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Archive of July, 2011

Access, Influence, Power

Recently I had been asked by the National Centre of Culture to write an article about lobbying in the field of culture. I decided to go for the difference between lobbying and advocacy. I believe lobbying takes place whenever a body of a certain interest decides to demonstrate that interest to a political power. I also think that advocacy is more than that, more than an instrument of strategic demonstration of postulates. Advocacy position needs to take into account various interests of affected stakeholders if not public benefit, the interest of us all as a community.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? I think it is fair to say we all struggle with balancing those interests. Therefore, I am very much looking forward to the CIVICUS Assembly Workshop called Advocacy in Hostile Political Spaces around the Globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Here in the Global North we tend to think we have many lessons to teach to emerging democracies. I personally believe, it would be beneficial if, from time to time, we zip it and learn. How do you discuss best balance of interests if you need to cope with stress, threats to personal security and wellbeing of your loved ones? How do you stay united when the people at power have no lawful boundaries to making you divided?

In well established democracies we tend to think we know it all about campaigning. Sometimes I think we succeed for reasons that have much less to do with our capacity than we would like. We have electricity and internet 24hrs a day, we have media to blow a whistle if something goes wrong, we have independent judges and lawyers that can afford helping civil society pro bono. If you go to the CIVICUS AGM, September 10th – 12th, try to talk to activists running campaigns in countries that lack these commodities and framework. Would we be strong and good enough to make it the way they do?

I don’t think this is just a mental exercise to wake up from and feel all better about the situation we are in. We still have a lot to learn about effective campaigning, for sure in the Central and Eastern Europe. I think sometimes we tend to confuse access with influence. We are able to organize a conference and invite decision makers. We produce pre-election manifestos and get responses from election committees. But do we really have influence? I guess the answer is: sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. The important thing is to realize access may be presented to us as a success in itself. We should look further and aim for the outcome.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space
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Resources, Action and Commitment for ICT for Development)

I was just looking at the planned workshops for this CIVICUS World  Assembly and was amazed to found several workshops and sessions planned that aimed to highlight the role ICT played in the Development and strengthening Civil Society.But as far as I thought and my experiences and observations are still more rooms are available to explore the potential of ICT for Development, Poverty Alleviation and strenthening of Civil Society.
Various International Organisations like Internet Society , ICANN , IETF , GKP and APAN are making efforts to improve  Internet Governance and ensuring the access and benefits of ICT /Internet for everyone.One of the Workshop planned two Giant organisations Microsoft & Asian Development Bank for this CIVICUS World Assembly tittled “Public & Private Sector Collaboration Harnesses Technology for Good” emphasizing the importance of Civil Society/NGOs/private Sector in Development and Leveraging of  ICT & Technology.It gives  examples from Indonesia and India demonstrating the use of Community Technology Centres / Livelihood Centres to ensure citizens have access to information.This workshops shows a sign of  commitment  from Both of Multilateral  Agency and Corporation to work along with NGOs /Civil Society and private Sector for ICT4 Development which rarely found or could not properly explore or tape in the past.One of the major contsraint in growth of ICT 4 Development agenda is lack of commitment from International Donor Agencies and  Corporations to privide financial resources . In the past SDC, CIDA and infodev had shown their fully attention to forming Global information Society and utilizing ICT for Development by provision of adequate financial resource.UN World Summit on Information Society  both Geneva and Tunis Phase had highlighted a commitment from Internationaol Donor Agencies , Governments and Corporations for provision of resources for ICT4 Development  and forming Knowledge /information Society but the International Community specially Civil Society , Youth and Developing Economies  are seeking or awaiting for the action and real initiatives from aforementioned entities and Agencies.

Category : Connecting People Through Technology, Development Effectiveness
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A Taboo Called Palestine: Selectivity in Supporting Revolutions

The world is smitten by the Arab Spring and despite inconsistencies in support, the general vibe is that everyone–including superpowers–considers Arab citizens brave in fighting for their basic rights of dignity and self determination, regarding it an unprecedented manifestation of courage against injustice.

It seems goldfish memory is more common than I thought.

Flashback to 1936: The Palestinian Revolution. Have you heard about it? Probably not, since Palestine was (and still is) being advertised as ‘A Land without a people for a people without a land’. Mainstream media convinced us that Palestine was a barren land with no one but nomads; something that official documentation denies with crystal clear evidence:
[youtube] [/youtube]
In favour of creating a Zionist state—which started well before the holocaust for pure strategic reasons—the world decided to introduce waves of European Jewish settlers, increasing them massively after WWII: Basically stepping on the rights of Palestinians by making them pay for Nazi atrocities without the decency to ask for their permission. Most people fail to realize that before the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began, they had decided to revolt. However, this was one revolution no so-called ‘democracy’ wanted to support. With the collaboration of conspiring Arab countries, the Palestinian revolution was crushed and the people silenced, eventually being expelled from their land with nothing–not even their dignity was spared.

