Celebrating Honest Civil Servants on Reality TV in West Africa By: Anne Sophie Ranjbar, Associate Director of the Accountability Lab

In countries around the world plagued with systemic corruption, there are hidden heroes within the government who are standing up for accountability, despite the challenges and opposition they face in the process. Thus, in the fight against corruption, we have to think not just about “naming and shaming” corrupt officials, but also about “naming and faming” the incredible people that are serving their communities with integrity and making sure that public money is spent effectively.

Three years ago, Accountability Lab’s founder and Executive Director Blair Glencorse devised a creative platform to identify and celebrate honest civil servants: Integrity Idol. This national media campaign enables citizens across the country to nominate and vote for the country’s most honest government employees. Using the power of popular reality TV, it creates role models within the government and captures the imagination of young people who want to be part of a positive movement for change.

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Integrity Idol began in Nepal, and has now reached West Africa, with its debut in Liberia in 2015 and in Mali in 2016. In each country, youth networks to spread the word in government officials and communities across the country. The local Accountability Lab team then carefully reviews and verifies submissions, and selects a respected, expert panel to systemically narrow the field of submissions to the top five.  Professional filmmakers create short video profiles of the top five finalists doing their jobs, talking about why it is important to have integrity, and interacting with others who can vouch for their great work. These episodes are shown across national TV and radio, and citizens are encouraged to vote via SMS for their “Integrity Idol”. Each campaign culminates in a public award ceremony, where community members, high-level government officials, and media representatives gather to honor the five finalists and announce the winner of the People’s Choice Award.

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The first season of Integrity Idol Mali came to a close last month, with over 5,000 votes and extensive news coverage. The winner was Issa Dia, a soldier in the Malian Army who spends his spare time helping children in poor families further their educations.

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The previous season of Integrity Idol Liberia received over 500,000 views, and the winner was a female emergency room nurse at a government hospital named Jugbeh Kekula. She expressed her belief in integrity saying, “Certain times they say, ‘Oh Jugbeh, talking the truth can spoil your way.’ I say, ‘But then so be it.’ But I always say the truth, because I don’t like injustice, because it hurts me a whole lot.” Reflecting on how the campaign has impacted her, she said, “It has changed my life. People look to me as an example.” The latest season of Integrity Idol Liberia will be aired on Liberian television next week with five inspiring, new finalists. At the close of the season, the finalists and winners in each country form a network to support and learn from each others’ efforts to build accountability and integrity within their governments.

Left: Joshua Flomo. Right: Jugbeh Kekula.
Left: Joshua Flomo. Right: Jugbeh Kekula.

While the campaign has not yet reached Nigeria, Accountability Lab has an Integrity Idol handbook prepared for scaling the campaign to new contexts, and the Accountability Lab team is scoping ways to make Integrity Idol Nigeria a reality in the coming years. Through Integrity Idol, we can regain trust between citizens and their government and inspire a new generation of responsible leaders.

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