You are on page 1of 17

1

CREATING A VIBRANT AND FAIR SOCIETY: TRANSPARENCY


AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Introduction
I am not sure that I am the right person to speak to you
about this topic today. As you know I come fresh from the
frontline of party politics. I was prevailed upon by my fellow
citizens to enter party politics and become part of the change
in its ethos. A few months later my fellow citizens said
resoundingly that they were not ready for that change in the
nature of the business of politics! I am grateful for the
lessons learnt from this failed bid about servant leadership.
Servant leadership is about listening even when the message
is uncomfortable.

It is my considered view that Africa still has to reflect deeper
about the theme of servant leadership as an essential
building block for creating Vibrant and Fair Societies. Leaders
in public service are agents of citizens, servants of the
people. The model of servant leadership underpinned social
relationships in African traditional society. This is captured
most aptly in the saying that: Kgosi ke kgosi ka sechaba (the
king is only a king with the consent of the nation). Creating
vibrant fair societies requires, amongst others, that we pay
greater attention to the theme of servant leadership.

There is an inherent contradiction in Africa - our continent.
We are a continent that articulates most elegantly the
2

concept of Ubuntu - our belief in the notion of a common
humanity as an essential pillar of being human. Ubuntu
captures the essential truth that our humanity is affirmed by
our connectedness to one another. This philosophical
approach confronts us with the existential reality that we
are human because others are. Yet we are a continent that
has struggled to date to create vibrant fair societies in which
the human rights of all are respected and the talents of all
citizens are harnessed.

There is a growing body of literature that confirms what our
wise hunter gatherer ancestors understood millennia ago
that too great a degree of inequality makes human
community impossible. In The Spirit Level
1
, Richard
Wilkinson and Kate Pickett conclude, after a wide review of
studies across the globe, that the health of our democracies,
our societies and their people, is truly dependent on greater
equality.

My task today is to explore with you how we can create
vibrant and fair societies through more transparent
accountable governance systems. This is a tall order. It is
one thing to know what needs to be done, but an entirely
different matter to have the political will and capacity to do
what is right. Our continent is littered with examples of lofty
ideals that rarely translate into successful outcomes. Our

1
The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Penguin Books,
2010, p298
3

leaders from liberation struggles, post-colonial governments,
New Partnership for Africas Development and more recent
promises at the African Union meetings, have yet to follow
through with transparent accountable governance programs
that change the lives of the majority of Africas citizens.

In this talk I would like to:
1) Examine why Africa continues to live with the
contradictions between proud philosophical
pronouncements and lived reality of the majority of citizens.
2) Explore how Africa can Build Vibrant Fair systems of
governance?
3) Propose approaches to promote greater Transparency and
Accountability in governance

Why the Contradictions between Ubuntu and Dominance
Politics?
It is my humble view that Africa has yet to acknowledge the
extent of the impact of pre-colonial and colonial extractive
economic and political institutions on the political culture
that informed the post-colonial nature of the state and its
institutions. In Why Nations Fail Daron Acemoglu and James
Robinson conclude that Nations fail today because
extractive economic institutions do not create incentives
needed for people to save, invest and innovate.
2


2
Why Nations Fail, D. Acemoglu & J. Robinson, Random House, 2012 p372
4


The authors detailed comparative study of the evolution of
successful and failed nations across the globe, provides
compelling evidence of the reasons for the demise of
empires and the success of nations, that opt for inclusive
economic and political institutions. In Africa Botswana is a
shining example of successful sustainable development. It
compares favourably to the failures of Zimbabwe and Sierra
Leone despite, the opportunities both countries had to use
the attainment of independence to build strong inclusive
political and economic systems.

Botswana from pre-colonial days opted for inclusive
institutions under Seretse Khamas grandfather King Khama
111. He negotiated with Britain to make Bechuanaland a
protectorate, thus shielding it from extractive colonialism of
Cecil John Rhodes. Seretse Khama, as the first President, set
the foundations of a Botswana with one language, Setswana,
centralized the use of natural resources to benefit all citizens.
Botswanas leaders understood that: The logic of virtuous
cycles stems partly from the fact that inclusive institutions are
based on constraints on the exercise of power and on the
pluralistic distribution of political power in society, enshrined
in the rule of law. The ability of a subset to impose its will on
others without any constraints, even if those others are
ordinary citizens threatens this very balance.
3