The Palestinian strike of 1936 was one of the longest general strikes in labour history, but you most likely haven’t heard about it either. If anything, it is Zionists who introduced terrorism to the region by blowing up buses in Jerusalem in the 1930’s. It was also the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who said:

“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all services to rid the Galillee of its Arab Population.”-May 1948, to the General Staff.

“We will expel the Arabs and take their place. In each attack a decisive blow should be struck resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population.”-Letters to his son, 1937.

Despite these facts, Canada—a proud defender of human rights everywhere– staunchly supports Israel, regardless of its violation of international law: An Apartheid Wall, attacking unarmed civilians, illegal occupation, and torturing Palestinian children, only to name a few. With absolutely no regard for the plight of Palestinians–officially the largest refugee population worldwide–Prime Minister Harper ‘Mazel Tov’s Israel on its 63rd Independence anniversary (independence from whom, no one knows). He further decides to reject a Palestinian state; a telling move reflecting how much he values human rights. Now that the ‘Only Democracy in the Middle East’ banned the BDS movement—a peaceful resistance effort gaining tremendous global support–Harper decides to censor freedom of speech in considering to criminalize criticism of Israel in Canada under the false guise of Anti-Semitism.

[youtube][/youtube]Al Nakba: An eye-opening documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While superpowers debate which leader should be tried for war crimes next, Israel  continues to manipulate them with the dexterity of a professional puppeteer. I leave you with this quotable quote by Ariel Sharon, when asked what would become of the Palestinians:

“We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them. Yes, we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the UN nor the US, nobody, will be able to tear it apart”.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space
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Development gone wrong: Good intentions, no participation

A few years ago I found myself visiting schools in Northern Ghana. The World Food Programme had an initiative to encourage student enrolment. The idea was simple: if students came to school, they received a small bag of uncooked rice and a bottle of cooking oil to bring home to their parents. The underlying assumption behind the initiative was obvious: people are poor and hungry, so let’s entice them to send their children to school by giving them food in return.

In some schools the teachers stole the rice and cooking oil. In other schools where the children received the rice and oil, the children brought the food home only to have their parents sell it in the market to make money.

Just give me the money, thanks.

Just give me the money, thanks.

This is development gone wrong. It was common back then, and I don’t see many signs of things being fundamentally different now. The WFP initiative was undoubtedly well intentioned, but it failed to consider the lives of the people concerned. They were starving and living in poverty. What the teachers did was wrong, but in their shoes, I cannot guarantee I would have acted any differently, wondering where my next meal was coming from, knowing I was getting paid once every few months. As for the starving parents selling their foodstuffs: given the choice between money and food, they opted for money in order to pay other expenses. Funerals, weddings, and repairs to farming equipment were more important to them, and their costs were prohibitive. The parents made choices; perhaps not always the best choices, but the choices were theirs.

Whoever concocted this initiative skipped a fundamental principle of a rights-based approach: participation of the rights-holders. It sounds obvious, but asking fundamental questions like “What do you think?” and “What do you see as possible solutions to improve your lives?” are a must.

Participation is not the only success factor of a rights-based approach. The UN came up with a common understanding of the human rights-based approach a few years ago. It links development to rights and underscores the relationship between rights-holders and duty-bearers. It’s a significant leap forward in the language as it shifts development from needs-based or charity-based to rights-based.

The Outreach Toolkit for CSO Development Effectiveness has a number of issue papers on issues for CSOs eager to improve development effectiveness. (There will be a workshop on the first day of the CIVICUS World Assembly with representatives from the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness.) The Toolkit’s Issue Paper 5 is on rights-based development and asks relevant questions for all CSOs to ponder. It’s worth a read.

For more on rights-based approaches, I suggest Applying a rights-based approach: an inspirational guide for civil society.

Here’s a postscript: a TED talk by Josette Sherran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme. It’s worth listening to for some concrete solutions to end poverty.

Category : Development Effectiveness
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When the social media also protested in Malawi

It has been news all over this past week that at least 18 lives were lost through protests in Malawi. The civil society had mobilised Malawians across the country purely by connecting the people thru use of social media, private radio stations and two main dailies. The state broadcaster with its propaganda tried to convince people otherwise.

It was an eventful week that Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party are likely never to forget. The leaders of the civil society and the opposition parties dared to to demonstrate against the shortages of fuel, forex, power, human rights, respect for the law, etc. The church leaders too had strongly supported the demonstrations.

