Beginning today, over 1,000 delegates will convene at the Kigali Convention Centre for the 2018 Ibrahim Governance Weekend. The three-day event convenes prominent African political, business leaders, civil society representatives as well as international organisations to deliberate on cross-cutting issues pertaining to Africa’s future. The New Times’ Collins Mwai spoke to Dr Mo Ibrahim, the Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, for insights on the forum’s agenda as well as his expert opinion on governance issues. Excerpts below:
Why did the Mo Ibrahim Foundation choose Kigali for its flagship event this year?
Rwanda is playing an important role on the African stage. Rwandan leadership is increasingly prominent in wider issues facing Africa. President Kagame is currently chairperson of the African Union; he is also leading important reforms at the AU.
That’s very important work and relevant to our discussions in Kigali – the AU itself is in charge of delivering important services for African citizens.
Also, when we look for a venue, we have to look at practical considerations – we have 600 guests, and need world-class function rooms, internet access, among others. We fully fund our event; the host country never pays; we are not a burden on the host country.
The summit’s deliberations are themed around public service, why is this an important topic for the Foundation?
As you know, the Foundation is focused on governance. At the end of the day, governance is about delivering public services. But who is supposed to deliver these services?
That is an important question. Public service is a very important sector – unfortunately Africans are not paying enough attention to it. The Foundation thinks the African public sector has received very little attention.
I’m not aware of a major conference that has recently addressed this issue. For me, public servants are the unknown soldiers – it’s time we understood the issues they are facing and how we can support their work
The 2018 Ibrahim Forum will be preceded by Next Generation Forum on Friday. According to you, what do you envision is the role on the youth in improving the quality of public service across the continent?
We believe that Africa’s youth are very important – they are the majority of the continent’s population. They are the people who are supposed to take Africa forward.
Unfortunately, in Africa in general, I don’t think we give enough space for young people to come forward and feed into leadership and debates about the future of their countries.
The Foundation wants to provide a space for them to interact and contribute. We need their thoughts and energy, as they are better connected to the future than us older people.
That’s why we decided to run a parallel conference - The Next Generation Workshop – which will feed into the Ibrahim Forum the next day. At the Foundation we feel it is really important to hear the opinions of young people – after all, it is their future we are looking at.
What is the role and place of non-state actors – especially private sector to meet the increasing demand in public service?
Yes, there is a role for the private sector. We just need to be clear about what areas of public services. You can already see that in most countries – for example, mobile communications has been handed over to the private sector, which leads the investment.
We need to be clear on what areas and we need to be careful about regulation. For instance, if we are allowing telecommunications to be privatised, we need to be clear that all should be served, including the rural areas and not only the urban areas which are more profitable.
The regulation should ensure that the implementation is proper and give access to all. It is important to have real contracts to make sure that, beyond making profits, the privatised businesses are beneficial for the country and the population at large. That is the art of managing this kind of partnership.
In some specific areas like health or education, you need to have investors to get enhanced services, but at the same time have public sector input to have universal access to the services.
What do you think are the main challenges hindering access to supply of public services?
It is the issue of capacity. Also, most of our African countries are not that rich and it is hard to match the demand and supply of public services due to financial constraints.
In regards to capacity, if you look at the recent case of Ebola that affected some African countries, you can see that countries that had better capacities were able to deal more efficiently with the outbreak compared to those with weak capacity.
If a country has a capacity issue, for instance, in their health sector, when it comes under threat, it is a big problem in the delivery of services. Countries that have better capacities tend to be more resilient.
Previous studies and reports on the subject have indicated that the continent often lacks citizen involvement during provision of public services. How can nations enhance citizen involvement?
It is an important issue as it brings about how citizens can participate in the development of their own countries. That should be done at all levels.
It gives rise to instances where citizens can get involved in providing services, for instance, where people come together to clean up the streets and ensure that their neighbourhoods are clean.
When people have a feeling of ownership, it gives support to the initiatives and service provision. We need to encourage the public’s participation. That can only come through ownership.
In some of our countries, people do not have that feeling and are not bothered about what is going on in the country. It is important that citizens feel that they own the country and can be part of its building.
At the Forum, former Liberian President will be feted with the Ibrahim Prize ‘for her exceptional and transformative leadership.’ What is the criteria for the award and why does the Foundation and Prize Committee find these awards important?
The criteria are quite simple. We ask that leaders come to power in a peaceful way and they also leave in a peaceful way. The processes have to be peaceful. The second is that, during the period of the presidency, the leaders ought to have moved the country forward in aspects such as service delivery, governance, infrastructure, and the lives of their people. And third, they have to leave with clean hands.
It is not that difficult, it is what we expect our leaders to do.
We hope that the Prize will help our young people to know who the true heroes of their continent are and who they can emulate. It is unfortunate that most of our young people do not know who their leaders and heroes are.
What do you hope the Governance Weekend will achieve?
We hope that it will be a platform for African people to meet and talk frankly about the issues that concern them at the moment. We have a lot of people who come from overseas to have this kind of conversations and to tell Africans what they think.
However, this is the only honest African conversation where we are taking charge of our own agenda. We are coming together to speak our minds and work out the future.
With all your investment and inputs into a range of initiatives and activities in the African continent, what’s your pursuit? What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I hope to do my share as an African citizen. If I can help move some issues in Africa even a step forward, it will be progress.