Development effectiveness and civil society: In search of an enabling environment

From Paris through Accra to Busan: civil society’s role in the aid effectiveness debate … également disponible en français

(Credit: (Wikimedia/Justin Ling))

(Credit: (Wikimedia/Justin Ling))

In November 2011, three thousand delegates representing over 150 governments, major international organisations and key civil society groups gathered in Busan, South Korea for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. Their aim was to review progress on development cooperation strategies and agree on a common agenda to maximise the effectiveness of aid and development.  The Busan conference was preceded by similar high level forums on aid effectiveness in Accra (2008), Paris (2005) and Rome (2003).

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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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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

From subjects to citizens – accountability in the post-2015 development agenda

This week I have the privilege of being in Bali for meetings around the 4th High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Development Agenda. From individual youth activists to parliamentarians to multilateral institutions there is a common call for people’s participation and accountability to citizens in the next global development framework.

Today at the CSO Outreach Day, I was happy to hear democratic governance and accountability given prominence in the discussions between civil society and HLP members. As the HLP representative from the United States put it “accountability is listening to people and their aspirations.”

This demand-driven approach to development is a welcome change, as current development goals and indicators are largely considered an arbitrary and imposed framework. Because the current development agenda was developed without the participation and ownership of those who were most affected there was never a groundswell of support for citizen participation in monitoring and engaging in the MDG’s implementation. Continue reading

Aspiring to greatness – little by little

The heady days of the 2012 Olympic Games seems like an age ago. In recent weeks, though, as I’ve discussed citizen action and global justice around northern Europe, one story above all still lingers. For me, rather than any of the numerous and impressive individual feats, it’s the story of the British cycling team’s domination of their medals chart which might just help us understand our role in social change.

The coach of the British cycling team put the consistency of their success down largely to what they called “the aggregation of marginal gains”: rather than seeking any one secret weapon to deliver the knockout blow, this approach relied on gaining a series of 1% edges over the competition in every field – usually through superior equipment, stronger management and better training. They weren’t the only sporting team pursuing this incremental approach, but they were arguably unparalleled both in the range of advantages they found (including having the team sleep on special pillows) and in their clean sweep of the medals chart. 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

Measure What You Treasure: Reflections from the Post-2015 Governance Consultation Meeting (1)

As a part of THE WORLD WE WANT, the post-2015 global thematic consultation on governance held in Johannesburg on 28 February – 1 March, I communicated my message for civil society strategies in 4 words, “Bring your measuring stick!”

If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist

You might not agree to the theorem, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” However, we need to recognise that this is the dominant mode of operation – and increasingly so these days – in policy-making circles at global, regional, national and local levels. So what we need to do, in light of the formation of the post-MDGs goals and indicators on the horizon, is to “measure what you treasure,” instead of “treasure what you can measure,” as succinctly put forward in the video message by High Commissioner Navi Pillay during the consultation meeting.

As civil society actors, we all need to clearly formulate what we “treasure” in this opportune time and try to develop their respective yardstick (ie., measurement framework) so that we increases our chances of having what we “treasure” incorporated into the new set of globally-agreed targets and indicators post 2015. This is particularly true in the governance domain, where its key ingredients might be amorphous and abstract. Thus my message, “bring your measuring stick.” 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