On Wednesday 20th July, many who have access to Facebook and tweeter were online sharing updates. Emails and online news updates increased traffic to the sites. While government through the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority banned radio stations and eventually shut down some from or for live coverage, people had no choice but go online. Yes possibly for the first time in Malawi, in connecting people, social media protested against many things that are going bad in Malawi. I hope someone will acknowledge this role at the coming assembly.

Category : Connecting People Through Technology

View from the High-tide Mark: Small Island States

At Copenhagen and Cancun the Small Island Developing States managed a high profile by dramatising the effects of rising sea levels on their communities.

Pacific nation Tuvalu was especially vocal. Ian Fry, the Tuvalu delegate to the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, made this statement there:

The AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) believes:

Impacts of Climate Change on SIDS

It is well known and confirmed by the IPCC in all of its assessments that small island developing states (SIDS) – whether located in the tropics or higher latitudes – have characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These characteristics include their limited size, geographical dislocation, proneness to natural hazards and external shocks, high exposure of population and infrastructure and limited adaptive capacity. The vulnerabilities resulting from these characteristics are exacerbated by the effects of climate change – which include rising seas, acidification of oceans, coral bleaching, coastal erosion, flooding, loss of fresh water supplies, biodiversity loss and more frequent and intense weather events, including hurricanes.

Significant and sometimes severe impacts are already being experienced by small islands. Coral bleaching has already led to a loss of about 16 percent of the world’s coral reefs, with adverse effects on many islands. Intense tropical cyclones have become more frequent and stronger, and have caused much damage in the Pacific and Caribbean. Kiribati and the Maldives have already lost some of their islands to rising waters, and land losses have been reported in other Pacific Island countries as well as in the Caribbean. Shoreline erosion and flooding has caused major damage to roads, public utilities and households, and salt water damage to agricultural crops and fresh water lens has caused severe food and fresh water shortages in a number of low-lying islands.

These impacts are predicted to intensify and worsen rapidly in coming decades. Sea levels will rise, compounding the effects of more intense tropical storms, and threatening the territorial integrity and stability of political boundaries of many countries. In some cases the very existence of countries is in doubt. A recent submission by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to the UNFCCC indicated that a number of SIDS are now under threat of ‘statelessness’, a situation which may occur long before rising seas overtop the land.

At the recent UN climate meeting in Bonn, the commitments made after Cancun were questioned by developing countries:

One negotiator with the G77 group of developing countries, who asked to remain nameless, said: “We are battered by adverse impacts of climate change. Frontline states face a double crunch of climate heat and poverty. But even the fast-start finance agreed at Cancún has yet to reach the climate-marooned tens of millions people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The money should be rolled out much more quickly.”
Bonn climate talks: Developing nations question funding commitment

There has been some recent good news from Australia in supporting small island nations:

Aid to Africa and the Middle East and the small island nations of the pacific are in for a big boost.

But assistance to China and India will be phased out as they get wealthier.
Pacific states to benefit from Australian aid review (Radio Australia 7 July 2011)

Category : Climate Justice
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World Assembly 1st –Timers, You Should Be Excited

Jack Kerouac said: “The bottom of the world is gold and the world is upside down.”

picture taken during the Affinity Group of National Associations GA in Johannesburg, 2009

picture taken during the Affinity Group of National Associations GA in Johannesburg, 2009

For me, traveling always presents a possibility to find out that a lot about the upside-down is true. People and places that seem distant turn out to be familiar and what I thought was obvious back home, does not seem like that anymore. CIVICUS World Assembly has always been an occasion to confirm this is true.

I joined the crowd in 2008 for the first time when we discussed People, Participation and Power in Glasgow. I was just amazed by the multitude of people coming from places I never thought I would meet people from.


The overarching theme was Acting Together for a Just World and during one of the breaks I sent the following note to my friend to make him understand better what it feels like to be a part of this:

‘I took my laptop, but forgot completely that the sockets in Glasgow are different – so I ended up with roughly 3hrs energy charge. Today I forgot the cable (like, what do I need it for if the adapters are all sold out in the conference venue and nearby hotels). But an Afghani participant saw the big Toshiba letters on the cover and offered to lend me a cable. So there I am, a ‘Polish’ laptop’, an ‘Afghani’ cable – all I need is an adapter. So I made an arrangement with a Brazilian named Rafael that he would lend me the adapter. Well, AREN’T we acting together for a just world???’

The 2010 Assembly took place in Montreal and being there was a lot like a reunion. All my breaks were planned so that I can catch up everybody I know and also meet new people. I had made plans to interview my dear friend Omar Lopez from Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba because in Glasgow we had spent long hours talking about the Polish experience of non-violent transition to democracy and the challenges the Cubans face in the strive for more democratic space. I titled the interview: ‘Baseball in Havana’. I hope Omar will write a book about his experiences.

