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2007 Annual Meetings

Discussion with African Civil Society Representatives on
the Interactions of Civil Society with Regional Entities

Session organized by World Bank's Africa Region
October 22, 2007


Convenor: Obiageli Ezekwesili, Vice President, WBG Africa Region
Remarks: Nils Tcheyan, Director, Strategy and Operations, and Jacob Kolster, Lead Operations Officer, WBG Africa Regional Integration Department
Moderator: Jeff Thindwa, Sr. Civil Society and Social Development Specialist, Global Civil Society Team, WBG External Affairs.

Panelists: Dr Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director, Institute for Democracy Governance (Ghana); Her Excellency Ms. Amina Salum Ali, Ambassador, African Union (AU); Honorable Amos Kimunya, Minister of Finance, Kenya; Mr. Soumaila Cisse, President of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. 

Session Description and Objectives: This session was organized by the WBG’s Africa region Vice Presidency and Regional Integration Team, supported by the Global Civil Society Team, External Affairs, and Africa Region Communications team. The purpose was to facilitate an initial discussion between the WBG and African civil society on how the WBG can contribute to greater and more systematic civil society participation in regional economic communities (RECs) and policy debates. The goal is to foster collaboration in advancing the continent’s development goals. The session was attended by over 16 CSO representatives and 13 officials from regional entities: AU, COMESA, ECOWAS, SADC, UEMOA. 

Jacob Kolster, thanked CSO representatives for the large turnout, noting that this session is plannes as the first of a continuing series of discussions organized by the WBG on the theme of civil society and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa. This will depend upon whether CSOs, the African Union (AU), Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and national governments value it as a useful platform of engagement. 

In her opening remarks, Ms. Ezekwesili said this session was a result of her previous discussions with several CSOs during the recent AU meeting in Accra, Ghana, which focused on how to enhance CSOs’ voice within WBG operations and within regional entities. She said she looked forward to concrete outcomes resulting from this engagement. Acknowledging the important historical roles of CSOs in Africa’s development - from faith based groups at the community level to broader NGO engagement in policy issues, she said CSOs were often not given due prominence among other stakeholders in the governance process. She said this needed to be addressed so as to more effectively harness CSO capacities for national development. Ms. Ezekwesili stressed that CSOs have never played a larger or more important role in African development than they do today: Their local knowledge and technical skills, she said, should be cultivated, and they should be given a seat at the table in order to help amplify the voices of the poor. That said, she reminded CSOs that “to whom much is given, much is expected” – CSOs must take on the responsibility to self-regulate and pursue high standards of accountability.

The Vice President also acknowledged the mistrust that often exists between the WB and civil society, and urged participants to move beyond it. She claimed that because the WBG and civil society shared the common mission of poverty alleviation, they should seize opportunity to work together. Ms. Ezekwesili cited several examples of collaboration in Africa, such as in the use of community scorecards in health services in Uganda. She also referred to Mr. Zoellick’s speeches where he has emphasized the WBG’s commitment to engage with CSOs systematically. She also stressed that civil society needs to better understand the resources international organizations such as the WBG can provide. They should also dismiss misconceptions that Africa did not need international organizations for its development. Many successful developing countries benefited greatly from the WBG’s and other donors’ financial and technical resources, she said. 

Ms Ezekwesili said civil society can add value to the WBG’s work and the development agenda as a whole by: (i) playing a greater role in advocacy, information dissemination and project implementation, ii) helping to build consensus and local ownership of social and economic reform agenda, iii) being an effective channel of the voices of poor people, and (iv) playing a watchdog role and disseminating information with respect to RECs. 

Panelists shared their views on the role of civil society in regional development:

Dr Emmanuel Akwetey said that civil society participation in the AU is institutionalized through the AU’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and included pre-AU summit meetings of CSOs. Similarly, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has a mechanism for civil society engagement. But, he said, there was still confusion on how to relate to RECs. He said African civil society affirmed the importance of RECs and the role they could play to bolster Africa’s development, which citizens see as too slow. Akwetey also said RECs were important intermediary institutions, but in the last 5 years there has been new interest by civil society in the AU and its impact on countries. He added that civil society was an important champion of the pan-African agenda, and sees a strong AU as central. Surveys show, he noted, that African civil society want more information on the pan-African agenda. He argued that CSOs can provide a link between the AU, RECs, and other regional entities and citizens. Dr. Akwetey also asserted that, although CSOs play a role in regional policy formulation, they are not effectively involved in monitoring implementation of decisions. Thus, protocols and program implementation are not followed up. Dr. Akwetey pleaded that government resources in the national budget be allocated to CSOs to enable them to participate in implementation and monitoring of policy. 

