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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From defunding civil society to defending civil society

On Thursday 29th May 2013, during the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association presented his latest report. A thorough and open dialogue took place with government representatives as well as civil society organisations on two core thematic issues of his mandate, namely, funding of association and holding of peaceful assemblies.

To further and enrich the discussion on foreign funding restrictions and the possible responses to this growing threat to the freedom of association and civil society, CIVICUS, in partnership with the International Center for Not-for-Profit-Law, hosted a side event entitled “Moving from Defunding Civil Society to Defending Civil Society: a Discussion of Foreign Funding Constraints on Civil Society”. A very timely event considering the growing trend of constraints on access to foreign funding for civil society organisations. It was also the occasion for the Geneva team to welcome back our Secretary General Danny for another fruitful though fleeting visit of two hours. Continue reading

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

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

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

Frozen Assets

Rather strangely, on my first day working for CIVICUS I found myself in a freezing blizzard in Davos. Instead of meeting new colleagues at CIVICUS House in Johannesburg, I was hanging out with the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. On reflection, it was a great way to start.

The who’s who of business, politics and even civil society were all crammed into one small alpine town, shuffling along icy footpaths from keynote speech to “IdeasLab” workshop to private dinner to corporate “nightcaps” (code for drink-as-much-as-you-like-and-remember-us-fondly-in-the-morning). I spent a lot of my time meeting fellow members of civil society – from CEOs of big NGOs to youth activists – and left feeling rather upbeat.

Despite the economic doom and political gloom, there was a sense of energy, dynamism and credibility within civil society that was hard to find amongst other actors. The political leaders at Davos seemed desperate to find new ways to rebuild public trust and finance broke public finances. The captains of industry and finance were either looking for new ways of passing the buck for the problems they had created or simply sticking to old ways of pursuing growth-by-any-means-necessary.

On the other hand, civil society commands relatively higher levels of public trust (see the latest Edelman Trust Barometer). I am also convinced that civil society is where the coolest innovation is happening (Davos was full of social innovators with excellent ideas), and the arena most likely to generate more just and sustainable models of growth. Indeed, despite concerns about worries about funding and political interference, agreed that they would rather be in our sector than in business or politics these days.

The next few years are not going to be easy, but I left Davos convinced that we are at the beginning of a new era of citizen action which will change the world fundamentally (again). I hope that we at CIVICUS can do our best to support these exciting developments.

Please drop me a line at danny.sriskandarajah@civicus.org or via @civicusSG on Twitter. And join the CIVICUS family if you haven’t already.

Danny Sriskandarajah

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

Pharaonic powers and a struggling Egypt

Seven people were killed on the night of 5 December in Cairo, Egypt, with reports of over 770 injured after peaceful protesters were attacked by Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the Presidential Palace. They were there to protest the new draft constitution and a constitutional decree giving President Morsi nearly unrestricted powers when they were set upon by a mob.  Witnesses said Brotherhood members marched to the palace and tore down the opposition’s tents before throwing stones and using clubs to attack demonstrators. Clashes between both sides then ensued. Continue reading