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

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

Dispatches from Geneva: 1st Week of the Human Rights Council (25th February 2013-1st March 2013)

By Aisha Onsando, CIVICUS Intern, Geneva

The 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council opened with a high level panel commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and plan of action. The panel consisted of more than 70 dignitaries. Many speakers expressed concern for country situation’s already on the Council’s agenda such as Syria, Mali, Sri Lanka, DPRK and Bahrain. There was a general call for greater involvement by the Human Rights Council and the Commissioner of Human rights with a particular call for the extension of the mandate of the special rapporteur on Syria.

The High level panel also focused on the legacy of the Vienna Declaration and plan of action. Article 5 of the Vienna Declaration stresses that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated, that the international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This was the main focus of the majority of the high level panelists on the real contribution that the Vienna Conference contributed to the human right’s discourse. No right is more important than any other. No group of rights can be given primacy over the other. No right is fully achieved until they all are. 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

Shaping the Post 2015 Development Agenda: Shouldn’t we be focusing on the Millennium Declaration and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

This week, the world’s development spotlight will be on Johannesburg. The UN is hosting a global consultation of experts on ‘governance and the post 2015 development agenda’ from 28 February to 1 March 2013. Civil society groups are planning to highlight a critical missing element in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the hope for a more comprehensive understanding of development once the term of the current MDGs expires in 2015.

Absence of any mention of democracy or good governance in the MDGs and by implication in the dominant development paradigm is indeed scandalous. Civil society watch dog group, Freedom House estimates that in 2012 only 43% of the world’s population were living in ‘free’ countries and assured basic civil liberties and democratic freedoms.

Even as the UN, governments, the private sector and civil society engage in hectic parleys to shape the post MDG agenda, it is vital that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. A major criticism of the MDGs is that they comprise a lop- sided set of low level aspirations because world leaders at the time were either too timid or selfish to pursue a comprehensive vision of development underpinned by the achievement of all human rights, in particular civil and political rights. Continue reading

mPowering youth engagement in civil society

In late 2011 the world arrived at an important milestone when the 7 billionth person was born, resulting at the same time in the largest youth cohort ever seen, with individuals  under 25 making up 43% of the world’s population and in some countries as much as 60%! What does this mean for youth engagement in civil society? I see it as a momentous opportunity for young people to make their voice heard by local, national and international level policy makers on issues affecting themselves and their peers.

Of course mobilizing youth to become the change-makers of society is not so easily said and done. Many barriers to achieving fully inclusive civic participation exist, such as a lack of equal access to information, as well as civic education, healthcare and reproductive rights, and the inclusion of youth representatives in decision-making spaces to promote the interests of young people. However, thanks to the Bali Declaration, a historic outcome document of the intensive three-day discussions led by youth which took place during the Global Youth Forum in December 2012, the important issue of fully inclusive civic participation was comprehensively addressed through concrete recommendations that aim to push the future post-2015 UN development agenda in the right direction for youth. CIVICUS was one of the International Steering Committee members who helped organise the Forum from beginning to end, and thus we are deeply committed to ensuring that youth voices, particularly as articulated in the Bali Declaration, are represented in the upcoming 2013-2015 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) regional population conferences and post-2015 consultations. 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

Why the Global Youth Forum is truly revolutionary! – Day 3

Last day of the Global Youth Forum! The intensive pace of the Forum’s programme of work has exhausted the energy of many delegates today, as I could notice from observing a few worn faces. Negotiations over recommendations apparently ended at 2AM today as was the case Monday night, so I can imagine the excitement they must feel with finally reaching the conclusion of the Forum. Continue reading