Your right to know …

On International Right to Know Day today (28 September) African democracy institute Idasa calls on countries that have taken bold steps of enacting access to information laws, such as Uganda, Angola and South Africa, to not regress into secrecy, but further strengthen implementation of these laws.

Idasa’s call to defend our access to information, made on International Right to Know Day, comes in the context of the controversial recently amended Protection of Information Bill which threatens to narrow media access to government held information. This poses a threat against what is arguable the most progressive Right to Know legislation in Southern Africa.

Idasa warns that the only Southern African country, apart from South Africa, with advanced freedom of information legislation is Zambia, with a bill currently in the form of draft legislation.

In southern Africa six SADC countries have expressly guaranteed the right to information within their constitutional framework, namely; South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, the DRC, Tanzania, and Madagascar. Another eight other SADC countries have only protected this right within the context of the broader right of freedom of expression which normally includes the right to “seek, receive and impart information”. These countries are Botswana, Lesotho, Angola, Zambia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Swaziland.

The Zambian bill, a product of a healthy and successful partnership between the government and civil society, was first tabled before parliament in 2002. It was unceremoniously withdrawn by the government during its second reading, but six years later, in early 2008, was reintroduced by the late Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, and it is now reaching resolution.

“Hence, it is evidently still early days in the enactment of Freedom of Information laws on the African continent,” Idasa’s Yolanda Taylor of the Right To Know, Right to Education project said.

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