LONDON – My career as a businessman in Africa has turned me into an activist for better, cleaner government and for the rule of law. But promoting good governance is not just a matter of encouraging good leadership at the top (although I believe that definitely helps); it also requires all of us to be able to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens, and realize our rights.
In several African countries, there are impressive legal instruments in terms of independent court systems; but the challenge consists in impartial implementation. Democratic accountability requires that citizens can use the law, as well as be subject to it. For example, these countries have laws that prohibit seizures of land without due process and compensation for the owner; that bar public servants from accepting bribes; and that require government funds to be spent on the public good, not for private gain.
In the countries that currently do well on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance – Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, and others – citizens can use the law to protect themselves and their property from illicit encroachment, and to resolve their disputes in an impartial setting. For those at the bottom – Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic – the rule of law is a fiction that must be made real.
This work is already being carried out in places: in Sierra Leone, a country recovering from a brutal civil war, community-based paralegals are helping villagers to settle disputes peacefully; in Malawi, they are helping to reduce unnecessary imprisonment. In Mozambique, local legal experts have helped villagers draw up proper titles to their communal lands, helping to secure their economic future. In Kenya, community groups have used freedom-of-information laws to ensure that money earmarked for local school construction is properly disbursed.