and regional level have intensified in the past years, and a number of Member States have shown increasing commitment to adopt FOI legislation. An important development was a regional plan of action to advance freedom of information in Africa agreed upon by the representatives of different sectors brought together in Accra on February 2010, under the main auspice of the Carter Center; Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights is promoting the drafting a model FOI law tailored to the region.

In September 2011, the African Platform on Access to Information was adopted at the Pan African Conference on Access to Information, organized by the Windhoek+20 Working Group. UNESCO was among the supporters of the event.

Find out about other UNESCO initiatives on FOI in Africa in the related news section. You may also read more about the cases of South Africa and Uganda in Toby Mendel’s "Freedom of Information: a Comparative Legal Survey", published by UNESCO.

Advancing African Women’s Rights through enhanced Freedom of Information

The full realization of freedom of information’s potential to advance African women’s empowerment is curtailed by the region’s relative lag amid the worldwide trend toward the enactment of FOI laws. In this context, an in line with Priority Africa and Priority Gender Equality of its 2008-2013 Medium-Term Strategy, UNESCO is promoting the engagement of African women organizations in processes leading to the drafting, adoption and effective implementation of Freedom of Information legislation and related policies. The project is being implemented in partnership with the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

Women and girls represent three fifths of the world’s poorest people. They are also among those who most suffer from economic crises, corruption and lack of information vital to their well-being. Many examples illustrate the positive impact that access to crucial pieces of information that are often held by governments can have upon their lives, for instance in relation to education, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, land rights, food security, agricultural methods, access to social programmes, loan opportunities and income-generating activities, among others. Enhanced information access can also contribute to guaranteeing women’s rights by helping expose cases of their violation, and by raising awareness (among women and the general population) both of such rights and how to seek assistance to ensure their protection. Access to state-held information also allows for public scrutiny of governments’ fulfillment of their commitments to advance women’s entitlements and address gender disparities, and can reinforce the work of organizations advocating women’s rights.  

The ongoing initiative implemented by UNESCO and FEMNET seeks to advance the fulfillment of African women’s right to information by contributing to the enactment of laws formulated in a gender-inclusive manner and by promoting their active use by CSOs working to further women’s rights as well as by women and girls themselves. 

The first stage of the ongoing project consisted in the publication of the resource book Freedom of Information (FOI) and Human Rights in Africa. A Collection of Case Studies from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, produced by FEMNET with UNESCO’s support. The publication, available in English and in French, has been launched internationally through an expert roundtable discussion held in Paris on 16 March 2010, as part of UNESCO’s celebrations of International Women’s Day. It has disseminated among women organizations, media houses, human rights organizations involved in FOI campaigns, journalism and communications students and research centres.

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