3
Why Nations Fail, p308
5

But why did Botswana opt for the virtuous cycle of inclusive
economic and political institutions, whereas Zimbabwe
didnt? Why did South Korea go a different route to that of
North Korea? Why did South Africa falter in its
transformation towards more inclusive economic and
political institutions after a promising post-apartheid start?
Studies including the Acemogul and Robinson one quoted
above point to A confluence of factors, in particular a critical
juncture coupled with a coalition of those pushing for reform
or other propitious existing institutions, is often necessary for
a nation to make strides towards more inclusive institutions.
In addition some luck is key, because history always unfolds in
a contingent way.
4


The highly unequal colonial/apartheid societies we inherited
at the moment of our countries liberation infected us with
the affluenza virus,
5
a set of values which increase our
vulnerability to emotional distress. This distress arises from
our fear of being left behind in the race for power and
affluence. We tend to place a high value on acquiring money
and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and
wanting to be famous. The tension between the idealism of
post-colonial transformation of our societies based on our
shared Ubuntu value system and the afflictions of the
affluenza virus is often resolved in favour of maintaining
our place on the ladder of social status in our highly unequal
societies.

4
Ibid, p427
5
Ibid, p69 quote from Oliver James, a psychologist and journalist
6


Like any other affliction, one cannot get help without
acknowledging that one needs such help. The denial of the
psycho-social scars inflicted by living in highly unequal
societies undermines our ability to create vibrant fair
societies. We tend to be over-sensitive to criticism of non-
transparent and unaccountable governance in our countries
at international forums even where the facts speak for
themselves. We defend the indefensible in our midst in the
name of African solidarity. But is this solidarity for the
benefit of the majority of citizens? Or is solidarity amongst
African leaders a protective shield behind which they hide
their poor performance to the detriment of ordinary citizens
of their countries?

The African Union (AU) has failed to model an inclusive
political institutional framework to support the emergence of
the virtuous cycles Africa so desperately needs to build
successful nations. The AU has recently adopted the Protocol
on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African
Court of Justice and Human Rights. This Protocol grants
immunity to prosecution for heads of state and public
officials. Article 46A of the Protocol states that: No charges
shall be commenced or continued before the court against
any serving African Union head of state or government, or
anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity, or other
senior state officials based on their functions, during their
tenure of office. This is clearly intended to undermine the
7

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which
upholds the principle of equality before the law. The AU in
one fell swoop has created an incentive for those violating
human rights to stay in office in perpetuity. How can this
build a vibrant and fair continent?

My own country, South Africa, is still burdened by the scars
of apartheids legacy of exclusive economic and political
institutions. The ANC as the governing party (or ruling party
as they style themselves), has failed to leverage the promise
of fundamental transformation based on our progressive
Constitution to build inclusive economic and political
institutions. The ANC is increasingly modelling itself on the
apartheid government ethos it replaced. They are creating
ever growing networks of in- and out-groups.

The systematic undermining of institutions created under
Chapter 9 of our Constitution that are intended to constrain
the power of those in public office and to promote the rule of
law, is another example of the desire to veer further into an
extractive political economy model. Our limited progress in
providing quality public services, especially health care,
human settlements, as well as education and training,
undermines our ability to promote human development and
an empowered citizenry. Extractive economic and political
institutions inherited from the apartheid system and
perpetuated to date, constrain our ability to take advantage
8

of technological and innovation opportunities to grow our
economy into a vibrant equitable and prosperous one.

The overtly brutal racist past has also left us with a significant
majority of black citizens with an inferiority complex. This
undermines their capacity to demand better accountability
from public servants and political leaders. This inferiority
complex also makes many reticent to criticize a majority
black government and hold them accountable. Many are of
the view that such criticism would reflect badly on black
people. This is a sad reflection on us - it is as if black people
are defined by the incompetent, corrupt and unaccountable
amongst public servants in our society. Why should we be
willing to lower our expectations of public servants because
they are black? Have we bought into the lie that black
people are not capable of higher standards of performance?

To add to the complexity, a superiority complex is still at play
amongst many white people in my society. Many of those
living with this complex believe that their affluence and
higher quality of skills and expertise is proof of their
superiority. The link to the legacy of privilege under
extractive exclusionary economic and political institutions, is
underplayed. The capacity for empathy with those burdened
by structural inequalities resulting from apartheid social
engineering is undermined by this delinking of historic
advantages and current wealth. Many business people boast
that they have never made as much money as they are now
9

in post-apartheid South Africa. One would hope that such a
sentiment would lead to consideration of what more they
could do to reduce the levels of growing inequality in our
society that threaten the sustainability of their prosperity.

