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The role of CSOs in promoting social justice and sound developmental policies in SADC
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
June 30, 2007

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Introduction and background

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Accountability Project surveys in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe were carried out by three researchers from each country. This report draws heavily from these country studies to provide a synthesis of the salient issues applicable to and obtaining in Southern African countries. In addition, the report also provides a comparative analysis of the main issues across countries in order to come up with clear conclusions and recommendations for the benefit of CSO-State relations.

The study's main objective is to make a contribution to building closer cooperation between civil society and governments in the SADC region in order to strengthen the role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in promoting social justice and pursuing sound development policies.

Specifically, the study will:

  • examine how civil society actors relate to the government and its policies at national levels (studies drawn from 3 countries)
  • identify key constraints impacting on the role of civil society in policy formulation and monitoring implementation of policies
  • make recommendations on how to strengthen the role of civil society in working to build social justice and contribute to broad-based participatory development processes

Conclusions and recommendations

It is of no doubt that civil society organisations in Southern Africa are playing an important and critical role in the development of any state. As outlined above, civil society does not and should not operate in a vacuum. It needs to interact with the state and business in order to influence the two. Government cannot govern alone. It needs CSOs, and CSOs cannot be the alternative to government - they need the state. CSOs need to continue to guard and maintain their autonomy but autonomy should not be used as a reason for non engagement nor should it be an excuse for poor CSO-state relations. The terrain is difficult and is contested in Southern Africa but there is a need for closer cooperation between civil society and governments in the region. This should be a major objective of civil society in the region.

In the light of the above, CSOs need to consider the following recommendations:

  • If states are seeking to institutionalise CSO-state relations by putting legislation in place to control the environment, it makes sense for CSOs to realise that the time for a stand alone approach in dealing with the state is coming to an end. CSOs need to find each other and organise better if they are to remain a formidable force. One way of doing this is to strengthen ties with the national and regional CSO representative bodies. In addition, utilisation of or calling for linkages or engagement protocols with organisations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community is imperative.
  • CSOs need to take advantage of the openings to engage governments on legal frameworks that are still under debate in the region by coming up with comprehensive alternatives superior to the ones currently being floated by various states.
  • Clearly, the human rights and democracy oriented CSOs are greatly misunderstood and disliked by governments. More dialogue around best strategies, policies and rules of engagement, education and linkages within the countries and regionally are critical as a way forward. Sustainability and independence in terms of CSO funding sources is critical to CSO-state relations. As long at funding is largely from donors outside of Africa, the state view that CSOs are creatures of foreign states will continue to sour CSO-state relations. CSOs need to begin to place emphasis on local funding as well. \ · CSOs need to look into mechanisms that enhance the visibility of those sections of society they represent or on whose behalf they speak to provide a strong sense of mandate or representivity without CSOs having to turn into being membership based organisations.
  • Donors need to play a pro-active role in CSO-state relations, particularly where they fund both government and CSOs in the same country. There is much to be gained in cooperating with the state and therefore conditionalities for some level of cooperation can be constructive.
  • CSOs need to constantly review the obtaining determinants or driving factors in CSO-state relations in each country and create a barometer by which to measure any changes in order to react accordingly.

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