Putting people first – empowering civil society
Empowering non-state actors and creating conditions enabling them to play an active role in development, democracy building, conflict prevention and reconstruction – this was the roadmap for achieving the ‘people-centred’ focus of the joint strategy, set out at the launch of the partnership in 2007.
A number of mechanisms have been put in place to make full participation a reality. Different bodies gathering civil society representatives and participating in the dialogue exist on both sides. On the African side, the African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU ECOSOCC) is complemented by the African Union’s Citizens Directorate (CIDO) which works to strengthen the dialogue between civil society organisations (CSO) and governments and also acts as secretariat for ECOSOCC. On the EU side, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is the forum for representing civil society organisations in the institutional framework. These bodies are complemented on the African and the European side through two CSO steering groups.
Making these different organisations work together and intervene in policy-making in the most efficient way remains a major challenge. And it is an ongoing process: “For civil society to be efficient in this partnership, we need to be kept up-to-date of the current state of the implementation plan”, explains Joseph Chilengi, Chairperson of the ‘Political Affairs’ cluster of the AU Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (AU ECOSOCC). “To try to define and refine the organisational process of African civil society participation, we need to determine where we can make the most valuable addition.”
This view is shared by Karin Ulmer, member of the EU CSO Steering Group: “All the partnerships have slightly different ways of functioning and of engaging civil society […], but transparency is always a major issue”, she says. The systematic appointment of civil society contacts, and the transmission of all relevant information on the latest developments in the different partnerships to these contact points, is key in this regard.
A triple role
Civil society has a triple role to play in the framework of the joint Africa-EU strategy: it needs to intervene simultaneously as an actor, a watchdog and an advocacy tool. Untapped opportunities remain in this regard, namely through a stronger involvement of civil society actors with expertise and competence on specific sectors in the dialogue. Regarding the role that the private sector can play in this context, Karin Ulmer points out that it is important to embed its involvement in an appropriate framework: “Private sector economic development has an important role to play, but delivering on development objectives […] involves that the private sector operates in an institutional and political framework that aims at promoting poverty reduction and sustainable development.”
To explore options for future collaboration and draw up a common position, an intercontinental civil society forum will be organised in Cairo (08-10/11/2010) by the EU CSO Steering Group and the AU ECOSOCC ahead of the EU-AU summit in Tripoli. Around 40 participants from European and African NGOs will attend the event.
Embracing civil society through sectoral clusters
8-10/11/2010 Intercontinental Civil Society Forum, Cairo
In the framework of the AU ECOSOCC, civil society plays mainly an advisory role. “This is the organ through which all of civil society on the continent will engage in the political processes of the African Union”, says Joseph Chilengi. “As a parliament for civil society, [it] therefore has an important role to play in refining and guiding the process.” As he explains, the ten Sectoral Cluster Committees of AU ECCOSOCC which issue opinions and provide input for policy development are a strategic tool in this regard. “ECOSOCC embraces all civil society from trade unions to the private sector, think tanks and so on. All CSO on the continent, whatever area they are working in, engage with the AU policy process through the ECOSOCC cluster work”, he summarises.
He emphasised that the character of the clusters were an efficient way of harnessing the expertise required to support this process, and added that this had paved the way for trans-regional dialogue with the CSO counterparts from the EU.
Recognising the social economy as a key actor
The social economy represents a significant proportion of civil society. In Africa, its structures – such as cooperative and mutual enterprises – make up an important part of the so-called ‘informal economy’. 80 to 95 % of the population are employed in this sector on the African continent.
The EESC is therefore seeking formal recognition of the role of the social economy for African development in the framework of the revision of the joint partnership on migration, mobility and employment. “We need to take into account the fact that states are not the only actors of development”, stresses Luca Jahier, Rapporteur on the role of social economy in the development of Africa at the EESC.
He also presides over the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee which is instrumental in gathering representatives of civil society, including social economy actors, around a table: “Once a year, we organise regional seminars; the last meeting of this kind took place in Addis Ababa and involving 15 countries including non-state actors from the concerned sub-region. This is a great opportunity to explain what the state of play of the cooperation is and what the options are. The seminars hold huge potential in terms of training.”
Making a difference
In recent years, civil society has been able to create an impact on a number of policy issues ranging from trade issues to questions such as the code of conduct for multinational companies. On the topic of food security for instance, letting producing cooperatives, farmers’ organisations and consumers have their say has been a decisive step forward. “The question of food security needs to be considered from a bottom-up point of view”, says Luca Jahier.
Strengthening the existing forms of dialogue and creating additional forms of exchange with and between civil society stakeholders will help CSO to intervene more systematically in the future. The EU’s development programme for non state actors and local authorities in development launched in 2007 identifies three concrete goals:
- strengthening civil society in the developing world;
- mobilising the public in current and future EU countries against poverty in Africa; and
- launching activities to strengthen coordination and communication between actors of civil society in Europe.
The programme will run until 2013 and has a budget of € 1.6 million per year.