First prepared for Partnership Africa Canada
With its various thematic areas and with all major social forces inside government and outside government playing a role, the APRM provides an opportunity for addressing the internal and external factors that lie behind Africa’s problems. It’s a time for a fundamental rethink after the failed policies of aid, trade, the raping of raw materials and capital migrations, and anti-people mal governance – coups, military rule, multi party and single party misrule, rampant corruption. When civil society organisations seek to get involved in the African Peer Review process as we in South Africa have done, they must be politically aware that Africa has been consciously mal developed over the years through imperialism and, now, globalisation.
I want to propose here some guidelines for effective civil society participation in the APRM. These experiences and reflections are by no means exhaustive but raise some considerations for progressive, mass-based civil society to engage in national processes that have both a national and international impact – real and effective participation that impacts positively on people’s lives.
This opinion piece is a call for critical and principled participation of civil society organisations in a terrain not of our own making. To do this effectively, NGOs in South Africa had to work with other organisations and in our case – SANGOCO – we sought to work closely with the trade union movement, and also with the faith based communities, in particular the South African Council of Churches. We believed that the right to participation is fundamental and avoided the politics of boycott, or that which regards all struggles as preordained failures rather than a process which requires conscious struggle as part of the broader struggle for democracy, justice, against poverty and inequality, and for peace on the continent and in the world. So when our participation in the process was sought, we were armed with the necessity for effective participation.
The APRM process represents an opportunity for collaborative search for solutions hopefully based on a broad consensual understanding of the problems and challenges facing the country. It must be a struggle for a developmental paradigm that puts Africa as both the subject and the object of development. African scholar-activists like Mwalimu Nyerere, Walter Rodney, Babu and others have tried to assist a pan African vision that was not controlled by others but by Africans only. This view of African participation was confirmed in the 1990 African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation, which stated:
“It is manifestly unacceptable that development and transformation in Africa can proceed without the full participation of its people. It is manifestly unacceptable that the people and their organizations be excluded from the decision-making process. It is manifestly unacceptable that popular participation be seen as anything less than the centrepiece in the struggle to achieve economic and social justice for all. In promoting popular participation, it is necessary to recognize that a new partnership and compact must be forged among all the actors in the process of social, political and economic change. Without this collective commitment, popular participation is neither possible nor capable of producing results. We, therefore, pledge to work together in this new partnership to promote full and effective participation by the masses together with Governments in the recovery and development process in Africa.”
So, the simple advice I can proffer at this stage of the APRM’s development is:
* Participation or non-participation is not just an issue of principle but equally a matter of strategy. To engage in the politics of fundamental change, civil society participation must be informed relying on knowledge and resources, and having a broad vision and open eyes.
* It goes without saying that civil society is broad and diverse and this is both a strength and a weakness. The greatest weakness is the failure to organise this diverse mass into clout that can be leveraged alongside the masses of people seeking fundamental change. Hence our NGO alliances with trade unions, faith based organisations, research–technical expertise NGOs and institutions.
* These groupings got involved and met around a platform/set of principles dealing with understanding of the process, the parties involved and what can and must be won, the so-called non negotiable demands.
* As SANGOCO, we prepared our own submission, which we put on our web, and gave to our members to use when engaging in the four thematic areas (democracy and political governance, economic governance, corporate governance, and socio-economic development) and the subsequent meetings of the National Governing Council, and meetings at the provincial and local levels.
* Despite our best intentions there were weaknesses in the process, some structural to the APRM founding documents and some due to a failure of civil society to consistently participate in meetings tasked with drawing up the National Programme of Action. One point we raised in our strategic document was the control of the process going forward, which we felt must be located in a structure that is relatively autonomous of government and the private sector, and tackle issues of fundamental importance to the country, the sub-region and the continent. Clear budgeting and monitoring measures must be set up to ensure compliance.
* It is important to note that in the Country Self-Assessment Report (CSAR) much of what was asked for did not feature in the report – but that is subject to the continuous struggle that we must engage in. It is clear proof that this struggle is not a sprint (a short run in and around the board room with documents etc.) but a marathon that is long and arduous. Warts and all, the CSAR presents a decent publication from which we can struggle to ensure greater accountability and progress in meeting our challenges.
* Finally, we must be pro-active and seek to get civil society prepared before the APRM show hits town. But to ensure it is not a show, we must get organised. I know that such expertise is difficult to assemble, but it can be acquired and nurtured at home. Government and other parties must provide resources without strings attached for effective participation. These are tall orders, but an urgent necessity if civil society in other African countries is to effectively participate in the process.
* Hassen Lorgat represented SANGOCO (the South African National NGO Coalition) in the South African APRM process