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

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

Bridging gaps in participatory governance through accountable leadership

In November 2012, the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI) and CIVICUS organised a workshop on accountable leadership and participatory governance in Nadi, Fiji which brought together leaders and representatives from civil society, government and communities in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tonga. The aim of the workshop was to build bridges between civil society, government practitioners, traditional authorities and strategic networks to promote participatory governance at different levels. It was also aimed at highlighting participatory governance practices at local and national levels to increase accountability and responsiveness of leaders and state institutions to citizens with the aim of reducing poverty and realising key human development goals.

The regional workshop stemmed from a leadership development and participatory governance project supported by Australian Aid with FSPI as the lead organization in the region. The key implementing partners for the project in three focus countries include – Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT), Tonga Community Development Trust (TCDT) and Partners in Community Development, Fiji (PCDF). The project emerged out of the realisation that there is increasing disillusionment on the part of citizens towards governments because of the crises of accountability and transparency as well as the near absence of responsiveness towards citizens. Despite the fact that most countries have celebrated decades of independence and self-rule, citizens have not benefitted fully from the democratic dividends as governments continue to restrict citizen participation through legislation and policies that foster a restrictive environment, limit media freedoms and clamp down on dissent. Continue reading