The campaign for greater access to information in Namibia received a major boost last week with the hosting of a successful conference in Windhoek.
Organised by the Access to Information Namibia (ACTION) coalition, the conference was designed to kick-start an 18 month campaign for the enactment of an access to information (ATI) law by the Namibian government.
In addition, the conference was intended to create an appreciation amongst the Namibian people for the need for ATI legislation, and the fact that ATI is a fundamental human right and an enabling right that facilitates the realisation of all other rights.
Officially opened by Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights, the conference brought together prominent ATI advocates from across Africa as well as champions of the cause within Namibia.
Various sectors of Namibian society were in also attendance, including ordinary people whose lives ATI legislation will impact greatly - most notably Kalkrand resident James Hansen, who walked from Kalkrand to Windhoek to register corruption at the village council.
There was also a training workshop for senior journalists on the day before the main conference, which ended with recommendations being made with regards to the strategies that could be adopted during the legislation's drafting process, and to the advocacy strategies that should be adopted to ensure the enactment of ATI legislation in Namibia in the timeliest manner.
Key recommendations included involving the Namibian Government at an early stage in the process; identifying and using influential parliamentarians to push the campaign agenda; maintaining the publicity and lobbying momentum constant so as to keep the pressure on the need for such a legislation; identifying key issues to be reflected in the proposed bill; ensuring civil society buy-in; and, utilising different forms of media to disseminate the message.
During the eight sessions of the ACTION Namibia conference, a number of cross cutting issues were identified, including the need to:
Outline in a memorandum the advantages of ATI for all sectors, including government;
Use an 'Africa-wide' coalition and other African and International assistance from countries where progressive ATI legislation is in place;
Establish a 'core' coalition within the country that would drive and finance the process;
Allay policymakers' fears of ATI legislation; and
Use 'champions', such as influential lawmakers, parliamentarians and high-level public servants, to popularise the ATI legislation.
The full report of the ACTION Namibia conference will be available on September 15th and will contain all the recommendations that were made in all the sessions of the conference, as well as the preceding workshop for journalists.