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Stephanie Muchai is Hivos’ current East Africa lead for the global Open Up Contracting program. Open contracting aims to support governments to procure and deliver public goods and services for citizens efficiently and transparently. She works directly with local, national and regional partners towards more open and responsive governments. Recently, Stephanie was shortlisted as a candidate to serve on the Open Government Partnership‘s Steering Committee.

A freedom of information advocate, Stephanie’s not so famous phrase is, “If you cut me, I bleed access to information.” This is the foundation for her deep interest in and dedication to the broader transparency movement. She believes that supporting individual actors is the game changer in reform efforts, especially for achieving open and inclusive delivery of public goods and services to citizens.

Stephanie Muchai

Purpose Driven

“From a young age I heard this phrase a lot at home: ‘information is power.’ It was one of those things that you just trust is wisdom because it’s what your parents said. But I never really understood or asked about what they meant. I just assumed it was some nicely phrased fluff to get me to study,” she laughs. What she did know then was that somehow she would use whatever means she had, whatever education and qualifications she received, to serve the public interest. “So, you could say I’ve been stubbornly ‘purpose-driven’ in all my personal and career choices. They haven’t all been easy choices, but certainly worthwhile ones.”

Shared values with the Open Government Partnership

Having worked to promote accountable, responsive and inclusive governance in Africa, Stephanie is very excited to be shortlisted as a candidate for the Open Government Partnership’s Steering Committee. She believes that governments must be authentic, trustworthy and focused on the common good to serve people effectively. “And these are exactly the same values the Open Government Partnership is built on,” Stephanie explains. “In my personal experience, I know the partnership to be the leading multilateral initiative bringing together reformers from all over the world. Its unique multi-stakeholder approach ensures a continued voice for civil society and meaningful engagement with governments on behalf of citizens.”

Her nomination, if successful, would mean an opportunity to continue serving the region through a platform of global peers. Stephanie feels this is the ideal time to test current thinking and approaches for opening up government. “We’ve been facing an unrelenting onslaught on civic space by increasingly authoritarian governments. Although it would be easier just to stay in survival mode, the open government community is full of bold risk takers. This is the moment to show that open government is what we say it is – no matter what kind of regime we’re dealing with, how diverse the population is (or not), and how much social cohesion there is.”

Open government cartoon
Cartoon by Jeff Parker

Cracking the tough nuts

Stephanie admits that transformative open government reform must still overcome major challenges. “Basically we have to safeguard gains that are vulnerable to political changes, get governments to be accountable when they fail to keep promises, extend the reach of civil society participation, and create much more transparency at all levels. This is what it will take to bring about long-term change through transparency, participation, and accountability.”

“Africa certainly needs more countries joining the open government movement and committing to robust reforms,” she adds. Currently, only 12 national governments and 4 local governments in Africa are members of the Open Government Partnership. Stephanie believes a group of these countries should use their own experiences and commitment to openness to draw others into the partnership. “Just like the countries that founded the Contracting 5 group committed to promoting open contracting, we need to have a similar initiative for open government reforms in Africa.”

Belonging to a passionate and committed community

The path to open government is not easy, but the open government community is passionate and committed. Stephanie says that it is actually local governments – those closest to the people – that have the most to gain from embracing open government practices that ensure critical public goods and services reach all their citizens.

“I now look back on years of working and advocating for social justice, good governance, transparency, public accountability, public participation and active citizenship. It has been an incredible journey, and I look forward to many more years of pursuing these goals for Kenya, Africa and the world,” she concludes.

You can follow Stephanie on Twitter @parchedoasis.