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Civil society plays a vital role in Regional integration
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
March 22, 2004

Dr Prega Ramsamy, Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) this afternoon reaffirmed civil society's vital role in efforts at regional integration, and highlighted SADC's commitment to a partnership with civil society to find lasting solutions to the development needs in southern Africa. Dr Ramsamy was addressing more than 700 civil society actors, activists, practitioners, researchers, concerned business leaders, representatives from intergovernmental organisations and government representatives from over 100 countries, gathered in Gaborone, Botswana at the 5th CIVICUS World Assembly.

"SADC has accorded top priority and given full recognition to the key role and significant contribution of the civil society and non-governmental organisations. Effective participation and constructive dialogue of all key stakeholders are the cornerstones of the process of integration in the SADC region and of development in general" he said.

SADC has recently been restructured to effectively mobilise key stakeholders to take full advantage of current global opportunities and challenges. This, Ramsamy added, is well supported by positive policy changes amongst SADC's international cooperating partners, such as the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) between the EU and ACP states. These policy changes provide a sound legal basis and wider framework for involving non-state actors in political dialogue, policy formulation and implementation as well as in the evaluation of cooperation strategies and programmes.

The commitment of governments in the SADC region to the development oriented approach to integration has gone beyond mere statements and has been given legal effect as reflected in Article 23 of the SADC Treaty which commits Member States "to fully involve, to cooperate with, and to support the initiatives of the peoples of the region and NGOs in the community building process.

"This spirit is fully consistent with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) philosophy pertaining to the civil society involvement," said Ramsamy.

In recognition of civil society's role in SADC's efforts at regional integration, SADC Council of Ministers have now approved the establishment of the SADC Council of NGOs, and has endorsed the Botswana Council of NGOs, BOCONGO, as its interim Secretariat. The Council is aimed at creating a conducive environment for the participation of civil society and non-governmental organisations in the regional integration agenda. Among it's many objectives, it will provide input in the formulation of policies that influence regional cooperation and integration and will advocate for an enabling environment for civil society organisations at national and regional levels.

Further testimony of the growing collaboration between different groups of civil society organisation at the regional level is evidenced in the development of regional civil society organisations such as the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (poverty alleviation) and the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa. These are a demonstration of the power of working together at the regional level, rather than separately at the national level.

Carlos Fumo, of the Foundation of Community Development in Mozambique, responded to the address, reaffirming that the development of any region is the full responsibility of its citizens. "Civil society organisations need instituionalised mechanisms of involvement to achieve their joint objectives" he said.

"The choice of the overall theme of this historic gathering "Acting Together for a Just World" could not have been better," concluded Ramsamy. "Clearly, the challenges facing humanity in creating a just and secure global order are daunting, but through joining forces and forging strategic partnerships, we can make a huge difference and overcome the obstacles to the realisation of our cherished vision of a better and inclusive future".

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