Trade, aid and development effectiveness – what have CSOs been up to?

In the feature article of its 1st June 2013 edition entitled “Towards the end of poverty”, the Economist highlighted how extreme poverty has been dramatically reduced over the last decade and insisted, as expected, that free trade was the main reason for this good news, and not aid at all. Amidst current global discussions on what needs to happen after 2015 and the end of the Millennium Development Goals, such an assertion cannot be ignored.

Another article in the same 1st June edition indicates that what works better is equitable growth, meaning growth that is distributed equitably among the population, but what is most interesting is the subtle contradiction between the article’s initial assertion and the conclusion on the need to “rethink official assistance” in the context of this “dramatic fall in extreme poverty”. Indeed, the ‘remaining’ extremely poor are mainly living in unstable countries and fragile states difficult to access in Africa, or are hidden in middle income countries where donors are starting to withdraw.

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Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development should to be heard


Caroline Usikpedo, Ughelli, Nigeria

Caroline Usikpedo, the national director of the Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development, has something important to say. But she’s not speaking for herself, she’s speaking for women who have been forced from their homes by oil spills.

In her office in Ughelli, she shows me with a smile her badge from the 2012 CIVICUS World Assembly hung on the wall with at least twenty other badges from other international meetings and conferences, among which are badges for COP17 and Rio+20. Caroline travels a lot for work because she wants to represent the voices of the rural women of her region internationally. “I’ve got to tell the situation and the challenges of my community”, she explains. Her story is the story of the Niger Delta Province in Nigeria, which has grown to more than 4 million inhabitants but has not grown in terms of development or infrastructure. Caroline asks me on the way from Warri’s airport to Ughelli: “Have you seen the deforestation from the plane? The petrol industry is impacting badly on the agriculture. People can’t use their land anymore to farm.” Oil was discovered in the late fifties in the Niger Delta, and some sixty years later, when arriving in Ughelli, I wonder where all the oil revenue has gone.

The forum organised by Caroline and her organisation focuses on citizen’s engagement in the Niger Delta and on the impacts of oil pollution. Caroline has been granted one of five 2013 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela- Graça Machel Innovation Awards. It was really inspiring to meet and listen to the women (and some men too) who attended this local consultation, speaking of all sort of issues affecting their lives and communities. And there is a long list of issues: the impact of oil pollution on agriculture, water and quality of land; the corruption it triggers and which brings no development to those communities; and the remaining tradition in some villages of women having to kneel down to speak publicly. Voices grew louder and more passionate each time the topic of gender empowerment was raised. Their calls are very similar to what you hear at international conferences, such as: “women should have equal rights”, “for a woman to fully develop, we need to educate the girl child and it starts with us, send your girls to school”, and so on.

As Caroline puts it, the Niger Delta Region’s people have suffered maltreatment through political and economic marginalisation, violence and environmental degradation. Together, these women want to do even more for their communities. For example, they want to send representatives to governmental commissions to raise issues of water pollution, unfinished public works affecting schools and hospitals and energy waste.

Women at the one day local consultation on citizen’s engagement around the impact of oil pollution

Women at the one day local consultation on citizen’s engagement around the impact of oil pollution

“Don’t forget that government isn’t everything! Connect with other NGOs. Together you can do more. Networking is the key if you want your voices to be heard”, advises Caroline. The event itself is indeed a perfect example of the networking needed, between local civil society organisations, grassroots movements and NGOs. Women’s groups need support in their advocacy, documenting of their situation, compiling of data and getting their voices heard. Also, because “it is only by holding the polluter accountable for its pollution, and making the polluter pay, that we can finally make steps to protect human rights”.

Though Caroline travels a lot, she is also deeply rooted in the Niger Delta region, and she knows all too well the problems of her communities and of the women attending this event. She is well known and respected for the work she does of organising training sessions for women (on sewing, computers, fashion and so on), for raising awareness and for advocating for the rights of women and environmental protection. Comfortable both at the podium of an international audience to explain the Niger Delta’s situation, and sat on the floor sharing her skills and knowledge, Caroline manages to reconcile the global with the local. She and the Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development have an important message and a many stories that need to be heard.