Ambassador Amina Salum Ali applauded what she said was a new chapter in the partnerships between the WBG and civil society. She referred to the civil society engagement mechanisms already developed by the AU as a model of engagement. However, she said, there was an urgent need to bolster the capacities of the AU’s ECOSOC – so it can help build awareness among citizens, and create an even more conducive environment for civil society. She also said CSOs were not adequately included in AU decisions, and in following up on their implementation. The ambassador recommended that the WBG and other donors should support CSO capacity building, and enable them to work effectively with governments and RECs, influence and monitor legislative bodies, and popularize regional integration issues.  

Honorable Amos Kimunya described Kenya’s vibrant civil society sector, observing that the relationship between government and civil society can be beneficial. However, he cautioned that longstanding biases in civil society often make them oppose even good government programs or agendas. He suggested that there was a difference between being “non-governmental” and “anti-government” organizations. Mr. Kimunya said, however, that there were positive examples of government-civil society engagement, and commended civil society for its important role in service delivery. Finally, he cautioned CSOs against a “flavor of the month” approach where they follow ever changing development themes because they are trendy at the time and funds are available. He said sources of funding to CSOs influenced their agendas and can undermine local ownership of the development process.

Mr. Soumaila Cisse said that civil society engagement in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) is structured around the environment in individual states. The WAEMU treaty has explicit civil society engagement mechanisms, including the Inter-parliamentary Committee and Advisory Chamber. He cited active CSO involvement in cotton negotiations, Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), and the “regional platform for social dialogue”. Mr Cisse also mentioned CSOs efforts on disseminating information on the WAEMU, and ensuring that adopted legislation is enforced, for example in the area of free movement of people. Here, CSO have investigated roadblocks and pushed for implementation of statutes. Mr. Cisse also noted that not all NGOs were necessarily virtuous, and that for the government-CSO engagement to be successful, civil society must be credible interlocutors.

Panelists and participants shared the following key comments/suggestions: 

There is a need to identify concrete steps/mechanisms to enhance WBG/AU/REC engagement with CSOs. The WBG and RECs were urged to use their leverage and explore ways to influence regimes who limit civil society space. The role and responsibilities of civil society must be defined, and benchmarks created to track progress. For example civil society representatives could be included in country delegations participating at the WBG IMF Annual Meetings. 

Civil society should be included in implementation processes. CSOs have successfully conducted advocacy on key issues, such as debt relief, but generally they play little or no role in implementation processes across the board, especially at the level of RECs. This is often due to budgetary constraints, low capacities or lack of direct contracts. The WBG was urged to enhance CSOs’ participation in project implementation, not only on consultative processes (e.g. governance, PRSPs, etc.). 

  1. Youth must be given adequate space in the development arena. There was general agreement that youth were often marginalized stakeholders in policy dialogues. One participant argued that the link between youth programming and governments in the WBG’s own programs is weak. Participants observed that weak engagement with youth “sows the seeds of discontent”. Yaw Ansu, Director, Human Development, Africa Region explained the WBG’s engagement with youth, and WBG efforts to help create employment and education opportunities. Dr.Akwetey cited the example of his organization, which he said worked with youth on governance issues through local level platforms. Most governments and RECs, however, have not adequately incorporated youth voices in their work.
  2. There is a need for increased funding for civil society. This should not be done only by the donors. Governments, too, should allocate budget resources to CSOs, although some participants cautioned that this could compromise CSO effectiveness and independence. There was also recognition that capacity building is a two-way exercise. Government representatives need to learn about civil society, not just the other way around. 
  3. The structure of WAEMU for engaging CSOs should be examined. WAEMU provides direct funding to several of the civil society groups it engages with. The lessons learned from this arrangement should be shared. 
  4. Gender mainstreaming should move beyond mere lip service. There were divergent perspectives on how to address gender issues in the AU agenda. There was agreement, however, that the role of CSOs in strengthening gender dimensions and disseminating information should be supported, and the WBG should give attention to this need. 
  5. A range of other issues featured briefly in the general discussion, including the need for the Bank to improve partnership with CSOs, and to include measurement using benchmarks; the need for the Bank to be more effective in communicating what it does, to address misperceptions; CSOs request for WBG support for the SADC conference on poverty and development, and the need for WBG support towards improving the regulatory environment for CSOs in a number of African countries.

In his closing remarks on behalf of the Vice President, Nils Tcheyan thanked participants for their candid remarks. He reaffirmed the WBGs commitment to continue to improve the quality of its own engagement with CSOs, and also to promote engagement of civil society at the pan African level and in RECs. He stressed that WBG would continue to ensure that engagement of civil society in regional agendas leads to better development outcomes. Mr. Tcheyan urged participants to engage in a responsible manner using facts, and to focus on outcomes. Finally, he urged that efforts should be made to track progress and evaluate impact, and welcomed CSOs’ active participation in these efforts. 

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