The Forum for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has been just an idea few years ago. However, last week, during its 2015 Annual Meetings in Abidjan, the African Development Bank hosted a full day of panels and discussions dedicated to CSOs. The CSO Forum is aiming at promoting closer cooperation and engagement among CSOs, the Bank, and regional member countries in order to optimize development results and sustain development impact.
About 50 participants representing a diverse group of CSOs attended the event. Different sessions have provided a platform for learning and exchange on how best to cooperate with CSOs.
"People-Powered Accountability" Panel ignited an interesting discussion. Aloysius Ordu, the director of partnership for Transparency, gave a presentation on People powered accountability. He showed the 2014 Index on Corruption highlighting that “Information is power but more importantly is what you do with information”. He raised the questions on how do we scale up as many of the CSOs operate on accountability traps so they can’t scale it up nationally or continentally. Countries, indeed, “look good” but they are trapped in low accountability. Ordu used an interesting metaphor of voice and teeth to emphasize the tide connection; voice being the citizen capacity for collective action and Teeth being the accessible accountability institutions.
“Corruption is a not a myth it’s a reality”, commented Neil Cole, the Executive Secretary of Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) “. He raised the question “what is that still causes corruption in governance as if none of those laws is in place?” He stressed that even within countries that have wonderful constitutions, the question is about the systems that are not robust enough to eliminate and detect corruption when there is a corrupt act.
I was glad also to see the bloggers voice at the panel with the Ghanian blogger, Kinna Likimani. “It’s not just corruption or bad governance, it’s everything else in the environment from disrespect, lack of human rights, lack of inclusion to silencing voices”, she said. Kinna has given many tangible examples of corruption in Ghana suggesting that everyday life is a negotiation of an environment of corruption because “you will not be accorded your rights”. So we eventually buy our respect as citizens, and the leadership takes advantage of that. The solution for Kinna is to educate the people because she is tired of “policy, policy, policy with no implementation”
It was fair enough to bring the voice of the Bank itself, represented by Anna Bossman, the Director of Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department (IACD). Her intervention started by stressing that “Corruption is real when you look at the map, statistics and indicators, but at the end corruption is about people beyond that jargon”. As the moderator directly asked her “What makes the bank a non-corrupt institution?”, Ms.Bossman explained that “the ADB promotes integrity and accountability by strengthening its rules and regulations, investigates, gives trainings to the staff and has recently launched the Citizen Charter”.
Then she directed her talk more towards the collaboration between the bank and CSOs “We need you but you also need the bank, you are the people on the ground who can tell us where corruption is taking place and we have facilities, information and platforms through which you can engage”.
As the moderator started getting questions from the audience, Ms. Graca Machel entered the room. She has been then given the floor for a final word by the end of the panel, where she stressed on regional collaboration. "We are playing the game in a very unequal environment with government, business, parliament and judiciary institutions that have resources which CSOs don’t. CSOs have to be strong enough to face all these institutions to be taken seriously". She raised the question on how to strengthen the institutional capacity of CSOs as strong to play their role on equal basis. She continues "African institutions, including the bank, are not realizing that the citizen voice is fundamental to strengthen democracy". She ended by calling on the CSOs present to work regionally and unite to make "our voice heard". She gave an example of her organization New Faces New Voices which operates in 15 countries.
The panel was interesting indeed but not much time has been given to the CSOs representatives actually to talk and challenge the panelists and themselves. There has been a long silence about the constriction of the civic space, before a shout out came from the audience that the space of civil society is shrinking.“While we are here, civil society activists are imprisoned in Egypt and Ethiopia and internet has been shut down in Burundi, you might be afraid of governments (towards the bank) but you need to call on them when they violate those spaces”. There is a need to have more shout outs like this from the CSOs on the Bank and other institutions to call on countries to give us back the civic space because without that space, CSOs cannot thrive.
CSOs act as intermediary at all stages and play key role. They should be the ones that raise community awareness of their rights and empower citizen groups for collective action. So, CSOs need to get organized to challenge and to deliver.
The session ended with a clear message that the bank has to do its homework on how much it is taking CSOs seriously and supporting them as much as it supports business and governments. On the other hand, CSOs need do their own homework on how to work together in this unequal space and collaborate on strategic issues so that their voices are much stronger.