The transformation of our society into a more vibrant and fair
one is undermined by the toxic mix of the persistent
inferiority complex amongst a significant majority of black
people and the superiority complex of many white people.
Acknowledging this toxic mix would enable us to tackle it and
unleash our collective creative juices to build a society that
can be more prosperous and fair in a sustainable way.

African nations failure to develop inclusive economic and
political institutions has set off a vicious cycle. We are losing
some of the best brains to nations that are more inclusive. It
is estimated that one in nine Africa born graduates emigrate
to one of the 34 OECD countries. 43% of Zimbabweans, 36%
of DRC and 41% of Mauritian graduates live outside of their
countries of birth. There are more African graduates living in
OECD countries over the last 5 years (450 000), than Chinese
(375 000). These are worrying figures given that there are far
more Chinese who graduate than Africans, worsening the
impact of the loss of African graduates. There is a chicken
and egg situation in Africas development realities. Building
vibrant fairer societies requires human and intellectual
capital, but non-transparent unaccountable governance
10

discourages those most qualified from staying in their
countries to contribute to development.

How can Africa Build more Vibrant and Fair Societies?
Africa has to find a way of building on the enormous human,
natural and mineral resources to become a vibrant fair
continent. It is essential to break free of the vicious cycle of
extractive dominance politics that define in and out groups
ans enter into a virtuous one that leverages the huge human
and intellectual potential to create successful sustainable
development led by transparent accountable governments.
The question is how one develops strategies that counter the
prevailing dominance extractive economic and political
institutional model? What triggers such a process of change
in political culture? Who are the players to make it happen?

The concept of citizenship has yet to take root in post-
colonial Africa. Citizens in most countries are treated as
voting fodder for those in power to retain their positions
regardless of their performance in government. The political
process has turned into transactional relationships between
citizens who are wooed to vote in exchange for some
material good: food parcels, blankets, housing, promises of
jobs and other patronage. These are the hallmarks of
extractive politics. Even the vote is reduced to a tradable
good rather than a tool for citizens to use to hold those in
power accountable by rewarding and punishing governments
11

on the basis of their performance in promoting prosperity for
all.

Citizens as shareholders of their nations have a responsibility
not only to themselves and their interests, but to future
generations who will inherit the institutions they build. It is
this trans-generational responsibility that defines mature
citizenship in inclusive economic and political systems. Just
as shareholders are inducted into their roles as custodians of
the prosperity of the companies they own, so too should
Africa invest more in civic education from the school level all
the way to tertiary education. Most mature democracies
invest in such programs to great effect.

History teaches us that although vicious cycles of extractive
institutions are not easy to break, it can and has been done.
At the heart of such a transformation process is the citizen as
the actor in history. Post-colonial Africa has seen a
marginalization of the best able and talented innovators from
the economic and political institution building process
because they are often seen as a threat to those in power.
The unfortunate though understandable reaction of these
talented Africans has been to quit and seek greener pastures
elsewhere.

The confluence of factors needed for change often presents
itself at unexpected moments, but citizens who desire
12

change must also be willing to take the risk to create the
environment for change. For example, teachers, business
people, faith based leaders and other civic minded people
have many opportunities to raise the bar in their day to day
engagements. Such engagements are particularly important
with young people about what citizens should expect of their
governments and public servants.

Building a higher civic consciousness of alternative
approaches to development and pointing to examples of
nations that succeed versus those that fail is essential. The
Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s paved the way
for the coalition of students, trade unions, faith based
leaders and civic associations to form the Mass Democratic
Movement in the 1980-90s that ultimately challenged
apartheid and forced a political settlement. At the end of the
day citizens have to be ready to fight for more inclusive
economic and political institutions. Citizens have to fight to
open more doors to technological innovation and greater
prosperity for all. Equality is better for everyone in society.
But equality has to be fought for by all citizens who stand to
benefit.

The unfortunate failure of post-apartheid South Africa to
dismantle extractive economic and political institutions has
resulted in persistent inequality, instability and poverty for
the majority. The settlement compromise of 1994 needed to
have been followed up by deliberate building of inclusive
13

institutions as set out in the Constitution. We also needed to
learn from the German re-unification process and created an
equalization fund (derived from extra tax from those above
an agreed income level over 20 years or so) to build the
education and social infrastructure to ensure that citizens
progressively enjoyed equal access to opportunities and
growing prosperity.