Dorothée Guénéheux is Convening Officer at CIVICUS, the global alliance for civil society.

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

Development and Civil Society Enabling Environment: Reflections from the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings

For one week each spring, thousands of civil society activists, journalists, academics, private sector representatives, government officials, World Bank Group (WBG) and IMF staff descend on Washington, DC during the Spring Meetings and the Civil Society Policy Forum to dialogue on a number of policy issues related to the work of the World Bank and the IMF and development aid effectiveness. Tor blog

During the meetings from April 16-17, CIVICUS co-organized and participated in a number of policy dialogue sessions and high-level meetings with Bank staff and civil society from across the globe. Among other key activities, CIVICUS was invited to panel the CSO roundtable with World Bank Executive Directors, co-organize a follow-up side event to the Global Conference on Citizen Engagement for Enhanced Development Impact, and hold a launch reception for CIVICUS’ 2013 State of Civil Society Report.

Throughout the parallel meetings, CIVICUS emphasized that the Bank’s public recognition of the vital role civil society plays in development processes is undermined by rising the rising tide of legal restrictions, funding cuts and violence faced by civil society around the world. Continue reading

Responsáveis e eficazes?

**Conhecemos a situação de muitas organizações da sociedade civil (OSC):estas são as primeiras a exigir responsabilidade e transparência dos outros atores de desenvolvimento (doadores, governos, empresas privadas, governos locais e outros) mas nem sempre refletem e trabalham na sua própria responsabilidade e eficácia. Verdadeiro ou não, esta percepção domina: sempre me choca quando ouço de amigos e pessoas falar da sua péssima imagen imagem atual das organizações da sociedade civil. O que houve nestes últimos anos? Há dez anos, as pesquisas de opinião mostravam que as OSC compartilhavam com as igrejas a confiança do público e eram geralmente consideradas como acima dos governos, dos partidos, e das empresas privadas em termos de responsabilidade. Alguma coisa mudou:será os escândalos causados por algumas OSC aqui e ali, ou o cepticismo crescente em muitos? Nos OSCs, esforçamo-nos cada vez mais a ser transparentes, a prestar melhores contas as comunidades, ao público e aos nossos doadores, mas este esforço todo parece em vão. Devemos comunicar melhor estes esforços! Há tantas iniciativas positivas das OSCs, e uma destas é o trabalho do Fórum Aberto sobre a Eficácia da Contribuição das OSC ao Desenvolvimento. E disto que vamos falar hoje. Continue reading

BRICS Summit: Headway on Syria but can we also discuss corporate accountability and civil society participation

Politics and business indeed make for strange bedfellows. When the leaders of the five BRICS countries which account for 40% of the world’s population and more than a quarter of the world’s GDP met in South Africa last week for their summit, many in civil society were left wondering what is it other than pure commercial interest that brings these five countries together. India, Brazil and South Africa are vibrant democracies with vibrant civil societies albeit with their challenges.  Russia and China subscribe to more paternalistic and authoritarian paradigms of governance with little space for civil society members and dissidents to critique government actions.

Nevertheless, the BRICS mechanism claims to have expanded its focus from mainly economic cooperation to contributing positively to global peace, stability and development. This was evident in South Africa’s hosting of the summit. A clear call was made in the BRICS Communiqué for all parties in Syria to “allow and facilitate immediate, safe, full and unimpeded access to humanitarian organisations to all in need of assistance.” The call follows an appeal by a group of eminent civil society activists to BRICS leaders to convince the Syrian government to allow the UN impeded humanitarian access within and across Syria’s borders as the death toll crosses 70, 000. The appeal was particularly significant as Assad’s advisor urged BRICS leaders for an intervention to “stop the violence in the country and encourage the opening of a dialogue” which the Syrian government wishes to start even as extra-judicial killings, rape, torture, hunger and lack of shelter in the country abound. Continue reading

