Transparency and Good Governance: A #YALIChat with Nancy Boswell, Jessica Tillipman and Ken O. Opalo

After teaching a course on Responsible Leadership Transparency and Good Governance, Nancy Boswell, Jessica Tillipman and Ken O. Opalo joined the YALI Network to answer questions and further the discussion on what individuals and communities can do to promote transparency in their country. While transparency and accountability are not easy to achieve, the instructors were able to highlight the best ways individuals can make an impact and inspire their communities.

Nancy Boswell is the Director of the US and International Anti-Corruption Law Certificate Program at American University Washington College of Law in Washington D.C. Ms. Boswell was named among Ethisphere’s “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics” and is a member of the OECD Secretary General’s High Level Advisor Group on Integrity and Anti-Corruption.

Jessica Tillipman is the Assistant Dean for Field Placement and Professional Lecturer in Law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C. Dean Tillipman teaches a Government Contracts Anti-Corruption and Compliance Seminar and has published articles on anti-corruption, white collar crime and government contracts topics.

Ken O. Opalo is an Assistant Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Mr. Opalo’s research includes political economy and legislative development and the electoral politics in emerging democracies. His current book focuses on the evolution of legislatures in emerging democracies and explaining the variation in institutionalization and the strength of African legislatures.

Start Small and Work Together:

The best way to begin tackling this issue is by starting small: educate yourself on the problems in your country and work with others who share your goals.

Implementing systemic change is near-impossible. That is why you should start small, with a focused goal that will allow you to record clear wins. These wins will then have a demonstration effect as well as serve as motivation for future reforms.

The use of media outlets, especially social media can be vital tools to shine the light on corrupt leaders. Sites like and are incredibly helpful in getting started.

It is very difficult to inspire hope for a better society and a fairer system in the situation you describe. However, in every society, there are some like-minded people who, when they act together, can inspire others to follow. In my view, transparency is only an instrument and not an outcome. The outcome is a better fairer society now and in the future. Transparency is an important element of the battle to get to that desired outcome. So, first you have to convince them life could be better. There are many examples to cite to --even if none is perfect! We should all be striving to make our communities better, if not perfect. For those who would like to learn more about fighting corruption and the legal basis for transparency, accountability and good government, American University offers courses during a one week period or customized for groups.

Education and a network of individuals can make a difference.

There is a saying that "a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single" step. Thus, even in the worst of circumstances, we must start from where we are and continue until the next generation takes over. The issue of those in office using that office to stay in power is one which vexes many nations. Education and transparency are important antidotes. Education: People in the provinces as well as in the cities need to know that they should vote for the best candidate, not those who use public resources -- the public's resources -- to buy the generators, motorbikes, etc used to buy their votes. Transparency: Elections and campaign financing should be transparent. Where the money comes from and where the money goes should be published in a timely and accessible manner so the public can know before the election. There should be an independent body responsible for collecting and publishing this information and to impose sanctions if rules are violated. Until such an office is created or there is a system for publication, citizens can monitor what candidates are doing and seek media coverage so the public can know what is happening.

Protection for Whistleblowers:

Protection for those who speak out against corrupt systems is a vital component to change. There should be laws in place to protect whistleblowers in order to create an environment where the people can speak freely against systems that lack transparency.

Whistleblower protection is vital to good governance and fighting Kenya has a National Whistleblowers Center which has a website with information on Kenyan laws and other resources. Protecting whistleblowers is very challenging, especially if laws are not adequately enforced. The media can play an important role in making sure the government is held to account and citizens can do the same by voting for honest candidates.

If laws are not in place, whistleblowers need to take caution in protecting their identities.

Tackling these issues is no simple task but there is hope for change. Communities need to come together and use the tools at their disposal to hold their governments accountable.

Practice is the only way through which a society can develop the institutional structures and political culture required to guarantee transparency and accountability. That means always demanding for transparency and accountability at all times under all circumstances; and accepting that sometimes you will fail.