The moment to introduce this equalization fund presented
itself at the height of the euphoria about reconciliation and
living in harmony as a nation united in our diversity, but it
was not harnessed by our political and business leaders. We
missed the boat. But can the post-Marikana blues and the
turmoil of prolonged strike action in the economy be another
opportunity for building coalitions for change towards more
inclusive political-economic institutions?

Africa has a rich heritage. We need to leverage the
philosophical foundation for equality in Ubuntu to develop
institutional cultures driven by the values of inclusivity.
Africa also has poignant examples of nations that succeed
(Botswana) as well as those that fail such as Zimbabwe and
Somalia. Prosperity in Botswana has shown that natural and
mineral resources do not have to be a curse, as is the case in
the DRC or Angola. Botswana under Presidents Seretse
Khama and Quitte Masire ensured that diamonds became a
shared resource that funded infrastructure, education and
innovation investments. Botswana has also progressed to
14

insisting on participating in the higher value chain benefits of
cutting and polishing diamonds on its own soil, creating
greater prosperity.

We need to learn a lot more from one another as African
countries to understand the political-economy of poverty and
prosperity. Prosperity is not a zero sum game the more
people share in it, the more prosperous everyone becomes
as more doors are opened to investment, innovation and
technological advance.

As Africans we need to abandon the idea that the poor will
always be with us. Poverty is expensive for everyone.
Prosperity is possible if we commit to investing in the human
capacity and capability of every citizen to contribute to the
greater good. Women as a neglected majority everywhere in
Africa and the world. But Africa can least afford to ignore the
women who keep families together and produce the food
and other necessities to keep them alive and growing.
Gender equality is the biggest missed opportunity for Africa.
We dare not continue on this pathway if we want to create
vibrant and more equal societies. Harnessing the power of
the feminine will strengthen the masculine is a
complementary way that builds strong families, communities
and societies.

15

How can Africa build more Transparent Accountable
Systems of Governance?
Transparency is the sunshine that disinfects all dark corners
in private and public life. Independent media and access to
information are twin pillars of inclusive economic and
political institutional governance systems. Citizens need
information about the conduct of economic and political
affairs of their nation to be able to participate in the process
of governance and to hold those in power accountable.

Active citizenship is key to transparent accountable
governance. Attaching greater value to the voice of citizens
requires a radical change from the transactional politics of
extractive institutions to the inclusive politics where citizens
are asserting themselves as the owners of the nation state.
The governments in such a setting become the agents of
citizens and are accountable to citizens.

The information technological revolution has made access
and sharing of information much easier and faster. The
North African Spring that challenged the extractive economic
and political systems of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, was enabled
by information technology. The question remains about why
Sub-Saharan Africa has remained largely untouched by the
North African Spring? Why did young people in SSA not
emulate their North African peers? Could it be that many
16

young people in SSA have either given up on the notion of
change or that they have chosen to bid their time?

The Social Media platforms are abuzz with creative energy.
The question is whether this becomes a creative destructive
force for change or just a pass- time distraction from the
daily grind of marginal existence? To what extent are inter-
generational coalitions being built by leveraging the power of
social media? How much attention do change agents pay to
reaching out to others to mobilize fellow citizens to keep
hope alive?

Transparency promotes accountability. At its very base, the
threat of being named and shamed constrains leaders in both
public and private sectors from acting with impunity. Access
to information about the performance of economic and
political institutions is an essential tool for active citizenship.
It is not surprising that governments in extractive
institutional settings tend to spend a lot of energy in
undermining access to information. Protection of
information is the euphemism often used to block citizens
from gaining access to information sources about matters of
public interest.

The global community is now an open space for all to learn
about what others are doing, and about what works and
what doesnt and why. A focus on promoting access to
17

information, transparency in the conduct of public matters in
both economic and political spheres and use of information
to hold those in power accountable, is the responsibility of all
citizens. Political leaders are increasingly unable to control
access to and use of information to hold them accountable.
There is now a greater opportunity to mobilize across
boundaries to demand change towards greater transparency
and accountability.

Conclusion
There has never been a better moment for change in Africa
than now. We have learnt from our failures to transform
extractive economic and political institutions into more
inclusive ones. We have also learnt about what makes for
success in countries with inclusive economic and political
institutions. As Africans we need to invest a lot more in
building inclusive institutions. A focus on personal extractive
economics and politics has left our continent with gross
inequalities. The politics of poverty and inequality can only
be transformed by a commitment by Africas citizens to take
ownership as custodians of our great continent. It starts with
you and me today.

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele
12/8/2014