The Legislator’s Dilemma: Following or Moving against the Tide of Perverse Incentives

By Fletcher Tembo*

Listening to an expert discussion of the role of elected representatives in social accountability interventions at a recent event hosted by the Mwananchi Governance Programme and CIVICUS in Johannesburg on 16th May 2013, I was reminded of this quote by Joe Khamisi, a former Kenyan MP:

“Save, you may not see Parliament again”, one two-term Member liked to tell us. In many cases non-performers with deep pockets are preferred than stingy doers. “As much as possible, avoid your constituents in the first three years and show up only towards the last half of your term, with plenty of money!”

In response, a Member of Parliament (MP) from one of the countries where Mwananchi works said, “You need to put premium on leadership”. In other words, we should not expect leaders to deliver the change we want if society encourages them to pursue perverse incentives to attain and remain in office, and to achieve solutions to collective action problems. Continue reading

Civil Society: Whispers of progress, though we must keep shouting to get more satisfaction

By Mark Nelson, Policy and Advocacy Intern, CIVICUS

Although 2012’s Mayan apocalypse didn’t pan out quite as spectacularly as anticipated, the year was nonetheless an eventful one for civil society activists engaged in struggles for political, social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Through its Civil Society Watch project, CIVICUS continued to monitor situations adversely affecting civil society in seventy-six countries in 2012. CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report 2013 also focuses on an “enabling environment” for civil society.

Despite disturbing trends ranging from the deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria, where pro-democracy activists have been bombarded with tanks and heavy artillery, to authoritarian aggrandizement in Russia via draconian laws and intimidation of activists, a few small victories have been achieved through advocacy and solidarity initiatives.

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Tell it like it is: what works for social accountability in Africa?

*An honest forum for discussions about accountability, power and development isn’t always easy to find. Issues of external aid financing for internal social accountability building, holding parliamentarians to account and finding ways to strengthen democratic structures are complex and sensitive issues: so the Mwananchi roundtable, bringing together politicians, traditional leaders, academics and civil society leaders was a unique opportunity to ‘tell it as it is’. The two day meeting in Johannesburg, hosted by CIVICUS and convened by the Mwananchi Programme, aimed to explore what works for holding governments to account through direct citizen action.

The event was primarily a response to the upcoming closure of the Mwananchi Programme, which after five years has amassed a wealth of evidence on ‘what works’ (and what doesn’t) for social accountability in Africa. Fletcher Tembo, the programme Director, presented some of the ideas which will inform a major report synthesising learning from across the programme sites (to be published in September). These include a flexible approach to a theory of change, rooted in specific local context, learning ‘in the rear view mirror’ and adapting the ingredients of what works in one country to another. He also proposed a model of ‘accountability as answerability’ rather than ‘accountability as responsiveness’. You can read Fletcher’s presentation here.

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Stop! Mind the gender gap in development discourses

At a time when the United Nations, governments, development partners and civil society are vigorously having consultations on a post-2015 development framework, the issue of gender equality seems to have lost its resonance in discourses on development especially within the African continent. Lessons from experiences in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) show that countries can experience different levels of economic growth but still suffer from massive social and economic inequalities.

I recently attended a gender forum organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Tunis, Tunisia which brought together government ministers, representatives from civil society, international organisations, the private sector and development practitioners. The aim of the forum was to bring together key stakeholders from the continent to map out strategies needed to redress the challenge of gender inequality in Africa. The theme of the meeting was “changing the state of gender equality in Africa.”

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The Human Rights Council: From Bangladesh to Geneva

I recently represented CIVICUS recently on a trip to Geneva to participate in Universal Periodic Review (UPR) sessions at the UN Human Rights Council. CIVICUS had made UPR submissions for Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Colombia, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, all of which were being examined at the 16th session in April this year. Of particular interest was the session on Bangladesh for CIVICUS has been very active in its advocacy on that country in recent months. Trips to Dhaka, press releases on the NGO law and now a side-event at the HRC with FORUM-ASIA entitled ‘Bangladesh: Towards a conducive environment for Human Rights Defenders’ on 25 April 2013 have made us busy indeed.

The Bangladeshi activists that flew in from Dhaka for the event were clearly being watched carefully by officials from the Bangladeshi Mission. The Mission did not make much of a secret of it. They were there for all to see in the Serpentine Bar at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, their camera phones held up taking pictures of the activists. I also saw them recording what the activists said at the CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA side-event. Although it is welcome that the Bangladeshi Mission attended, their attentions, which felt akin to surveillance at times, did not make for an altogether pleasant interaction with the activists. Particularly when it is noted that one of the NGO’s – Odhikar, had experienced surveillance coupled with the threatening and harassment of its staff back in Bangladesh in recent years. What is more surprising though is that these intimidating attentions were occurring in the serene environs of Geneva, amidst a faux-convivial air of polite handshakes and back slapping between the activists and the Bangladeshi delegation. Continue reading

United Nations advocacy: a battle won?

By Olivia Tchamba

The 16th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group took place with 14 states being reviewed by their peers. Faithful to its UPR full commitment, CIVICUS has targeted countries for special advocacy and lobby. A first and major step in this UPR advocacy mechanism is done by the Policy and Advocacy Unit in collaboration with the Geneva Office and CIVICUS’ ground partners. Indeed, written submission on countries’ situations are delivered and are later on integrated in the stakeholder compilation paper, one of the three documents on which the review, the Interactive Dialogue of States with the State under Review (SuR,) is based. Continue reading

Canada: Selling out civil society too?

Last week’s stunning announcement by the National Research Council that it will only perform research that has “social or economic gain” prompted prominent astronomer and author Phil Phait to claim that Canada is selling out science.

A new report on the conditions for civil society across the world shows that Canada is selling out civil society too.

Often considered a bastion of liberal democracy and progressive values, Canada regularly ranks highly on indexes on development and human rights. The most recent editions of the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index, the State of World Liberty Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index place Canada fourth, third and eighth respectively.

However, the State of Civil Society 2013 published by CIVICUS, the global alliance, tells a different story, one that highlights the fact that over the past six years the conditions for civil society have steadily deteriorated in Canada. Continue reading

Africa’s liberators should embrace civil society as an ally

Governments across Africa are clamping down on dissent, hiding their secrets and attacking the funding base of their critics. And it seems that those who fought hardest for freedom, are now those least convinced by the virtue of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Despite numerous international commitments to protect civic space, evidence from around the world suggests that conditions are getting worse for civil society. Our annual stocktake, The State of Civil Society 2013, published by CIVICUS,catalogues a litany of threats to civil society: from outright violence against civic leaders, to legal restrictions on civil society organisations and dramatic funding cuts.

The situation in many African countries is particularly acute, especially where political movements that once fought for freedom and prosperity, having assumed power are now undermining both aims by trying to clampdown on civil society. What they ignore at their peril is that, while solidarity and unity are crucial during liberation struggles, debate and dissent are vital to promote both vibrant democracies and economic prosperity. Continue reading