Obviously, socializing has not been the only reason I enjoyed representing the National Federation of Polish NGOs at the assemblies! A lot of inspiration came from workshops on non-violent conflict resolution in 2008 or presentation by John Gaventa in one of the workshops in 2010. This year I am looking forward to the workshops such as ‘Devising Practice-Based Principles for Civil Society Engagement with Multilateral Bodies’ and other opportunities to learn at the GA. I hope to experience how the world is turning upside down once again.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space
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Those Non-CSO People: Doing It Better Together

One of the biggest disappointments for me during last year’s General Assembly was the absence of non-CSO people. Granted, the Assembly is for CSOs, but I felt the participants would have benefitted by the presence of government officials and members of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) as both participants and presenters. We spent a few days talking about strengthening partnerships with other stakeholders, and they weren’t often there to speak up.

Were in this together

We're in this together

Apart from the sheet size of many government (and to a lesser extent, NHRI) structures, finding ways to cooperate or to benefit from the experience and expertise of CSOs is a challenge. Governments, for example, have distinct ways of designing, planning, implementing and monitoring programs; of perceiving development issues; of identifying the limits of their human rights obligations (typically lower than what CSOs expect them to be); and envisioning partnerships with other organizations. The concretization of that last one is frequently brought to a crawl thanks to levels of bureaucracy that frustrate many CSOs. From a government’s perspective, working with CSOs can almost always seem like a good idea but too much trouble to bother with. For the CSOs, an overall disdain and lack of faith in government institutions limits their opportunities for partnerships.

This is a shame. Over the past few days, I have seen evidence of a willingness to cooperate among organizations I do not see too often. I’m not referring to government-CSO relationships, but a UN body in partnership with INGOs, NGOs, universities, and ministries of education. The UN body in question is UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East. UNRWA brought together a number of external organizations to consult them in a forum on its human rights programme in schools.

What is clear from the external participants attending the forum is that they are doing a lot to support or complement UNRWA’s human rights work. From training teachers to giving children the chance to play, the external participants shared their stories of success and, just as importantly, their challenges in implementing their work. It prompted at least one UNRWA staff person to ask of one organization, “Why have you not partnered with us before?” A valid question, but one which was more replaced by “What can we do together now?” by the end of the forum. With the CIVICUS track of development effectiveness having “Doing it Better” as its aim, it’s worth taking a look at meaningful ways to listen, explore, and decide on joint actions with actors falling outside the “CSO” label.

Category : Development Effectiveness
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Climate Change: Critical Decade or Fumbled Future

If the world manages to achieve the kind of international agreement that is needed on global warming, it could be down to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a physicist. According to Professor Hans Joachin Schellnhuber, she even understands some of the mathematics.

The Critical Decade, the keynote address for the FOUR DEGREES OR MORE? Australia in a Hot World conference, was not all doom and gloom but it is difficult to recall the optimistic bits.

The Professor maintains there is “something revolutionary happening in Germany”. It has taken a U-turn on nuclear power as the answer to reducing carbon emissions but “will honour its climate protection pledges” through renewable energy and other measures. He hopes this “post fossil-fuel/nuclear era” will be a step in the transition to a low carbon world.

He stressed the pressures on traditional democracy. We need to “extend or even transcend traditional democratic processes” to take into account the interests of “the generations not yet born …across space and time”.

He stressed that these processes must be “guided by insight” – in particular the insight of science but also of economics.

He presented a number of tipping point scenarios, some involving runaway greenhouse dynamics that 4+ degrees could bring:

  1. Collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet
  2. Permafrost melting
  3. Methane Hydrates release

Each of these would be irreversible in the short term. He was talking about 1000+ years.

In response to audience questions, he contended that use of natural gas is the best transition but not for the long run without capture and storage by carbon sequestration. He also sees use of biomass as part of the solution. His view on the future of nuclear energy is that it is too expensive if all the real costs are taken into consideration.

If “generational” democracy is the key to embracing real action, the preponderance of baby boomers at the address is a major concern. Gen X and Y – where are you?

For more on the The Critical Decade, please visit Climate: Taming the Unchained Goddess

Update: Professor Schellnhuber was interviewed on ABC TV’s Lateline: A carbon price label is all-important: Schellnhuber. (There is also a transcript at the link.)

From my blog, one of a series on the latest climate science 4DEGREES+.

Category : Climate Justice

The Leap of Faith

We tend to think that civil society in a way sees further than the reality they operate in. That is certainly true in contexts where civil liberties cannot be fully exercised, governments resort to abuse and citizens are scared and numbed by harsh economic conditions. The mere fact that courageous movements such as Las Damas de Blanco in Cuba exist proves this theory right.


I guess the situation changes when you can at last celebrate freedom and exercise your civil liberties.This is when we are all prone to get caught up in the comfort zone where challenges are less obvious and threats not that immediate. READ MORE

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space
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