In late May I took the lead in organising a consultation in Maputo , Mozambique, with representatives of Mozambican civil society to get their valuable input into the process of defining CIVICUS’ new Strategic Directions. With the proactive assistance of CIVICUS Board Member Marta Cumbi, we were able to get quality feedback from participants.
Although for the majority of those present it was the first time that they heard of CIVICUS and its work as a global civil society alliance, people could immediately relate to CIVICUS’ mission to strengthen citizen participation around the world, as in Mozambique it was clear there is a great need for CIVICUS to assist CSOs in this regard. Indeed throughout the consultation I heard repeated complaints made of how the government has largely contributed to creating a disenabling environment for civil society. Participants spoke of the many restrictive laws that have been imposed on civil society, stigmatising it and hampering its ability to protest freely without fear of political repercussions.
In the conversation it was also discussed that Mozambique had experienced what participants called their own Mozambican version of the Arab Spring, in September 2010. Rising prices in water, energy and most importantly, bread, highly affected the most marginalised people, those living under conditions of poverty. Young and poor people were the out in the streets mobilising against the government, to which the lack of participation of trade unions and local CSOs served as a counterpoint. So, in this sense, a failure of local organised civil society could be seen. Given that it would seem to fall clearly within CSOs’ mandates to represent the interests of the marginalised in this situation, the resulting lack of appropriate action surely provokes questions about whose interests organised civil society really works for, and suggests that they need to re-evaluate their missions and visions to ensure that they do justice to strengthening the voices of the marginalised in Mozambique.
Another issue brought up frequently by participants was the fact that Mozambican civil society as a collective is currently highly uncoordinated. The lack of a national CSO platform was greatly felt by many participants. This suggests that one immediate follow up for CIVICUS could be to open and facilitate more spaces for continued dialogue, with other Mozambican CSOs, or indeed Lusophone actors in particular from further afield.
The general feeling of participants was very positive regarding the opportunity offered by CIVICUS to consult on their views, such that they asked for more and continued engagements building on this one. Personally, after playing an active role in organising and facilitating this meeting, and learning of the huge spirit of perseverance that Mozambican civil society draws on to confront their local problems, I know that this will be the start of many more future engagements.
Natalie Akstein, Convening Officer, CIVICUS