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Africa: How we will work with our partners to build back better

Africa and Africans need to rise to the challenge of building institutions, systems, and economies that work for the people. This is now more important than ever as we work towards ending the pandemic, and most critically, economic recovery across the continent. Resource scarcities and inequalities were already rife when Africa recorded its first COVID 19 case last year and joined the rest of the world in the struggle to procure vital goods and services to withstand the shock of the pandemic. Corruption, fraud, misappropriation of funds and other unethical practices over the past year have challenged our procurement systems and intensified the need for open contracting across the continent. Beyond the threat to lives, abuses of power during the pandemic have weakened our healthcare systems, and crippled our economies, widening the mistrust between citizens and the government – which, according to the World Bank, could undo decades of work of global poverty reduction.

Procurement is at the heart of efficient access to critical services like healthcare, infrastructure, and education. In Africa as elsewhere, the pandemic has amplified the need for smarter and more resilient procurement systems that are inclusive, transparent, and that engage citizens. 

How our African partners responded during the pandemic

We have seen some of our partners in the region from the government, civil society, media, and the private sector rise to the challenge of shifting the status quo and showing what is possible in procurement reform both at the national and subnational level.

In Kenya, the county government of Makueni moved forward with its open contracting initiative. They recorded an increase in supplier diversification, more savings, and improved competition in 2020, showing that even in uncertain times, transparent and data-driven procurement reform is possible. I am hopeful as there seems to be momentum: the national government re-committed to open contracting in their 2020-2022 Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan, and a number of counties are joining the OGP Local effort — Makueni, Nandi, Nairobi, Elgeyo Marakwet — showing the importance of open and accountable governance across the country, with open contracting a key focus area.

In Nigeria, 2020 saw the Federal Bureau of Public Procurement publish emergency procurement guidelines for ministries, departments, and agencies as well as the publication of some COVID-19 contracting information on the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO). It was also incredible to see how civil societies and the media monitored the COVID-19 procurement process, pushing for reforms and recording a number of successes. At the state level, largely through the World Bank-supported State Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability project, we have seen a shift toward procurement transparency for the first time. A number of states have implemented open contracting initiatives, published information on awarded contracts in the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), improved their procurement laws to include contract transparency and embarked on implementing e-procurement systems to improve the efficiency of procurement in the states. Early results from Ebonyi State, Kaduna State, Abia State, Edo State, and Ekiti State amongst others show progress in the publication of data. Additionally, we are glad to have the following OGP local members in Nigeria — Abuja Municipality, Kaduna State, and Plateau State.

In South Africa, amidst a number of scandals, we saw a strong push from civil society for accountability in vaccine distribution and COVID-19 spending, and a renewed commitment to open government — including for the first time a commitment to open contracting in South Africa’s OGP National Action Plan 2020-2022. The presidency has also committed to public procurement reform and better inclusion by earmarking 40% of public contracts to be awarded to women-owned businesses.

And in Tanzania, we were thrilled to see new actors entering public procurement. The Zabuni app is using existing procurement data from the government and private sector to connect buyers and suppliers, an interesting private sector example that’s helping broaden suppliers’ participation in government procurement. 

How we will support a strong & resilient open contracting community in Africa 

These lessons from Africa show that reform is possible even in the most difficult landscapes. But it is hard. We know it takes commitment, determination, persistence, a collective effort, and the right support. At this critical moment, OCP will increase its support to the Africa-wide community of practitioners — governments, civil society organizations, media, and the private sector at the national and sub-national level — to build back better. 

Here are the three key ways we will support our partners and advance open contracting:

  1. Support our government partners to collect and publish good quality procurement data: The availability of procurement data is still a major point of concern across the continent. We have seen the importance of data for monitoring, oversight, and advocacy magnified like never before by the pandemic. Our African OCDS publishers have struggled to keep up publishing high-quality data, so we are keen to identify how we can ignite progress in the publication of data in OCDS format from Africa again, especially as a number of national and subnational governments work towards implementing e-procurement systems. We will reach out to identify what we can do to make publishing easier and invite our government partners to actively and regularly engage with us and the OCDS helpdesk.
  1. Catalyze data use across the continent: We will increase support to our partners from civil society, the private sector, media, academia, and even government to develop use cases using existing data to show what is possible with open contracting. We’ll look at improving opportunities to monitor and analyze public procurement building tools and dashboards to support advocacy and better service delivery, research work that could inform and improve procurement systems and advocacy. We would love to hear your innovative ideas and projects that could cause a continental or local shift in how procurement is done. 
  1. Build a community of practitioners: To build back better, Africa will need to build together, sharing, learning, supporting, and replicating solutions. We will prioritize community building to strengthen recovery efforts and improve the way procurement delivers for citizens. We hope you will join our new monthly community calls where we’ll share some of the most exciting and useful insights from the region, help train and build capacity tailored to partners’ needs. Let us know what you would like to learn more about and if you have any insights to share. We’ll share information through newsletters and spotlight progress from our partners, as well as support you to advocate for reform goals and create plans to achieve them. In particular, we will be prioritizing more equity and inclusion in public procurement, especially for women and minority groups.

I am super excited to be leading our vision for Africa as the Senior Manager, focused on ensuring our Africa-wide community achieves progress and impact. I will work across the continent to build our community and to support partners on implementation, including advocacy. Please reach out should you have any request, light bulb ideas, questions or need any support at ncoker [at] open-contracting.org.

Photo credit: Freepik