Saying No to Corruption Takes Courage

Contributed by Mesay Barekew Liche, Mandela Washington Fellow 2016, Ethiopia

Getting an electricity line was a matter of necessity for the new residential area of 81 households in my community of Adama, Ethiopia. Unnecessary bureaucracy, withholding information and a lack of transparency are manifestations of corruption (i.e., forcing people to “pay for tea”) in getting electricity service. To say no and break the norm takes leadership and action. A group of individuals came together to represent our community and get the required service without paying anything. Taking a leadership role and sacrificing time for the sake of community is the first step toward nurturing corruption-free value in this case.

The first thing we did was present our request to officials and identify corrupt individuals. Instead of focusing only on our community, we started to follow the decisions officials make for other communities in the city and gather tangible evidence. For instance, we found that some communities and individuals were given the service before others who had registered for the service first. With this, the first-come, first-served policy of the Ethiopian electric utility was violated.

Meanwhile, we identified offices that could help us, such as the city’s grievance-handling office, the anti-corruption office and the mayor’s office. We started to expose corrupt individuals and ask serious questions to those offices where corrupt officials were present. We were very careful in addressing the problem and made sure we followed all legal requirements. As time went by, frustration started to emerge from our community. Statements like “Paying is the only way out,” “They are networked, and fighting them is futile,” and “How can we be different from others who do “pay for tea” (a name for corruption)?” became common. We came up with an idea to deal with this challenge. We started to communicate to community members in small groups and individually about our progress and what we had achieved. That encouraged members to stick with us and believe in the rationale of our fight.

Finding officials and offices determined to fight corruption and working closely with them helped us a lot. Yet, a few officials will still do everything they can in their power to get what they want.

On left, View of poles and wires in rural setting, on right, view of rutted road next to poles and electric lines (Courtesy of Mesay Barekew)

Electric lines before we got the lines from the Ethiopian electric utility, Adama district (left), After we got our own electric line … The road is next on our agenda (right). (Courtesy of Mesay Barekew)

Finally, when we got our electricity line after months of fighting, our community was praised for getting it the right way, and whenever other people and community representatives come and ask us about our experience we gladly share with them. Officials who helped us in the fight now call us and we go to them with the same passion we showed to get the service for our community. Saying no to corruption takes courage. There is no letting up — now we are working to get a road for our community.

Running a Clean Campaign

YALI Network member and Regional Leadership Center alum Lone Felix has been interested in politics since his days as a law student at Kenyatta University. Having successfully campaigned for and been elected Student Council president, representing all of the university’s campuses across Kenya, he knows the responsibility that comes with being a voice for others.

YALI alum and legislative candidate Lone Felix of Kenya

YALI alum and legislative candidate Lone Felix of Kenya.

Now Lone is running to represent Busia County in the western part of Kenya in the national legislature. At 26, he is the youngest person on the ballot.

According to Lone, running for office in Kenya is expensive. Voters expect to be given money when candidates show up at rallies or campaign events. But Lone doesn’t have the money to give them, and he says he wouldn’t do it anyway. Lone says he struggles to explain to voters why paying and receiving money for votes is a slippery slope ethically.

“Some people want what they can get now, before the election, because after the vote they believe you’ll disappear,” he says. “The typical Kenyan politician’s approach is they have bought your vote. That means that you can’t hold politicians accountable. Politicians look at it like being in office is recouping an investment.”

Lone is determined to play it clean. He expects that money will be used to buy votes, but he says that “if you want to force an extreme, go the other way — approach people on a personal level. I expect to be drowned in cash and noise. But I want to be held accountable to deliver on promises. I want them to know I will work on their behalf.”

Lone says that corruption is very expensive, and that situation makes it very expensive to change the country.

“Institutions and processes are used to hide corruption,” he says. “If institutions are led by corrupt people, they will be corrupt. Leadership requires a good person with good intentions, working for the benefit of the people. Politics is the most influential institution in human interaction.”

So far, he says, people have been receptive to his message.

“I want to be a person who thinks about the impact of decisions on people. That’s what we need.”