Post 2015, ou l’occasion d’une réforme

Jean-François Lyotard, philosophe français disparu en 1998, a ouvert ses « Moralités post-modernes » par la formule suivante : « Qu’il nous arrive quelque chose… Nous n’attendons finalement que cela : qu’il nous arrive quelque chose ». Nous qui nous rendons cette semaine à Bonn pour la conférence mondiale des Organisations de la société civile (OSC) sur l’agenda Post 2015 («Faire Avancer l’Agenda Post-2015 de Développement Durable »), nous avons cela en tête : qu’arrive enfin ce moment de dialogue et de rencontre entre tous ceux qui, du point de vue de la société civile, travaillent sur la nouvelle génération des objectifs du millénaire pour le développement, après 2015. Nous nous disons également que ces objectifs pourraient être l’occasion qu’il « arrive » quelque chose au système des Nations Unies, et qu’il trouve dans ce processus la volonté et les moyens de réformer son fonctionnement et ses prises de décision. La définition de ces nouveaux objectifs de développement devrait en effet être l’occasion d’intégrer fermement les différents acteurs de développement, nommément les organisations de la société civile, le secteur privé, les autorités locales et autres acteurs non-étatiques.

Las… nous n’en sommes pas là, avons-nous constaté la semaine dernière à Sao Paulo, au Brésil lors du Forum 2013 du Forum pour une Gouvernance Mondiale Démocratique (FIM) , portant sur les relations entre l’ONU et la société civile. Depuis trente ans, la substance même de la politique s’est mondialisée : le commerce, les finances, le changement climatique, le VIH-SIDA, le terrorisme. Les acteurs de la société civile ont su construire des processus mondiaux pour attirer l’attention des Etats, notamment sur les questions d’environnement, du commerce des armes, des mines anti-personnel, de la corruption, etc. Cependant, les processus de la politique conventionnelle résistent à la mondialisation. Ses principales institutions – élections, partis politiques et parlements -, demeurent enracinées au niveau national et la gouvernance mondiale n’est donc autre que la rencontre des intérêts divergents voire conflictuels des Etats-Nations. Continue reading

Looking beyond 2015 in Cameroon: COSADER and CIVICUS hold consultations on the MDGs

In line with the Commonwealth Foundation’s Breaking Point initiative, Collectif des ONG pour la Sécurité Alimentaire et le Développement Rural (COSADER) and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation recently organised consultations in Yaoundé, Cameroon to discuss experiences with the participation of civil society in the identification of policies, and the implementation and monitoring of work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The consultations were organised on the heels of a national forum of civil society organisations which focused on the role of civil society in the development of policy and the enabling environment in Cameroon. The meeting on MDGs brought together around 23 representatives from civil society, working on diverse issues in different regions to share their experiences and discuss strategies for the post-2015 era. Continue reading

Make your voice heard in 2013!

As we conclude another fruitful year of work advancing citizen action and strengthening civil society, I would like to thank you – CIVICUS’ colleagues, members, supporters and friends – for your participation in various CIVICUS activities and for taking part in our ambitious vision of achieving a worldwide community of informed, inspired, committed citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity.

Organisationally, CIVICUS was able to inscribe several key milestones in 2012. As our five-year strategy for 2008-2012 was coming to an end, we set out on a broad and in-depth consultation process with members, partners and key stakeholders to agree on a new five-year strategy for 2013-2017. Due to the diversity of our constituents, as well as the fast-moving and often crisis-led global situation affecting civil society, it was a challenge to prioritise and de-prioritise many of the issues that are related to day-to-day struggles of our members and others. In the end, the CIVICUS Board was able to crystallise the focus of the alliance in the next five years into the CIVICUS Strategic Priorities 2013-2017 with the three key themes of 1) influence, 2) connect and 3) enable, as introduced and endorsed at the members’ meeting during the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal in September. Continue reading