“Our public services are vitally important, but we are not talking about them. There have been endless meetings in Africa, or about Africa, discussing everything under the sun, but we never discuss our own public service and public servants,” Dr. Mo Ibrahim, President of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and B Team Leader, emphasised while reflecting upon the Ibrahim Forum held during the 2018 Ibrahim Governance Weekend.
From April 27-29, The B Team joined some of the world’s most prominent business, civil society and government leaders in Kigali to discuss how to strengthen Africa’s public services for a sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future. Throughout the weekend, conversations focused on how both the public and private sectors can work to restore crucial trust with citizens lost by failing to provide essential public services.
Participants especially underscored the importance of establishing and maintaining this trust among Africa’s youth population, which is growing at historic rates. In respect to this, for the first time, the Ibrahim Forum was accompanied by a ‘Next Generation Forum’ to address these concerns and approach solutions among leaders of Africa’s next generation.
The role of business in developing and implementing these solutions shone through during two discussions The B Team held on protecting civic freedoms and advancing responsible tax practice. Business engagement on both of these issues is essential to a future of strong African public service.
These sessions were particularly topical as civil society participation and civic space are deteriorating across the African continent. Participants in the civic freedoms session recognised the importance of cross-sector action, and potential of business impact, in ensuring citizens have the fundamental freedoms and tools and methods to hold governments accountable and access information. They were especially enthusiastic around the articulation of the connection between increases in civic freedoms and economic growth.
Participants in the responsible tax session stressed the importance of strongly governed and equitable tax systems in providing resourcing for public services. They identified a need to focus on capacity building, broadening the tax base and encouraging business to drive responsible practices. While government has been the usual target, dialogue around business’ role is growing and this momentum provides an integral opportunity for companies to step up to strengthen the demand for better use of domestic resource; a crucial driver of a sustainable future for Africa.
Throughout the weekend, discussions harkened back the fundamental need to give citizens a platform and re-ignite social contracts with governments. “I believe so much in the action of citizens, let’s realise that we have power, let’s get information,” said former Finance Minister of Nigeria and B Team Leader Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on a panel entitled ‘Building a sound contract between citizens and public service providers’, “There is no messiah coming, it must be within you.”
The continent’s most progressive business leaders are realising their potential to help catalyse this citizen power. Groups like The B Team Africa, are working to demonstrate and facilitate private sector action to build inclusive societies and economies that serve people first. B Team Africa Members Dr. Amy Jadesimi, Managing Director of LADOL and Jesse Moore, CEO and Co-Founder of M-Kopa Solar, attended the forum to further these ideas and operating models.
This year’s Ibrahim Governance Weekend also honored former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as recipient of the 2017 Ibrahim Prize; an important honour as the first woman to ever receive the award. While accepting her award, former President Sirleaf emphasised the change in perspective needed to reach a sound social contract between citizens and governments, “Sustainable change requires shifting the mentality of society, and demands the ongoing collective effort of all branches of government.”
This a shift that does not lie just with governments, but with business and civil society as well. A collective change in how each view their role in society will help build a future for Africa that serves citizens above all.
To learn more about the state of public service in Africa, read this year’s Ibrahim Forum report.