How can technology keep government transparent and fair?

Sometimes technology can feel pretty impersonal. But when it comes to combatting corruption, removing the personal element can be pretty effective.

Protester in crowd holds up sign reading “Corruption threatens our future” (© AP Images)

Protesters during anti-corruption march organized by several civil society organizations in Pretoria, South Africa, 2015 (© AP Images)

“If you take the face-to-face exchange out of the equation, by putting the case status online, for example, [a] clerk’s opportunity to shake me down disappears,” said Alexandra Wrage, who runs TRACE, a nonprofit business association that has worked to combat bribery in 120 countries. “We find ourselves speaking with government officials who ask what the government can do to increase transparency,” said Wrage. “Almost every conversation ends up back at technology.”

Here are three examples of corruption-busting technologies that can make government services transparent and fair. Would one of these benefit your community?


The Philippines launched an “eCourt” system in 2013. The system assigns cases to specific branches immediately after they’re filed and allows the public to track any case’s progress through the judicial process. By having the system assign the cases, this avoids any influence on which judges hear which cases and how quickly they move through the court system. Citizens can follow any case’s progress from a central online interface.


Procurement, the issuing of government contracts to bidders, has long been a source of corruption in countries around the world. Since August 2016, all procurement in Ukraine is online, using a software system that automates bids, balancing bidders against each other for price and speed, as well as instances of unsatisfactory performance. The bids are viewable to the public throughout the selection process.

When companies can participate “on the basis of the quality of their product and the reasonableness of their price, they often win,” said Wrage, “especially if the bids are ultimately made public. On the other hand, if each bidder is sending personal representatives to pitch to the decisionmakers, the deal can go sideways quickly.”


In an essay for Forbes magazine Wrage described an Eastern European city where citizens welcomed the introduction of police cameras at traffic lights. Paying a ticket by mail that includes photographic evidence of the infraction is far preferable to being pulled over and required to “settle” the fine in person with a corrupt officer.

The Civil Society Forum at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

What is the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit?
It’s the largest engagement a U.S. president has ever had with African leaders and governments. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will bring together 50 heads of state, along with a range of U.S. and African civil society and business leaders, to discuss the future of Africa.

What issues will the Summit address?
The summit leader sessions will focus on topics such as trade and investment, peace and regional stability, and good governance. The signature events will address issues such as civil society, women’s empowerment, global health, resilience and food security, and wildlife trafficking.

What will happen at the civil society event?
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power will join other U.S. and African officials, civil society leaders and members of the U.S. Congress to discuss ways governments can further involve citizens and civil society in meeting shared challenges.

Through panel discussions, a town hall meeting and a keynote address, the Civil Society Forum will touch on the issues of corporate accountability and transparency; the importance of civic space to social entrepreneurship, civic innovation and development; strengthening the judiciary; and existing U.S.-Africa initiatives.

The event’s key outcomes may include commitments from government and civil society to emulate successful regional or international partnership models and technical assistance from the United States to support and expand successful engagement between government and civil society.

Why is this issue important to young African leaders?
Civil society gives citizens a voice. It complements the efforts of governments and the private sector to help people. It advances democracy, respect for human rights, inclusive development and media independence. It helps communities become prosperous and stable and pushes political institutions to be agile and responsive to the people they serve.

The United States has made support for and protection of civil society a cornerstone if its foreign policy. It encourages African leaders to join in helping to make civil society strong. Young African leaders can be a critical part of that effort.

Photo credit: Projekthope

“What was the outcome of the signature Civil Society Forum event at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit?”

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the role of civil society at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on August 4. Credit: AP Images

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the role of civil society at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on August 4.
Credit: AP Images

Secretary of State John Kerry opened the forum on civil society, which focused on leveraging the knowledge and experience of citizens to solve their countries’ main development challenges.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power urged leaders of African countries that are not yet part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to join the international network. She said governments can use the OGP as a resource for decisionmaking and for sharing information with citizens. She encouraged governments that have joined the OGP to make their open-government action plans publicly accessible.