Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa

Mwanachi, a Swahili word that means ordinary citizen, is the name of a governance and transparency program that was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development for five years in six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leonne, Uganda, and Zambia. This program is the focus of a new report entitled Rethinking Social Accountability in Africa by Fletcher Tembo, who served as Director of the Mwanachi program since its launch in 2008. The report acknowledges the important role of several actors in in strengthening citizen demand for good governance, including civil society, media, elected representatives, and traditional leaders. At the same time, it challenges common notions of effective citizen-state relations that focus on a preoccupation with actors and actor categories. Instead, it argues that effective social accountability programs should focus on relationships and contextual realties that are driven by 'interlocution processes.' In other words, processes that address the complex web of incentives and actions through actors that are selected for their game changing abilities.

The report’s emphasis on the challenges faced by ordinary citizens seeking to hold their governments to account sheds light on important concepts surrounding identity, power, and marginalization. A very interesting quote from the report that aides our understanding of power relationships and the complexities that come with them states:

Those who regard themselves as marginalised, often in categories such as women, workers, youth, people with disabilities etc., struggle to shed their marginality to become part of the centre, rather than the “other”. This resistance to be regarded as “the other” is therefore central to understanding marginality because it is part of everyday life. On the other side are actors that consider themselves to be at the centre. They also struggle to include those that they consider the marginalised, or “the other”. This contestation between these arenas of actions tends to be political because it involves negotiations and struggle over decisionmaking processes and distribution of resources.’

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