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Why is it so hard for non-state actors to be heard? Inside Tanazania’s education policies

Date added: June 15, 2016

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Much of the literature on citizen accountability focuses on citizen voices. This research briefing is one of four which turn the spotlight on the how the state behaves in instances of accountable governance. Each examines a landmark social justice policy process in Africa, asking when and how the state listened, and to which actors; and why, at times, it chose not to listen.

Citizen involvement in decision-making has been a significant part of Tanzania’s political reforms in recent years. For example, the local government reforms of the late 1990s emphasised the decentralisation of decision-making and policy formulation, especially on issues that affect people’s daily lives. Yet this research, which focused on primary education policies and programmes, revealed that the government seldom listens to stakeholders.

There are several reasons for this. The relationship between the state and citizen stakeholders is often one of ‘pointing hands’, rather than working together as partners. The number of civil society organisations (CSOs) and researchers in the education sector often leads to a multitude of proposals that require government attention, and in short time frames. Further, CSOs often conduct research and disseminate findings in public before discussing them with the government: this adds to the atmosphere of mutual accusation. There are also budgetary issues, which constrain the government’s ability to take certain proposals forward.

The research concluded that:

  • policy-making is a top-down affair in Tanzania and there is an antagonistic relationship between state and non-state actors
  • despite acknowledging the importance of non-state actors in guiding education policies, the government often thinks of ‘competition’ instead of ‘cooperation’ when it interacts with non-state actors
  • part of this mistrust comes from the government’s sensitivity, but non-state actors’ critical and confrontational advocacy efforts do not always help the situation
  • it is important for CSOs to work with the government to analyse the situation, assess needs and set priorities; once priorities have been identified jointly, the government is more likely to ‘own’ the findings and actually use them.

This Research Briefing is part of the When Does the State Listen? series.

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