A united, Pan-African civil society
The Africa We Want project has not only brought together national CSO’s from across the continent. It has also been a catalysator for bringing together and strengthening coordination between the three regional CSO’s: EACSOF (East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum), WACSOF (West African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum) and SADC-CNGO (South African Development Countries Council of Non-Governmental Organisations).
This makes way for a united voice of the African civil society. “And it gives solidarity much more meaning” says Lilian Alex, Programme Officer of EACSOF and continues: “When a collective number of countries come together and speak against something – when we are raising voices from different parts of the continent on the same issues – this shows the urgency of the issue and the necessity for this issue to be addressed by authorities”.
We could see that there was a need for a strong and united voice of civil society in order for our perspectives to be heard by authorities
Strengthened coordination mechanisms
Rangarirai Machemedze, former Programme Manager of SADC-CNGO and current ActionAid Denmark Governance Advisor for the Africa We Want project, explains how the collaboration between the regional CSO’s started: “Previously there was not a strong coordination between these three institutions, EACSOF, WACSOF and SADC-CNGO. But we could see that there was a need for a strong and united voice of civil society in order for our perspectives to be heard by authorities. At the beginning of The Africa We Want project, SADC-CNGO invited the two other regional CSO’s to Johannesburg, and this kickstarted our collaboration. By coming together, sharing experiences, planning our advocacy, and producing statements together, we have strengthened our coordination mechanisms”.
Rangarirai Machemedze also agrees with Lilian Alex on the impact of a united voice of an African civil society: “Statements that were co-produced by the three organisations have been circulated not only in one region, but in all three regions of the continent. These are statements with one voice, one message, and this shows authorities at country level and at AU level, that these are continent-wide and urgent issues.”
Executive Director of SADC-CNGO, Glenn Farred, shares an example: "If you look at the situation as it is unfolding in Mali, it immediately relates to the various provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. So while WACSOF is advocating at the regional level, the collaboration and coordination between the regional CSO's makes it much easier for us in Eastern and Southern Africa to amplify those demands. Having the awareness of and communcation around the ACDEG is a good boulding block for us to react quickly and show solidarity with each other."
Network: Learning, sharing, focusing
General Secretary of WACSOF, Komlan Messie, tells how the Africa We Want has connected the regional CSO's: “Before the project, our different organisations did not know each other very well. We did not coordinate. This project gave us a great opportunity to get to know better the missions of our different organisations and the people who are involved within the organisations. This has indeed strengthened the relationship.” Glenn Farred, agrees: "With the collaboration, we are able to get insights into each of the regions' context, challenges and opportunities."
Lilian Alex explains the benefit of the collaboration for each of the regional CSO’s: “Through the engagement with other regional CSO’s, we get to see that they might be facing some of the same struggles and scenarios as we are, but they have dealt with it in a different way. Seeing this, we can learn from each other and adapt new ways of handling issues”.
The Africa We Want project’s focus on the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) has strengthened the CSO’s network, both on the continental and regional level. Glenn Farred tells how the historic relationship between the regional CSO's has changed: "EACSOF, WACSOF and SADC-CNGO have historically collaborated and engaged with each other. However, the Africa We Want project has added a new dimension to the joint work. Having a panafrican instrument - the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance - for which we are all advocating, has enabled us to build a stronger relationship".
Rangarirai Machemedze believes that the focus on the ACDEG has strengthened the CSO's regionally: “SADC-CNGO managed to localize national NGO’s working on different governance issues and forming a database. The project has shown how different NGO’s working on different issues can use the ACDEG as a legal framework to refer to and demand implemented to the benefit of their agenda. This again shows the strength of a coordinated civil society.”
It is clear, that a continentally united civil society has a lot of benefits, but there are also challenges, Lilian Alex elaborates: “What might be an burning issue in one region, might not get the same attention in another region. This calls for solidarity and prioritizing.”
Civil society and the AU
The Africa We Want project has enabled the regional CSO's to engage with the African Governance Architecture and its substrutures within the African Union - an engagement that was not previously available. "This is a vital connection that we need to strengthen" Glenn Farred underscores and continues: "Even though the project is coming to an end, we must try to maintain our interactions and dialogue with the African Union as an African civil society and we must keep pushing for accountability. ECOSOCC [Economical, Social and Cultural Council] presents one such avenue to continue doing that. However, there are some historic problems with ECOSOCC, and it is our hope that they will appreciate the role of the civil society and accept the need of critical, African voices in their processes". ECOSOCC is an advisory organ with the purpose of providing an opportunity for African civil society organisations to play an active role in contributing to the principles, policies and programmes of the African Union.
Komlan Messie, agrees with the analysis of Glenn Farred and stresses that a coordinated and synchronized civil society is necessary especially when engaging with stakeholders such as the African Union and ECOSOCC: “The engagement between the African Union and the civil society is sometimes difficult. The doors within the AU are not necessarily as open as the civil society organisations would want them to be. The current engagement with ECOSOCC does not consider the regional network of CSO’s. We want ECOSOCC to know the value of WACSOF, EACSOF and SADC-CNGO both as regional networks and as a united, continental CSO network.” The Africa We Want project has strengthened this agenda, Komlan Messie states: “Thanks to this project, we discovered different doors within the African Union that we can engage with and get access to.”
The future for CSO’s coordination
What is the way forward from here for the coordination between the regional CSO’s? As Glenn Farred states, the need of a strong voice of civil society is omnipresent: "There is no shortage of issues. The need for a strong civil society is there. This requires us to continue our coordination and share with each other."
Rangarirai Machemedze has no doubt that the new relationship will last: “One of the major take-aways of the project, and the beauty of it is, that it is not going to end here. It will continue beyond the Africa We Want project. We now know each other better, and we have agreed to continue working together, making the project sustainable.” Komlan Messie agrees: “We want to continue. We would have wanted the Africa We Want project to continue, and we support any initiative that will help the collaboration to continue.”
Lilian Alex as well has a clear vision for the continued fruitful collaboration: “We should keep communicating and sharing information with each other. It is important that we keep each other updated and keep a good flow of information. SADC-CNGO has been very vibrant and has shared several petitions for us to sign and we should continue this way.”
EACSOF, WACSOF and SADC-CNGO have also committed to work on arranging an annual og biannual Continental Civil Society Forum, that will bring together CSO’s from all corners of the continent to discuss and prioritize matters, building a strong formal representation of the African civil society.