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CSOs in Africa Seek Closer Dialogue with World Bank

  • At a recent meeting, civil society organization representatives from Africa told the World Bank that they seek a more constructive dialogue with the World Bank.
  • They want to see more resources to support CSOs and non-state actors, especially groups for youth and women.
  • Entrepreneurship training for youth, and encouragement for youth to demand accountability and transparency are also high on the CSO agenda.

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2011 -- The Bank’s sharpened focus in listening to civil society organizations (CSOs) is proving to be a timely response to a generation of CSOs that are well informed and ready to discuss concrete solutions to their development needs.

This was evident in a recent frank discussion between CSOs from 18 African countries and World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region Obiageli Ezekwesili via video conference in April. The CSOs pointed to a number of salient issues on which they seek the Bank’s direct intervention and support:

  • More constructive dialogue and open data in their respective countries
  • Resources to support CSOs and non-state actors
  • Youth unemployment, job creation and integration of youth needs into government policies
  • Agriculture, especially small and family-owned farms
  • Effective monitoring of resources in the face of corruption and waste

In addition to these issues, the CSOs raised concerns about fragile and conflict affected states, seeking to know how the Bank supports these countries and how invested the Bank is in conflict resolution and peace building. The CSOs also raised concerns about safe drinking water and sanitation in rural and urban areas. Noting that resources were limited, the CSOs asked the Bank to integrate such needs into respective project budgets.

Intra-Africa trade was another major concern, which the CSOs said was stymied by external forces, such as the aggressive marketing practices of some foreign companies. They also expressed concern about the lack of vibrant in-country trade in many African countries.

Ezekwesili, who was true to her pledge to listen to the CSOs, assured them that “based on its central theme and policy of open access, the Bank is an open forum today, and this will deepen our partnership with you in your countries.”

Informing the CSOs that the new Africa strategy, Africa’s Future and the World Bank’s Support to it, which was shaped by input from CSOs, earned the endorsement of the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors, Ezekwesili said she was very proud to let the board know that CSOs in Africa helped in the preparation of the strategy.

Before the dialogue CSOs shared their experiences in a three-hour workshop with two initiatives “Contract Watch” and “External Implementation Status and Results Reports Plus (E-ISR Plus).” These initiatives, led by the World Bank Africa Region in collaboration with WBI have been working intensively with civil society. 

“Contract Watch uses monitoring of Bank contracts as an entry point for building broad coalitions and constituencies for reform around the demand side of good governance, while testing the efficacy of the supply side,” said Sahr Kpundeh, Africa Region’s CSO and Governance and Anticorruption in Projects focal point.  He also said that parts of the Implementation and Status Results Reports (ISRs), the main reporting tool for progress and results in active Bank projects, were made public. CSOs were encouraged to provide feedback on the progress of projects and whether the Bank’s perception of a project’s performance matches what the consumer community perceived.  

When discussing “Contract Watch,” Ezekwesili told the CSOs that the Bank built a contract monitoring approach by harnessing and concretizing what CSOs were already doing.
“It is not just watching the Bank’s work, but also public expenditure in your countries,” she said.

Emphasizing that Africa’s time is now, Ezekwesili said there were opportunities in infrastructure, agriculture, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
“Our role is to facilitate the process of translating these opportunities to growth,” she explained.

Evidently well-informed, participants raised a broad range of questions, with great specificity, and in some instances suggested solutions. These included one suggestion that the Bank focus more on impact of programs, especially in construction and infrastructure. They also asked that the Bank help make some countries’ Public Private Partnership Act implementable, as well as give some guarantees on making respective African governments work with CSOs.

During the discussion, Ezekwesili assured CSOs that Africa’s youth are very important to the Bank’s work.

She also urged CSOs to be part of the coalition for reforms in each of their countries.

“When you don’t take steps in ensuring economic reforms and reforms don’t happen, the poorest suffer most,” she said, adding that “transparency is mandatory.”

The vice president concluded by reiterating that the Bank is changing with the times, and in the last year has pushed the envelope in its engagement with CSOs. She also reassured them that the Bank does listen to them and added, “The Africa Strategy was written by you—so yes, we will continue to listen to you.”

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