|Africa's Valuable Assets - A Reader in Natural Resource Management (WRI, 1998, 464 pages)|
|5. Participatory Policy-making and the Role of Local Non-governmental Organizations|
In the past, public policy reform in Africa has often been triggered and policy decisions have often been made in times of crisis. Strategic policy and legislation reviews and reforms have not been standard government practice in most countries. Public policy decisions, whether at international, regional, national, or local levels, are too often based on incomplete, inaccurate, or old information and analysis. Far too much public policy in Africa is made in an information vacuum.
Recently some government departments have made substantial efforts to better inform policy-makers, improve the policy-making processes, and develop better public policy and legislation. Many governments are recognizing and coming to grips with their own weaknesses in generating information. The response has often been twofold. First, some governments are working to build or mobilize internal capacity to generate more useful information. In Ghana, for example, the national Environmental Protection Agency is establishing an environmental information center, including a network of government and university research institutions that are generating most of the data and conducting much of the analysis.
Second, some government departments have also sanctioned participatory policy-making by supporting the generation and sharing of independent information. In some countries there is a wealth of useful, available, but often idle independent information and ideas. In Kenya, for instance, much of the technical expertise on biodiversity issues is found outside government institutions. Historically, such information and expertise have been little used either because government did not have the technical capacity to understand and absorb the material effectively, or because the information was not presented in ways that government could easily use in policy decisions, or because there was broad disagreement on the implied policy changes.
Today, more government departments are actively seeking out independent experts and becoming more receptive to information from outside groups. Some are supporting independent groups to facilitate their policy research, information generation, and data analysis for specific pending policy decisions. For example, independent researchers or groups are increasingly being asked to serve on policy working groups or prepare position papers. Government departments are organizing NGO meetings to solicit different perspectives and convening regional or sub-national consultations. In some cases, NGOs are even being asked to draft policies or statutes. The Land Commission in Uganda, for instance, included several university researchers and organized several rounds of regional consultations. The information gathered led to significant modifications to the original draft land policy.
Although rarely documented or published, such participatory policy-making may be more common at the subnational levels, where independent ENR specialists and groups are often invited by local authorities to contribute to discussions and debates. Local officials are more often familiar with such groups, are less threatened by them, and have more confidence in and respect for their positions and perspectives. In Uganda's Kasese District, citizens and NGO/GRO representatives are often asked to participate as nonvoting members of district policy-making task forces and committees, including the District Environment Committee.12 As such, local policy and bylaws more often recognize local concerns (including natural resource management) and are more likely to be implemented and enforced.13