The African Center of Excellence – Access to Justice wholeheartedly applauds the adoption of the new Open Government Partnership (OGP) strategy for 2023-2028. We are particularly thrilled by the inclusion of legal empowerment and access to justice as key priorities in Strategic Goal 4. This strategic commitment reflects the understanding that justice is fundamental to achieving open and responsive governance, where citizens’ rights are upheld, and public resources are managed transparently and equitably. 

Transparency, accountability, and citizen participation are essential components of open government, but justice serves as its bedrock. Without justice, the bridge between citizen participation and open government remains incomplete. True open government requires meaningful citizen engagement in decision-making processes and the ability to hold institutions accountable for systemic failures. Legal empowerment empowers ordinary people to engage with institutions, invoke evidence and knowledge of the law, and drive administrative solutions. 

Legal empowerment plays a pivotal role in combating corruption and improving institutional practices. When combined with community monitoring, legal empowerment equips citizens with the tools to assert their rights and enforce government obligations. Evidence from Malawi demonstrates that community monitoring efforts, empowered by legal empowerment, exposed corruption in the free primary education scheme. Civil society organizations used this evidence to raise community awareness and pressure districts to invest properly in education, leading to positive changes in institutional practices. 

Moreover, legal empowerment is essential in addressing the challenges of implementing open government initiatives in Africa. It enhances state commitments to improved service delivery, beneficial ownership, and open contracting. By identifying institutional weaknesses and mobilizing public interests, expectations, and capacity, legal empowerment strengthens institutional effectiveness. Ghana’s experience exemplifies how empowered local communities can actively participate in local governance processes, leading to constructive discourse and addressing local development needs. 

Additionally, legal empowerment opens opportunities for marginalized communities to participate in and shape institutions that affect their lives.

Paralegal-led community land protection efforts in Uganda, Liberia, and Mozambique have strengthened rules and structures governing community lands, enhancing the voices of women and youth in decision-making processes. In India, legal information campaigns have increased parent participation in oversight committees, resulting in improved school quality. 

Legal empowerment is also critical in bridging the gap between marginalized and affluent communities in the era of digital governance. The Kenyan experience demonstrates that community-based paralegals can effectively support access to digitalized justice. By ensuring vulnerable communities are not left behind due to the digital divide, legal empowerment can secure positive justice outcomes through the OGP platform. 

Furthermore, legal empowerment plays a vital role in the fight against the climate crisis, which disproportionately affects vulnerable communities. By enabling communities to understand and shape laws, legal empowerment empowers communities to protect their lands and secure rights. Legal empowerment contributes to inclusive decision-making, responsive institutions, and government accountability, aiding the delivery of climate and environmental commitments. 

Legal empowerment focuses on historically marginalized communities, addressing discrimination and disadvantage. Community paralegals enable women, girls, stateless communities, and refugees to obtain legal identity and access public benefits. Moreover, legal empowerment processes themselves promote inclusion by allowing excluded groups to shape institutions, rules, and policies. Embracing legal empowerment will foster more diverse voices in local governance and policymaking. 

The African Center of Excellence – Access to Justice celebrates the new OGP strategy’s commitment to legal empowerment and access to justice. We firmly believe that justice is the cornerstone of open government, and without it, the ideals of transparency, accountability, and citizen participation cannot be fully realized. By prioritizing legal empowerment, the new OGP strategy recognizes the fundamental importance of ensuring equal access to justice for all citizens. The African Center of Excellence – Access to Justice commends this commitment as it aligns with our core mission of promoting legal empowerment and enhancing access to justice across the continent. 

The inclusion of legal empowerment in the new OGP strategy is a significant step towards realizing the principles of open government. By recognizing the intrinsic link between justice and open governance, we can foster a more equitable society, where citizens can access justice, participate actively in decision-making processes, and hold institutions accountable. The African Center of Excellence – Access to Justice fully supports this commitment and stands ready to collaborate with stakeholders to advance legal empowerment and access to justice in Africa and beyond. 

In summary, the inclusion of legal empowerment and access to justice as key priorities in the new OGP strategy is a positive development that recognizes the vital role of justice in open government. By promoting legal empowerment, governments can empower citizens, address institutional weaknesses, combat corruption, and foster inclusive decision-making processes. The African Center of Excellence – Access to Justice calls for strong collaboration between governments, civil society organizations, and international partners to support legal empowerment initiatives in Africa and work towards a more open, just, and accountable society.