WFD launches new partnership for electoral assistance in Africa

On 12 September 2017, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme during a side event to the Democracy UK conference marking 25 years since the establishment of the Foundation.

WFD’s new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 outlines the organisation’s focus on building of partnerships with leading implementers in the democracy and governance field. It also expands WFD’s programmatic focus to include strengthening electoral institutions, contributing to more credible, inclusive and peaceful elections. The partnership with EISA reinforces WFD’s strategic commitments by establishing a formal commitment to collaborate through information sharing and development of key projects in the region.

Both organisations recognise that elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and credibility but agree there are still many challenges to overcome. In particular, there is need for: immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions; developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process, including the ability conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability. Through their new partnership, WFD and EISA intended to jointly fundraise and develop regional initiatives.

EISA is the African continent’s leading electoral support organisation. It was established in 1996 to promote credible elections, participatory democracy, human rights culture and the strengthening of governance institutions for the consolidation of democracy in Africa. The organisation has grown significantly since its founding and now support selection management bodies, political parties, parliaments and local observers across the continent. EISA is a valuable support to regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), providing capacity building and advice on regional election monitoring activities.

Signing the MoU, Executive Director of EISA Denis Kadima, said: “EISA anticipates that this agreement will enable the two organisations to carry out joint initiatives toward the strengthening of political organisations and the enhancement of electoral and political processes at local, national, regional and global levels for the advancement and deepening of democracy.”

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Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in 2018 elections launched in Freetown

On 24 August 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process ahead of Sierra Leone’s 2018 elections.

Globally, approximately 15 per cent of the population have a disability, 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries. With a history of civil war and low ranking in the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI), the number of people with disabilities in Sierra Leone is likely to be much higher. They are often the poorest in their community and are rarely empowered to participate politically; Sierra Leone is no exception.

WFD is working with SLUDI and the disability community to ensure that the country’s March 2018 elections are inclusive and respond to the needs of PWDs.

Key to our work is the launch of the PWD Agenda which will serve:

  1. As an advocacy tool for the disability community and disability groups in Sierra Leone. Helping them to advocate for the integration of key public policy priorities in the manifestos of political parties;
  2. As a guide for key organisations interested in engaging PWDs and other institutions on PWD-related priorities for the upcoming elections;
  3. As a national advocacy document that will guide Elections Management Bodies (EMBs), political parties and the next Government on the planning, budgeting and implementation of PWD interventions.

The PWD Agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed to the development of the agenda.

Public policy priorities:

  • Enhance the inclusion and participation of PWDS in the political process in Sierra Leone
  • Ensure physical accessibility of public buildings, infrastructure and transportation for PWDs
  • Support the collection of accurate data on PWDs in Sierra Leone for better planning
  • Improve access to inclusive education
  • Enhance PWDs access to health care with additional investment and monitoring
  • Enhance the employment and socio-economic empowerment of PWDs

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) and Political Party Registration Commission (PPRC) also have a role to play in creating an inclusive space for the disabled community to participate in the electoral process. The national agenda calls on them to strengthen their support systems for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

‘Our survey shows it is only by acknowledging the existence and the needs of people with disabilities that Sierra Leone can build a truly inclusive and fair society.’

George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa

Investing in disability support will require steadfast commitment if Sierra Leone is to fully align itself with national legislation and Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which states: ‘States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others.’ If PWDs do not have a meaningful voice, choice or control in the decisions affecting their lives, there can be no true democracy.

Launching the PWD Agenda in Freetown, Zainab Kamara from Empowerment of Women’s Social Inclusion, said:

‘We call for a new and inclusive approach that will guarantee Sierra Leoneans with disabilities are part of the long term strategic vision of political parties. We thank WFD, the Standing Together for Democracy Consortium and UKaid Sierra Leone for their ongoing support to ensure as many of us as possible can take part in the March 2018 elections.’

Santigie Kargbo, President of SLUDI, added:

‘Today, 24 of August 2017, we, the disabled community, demand our political parties and new government to integrate the following asks in their manifestoes and for the new Government to deliver on them.’

WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath explained:

‘It is the first time such a broad coalition of people with disabilities, their friends and champions come together in such a significant way to request the attention of Sierra Leone’s political actors.’

‘Our survey shows it is only by acknowledging the existence and the needs of people with disabilities that Sierra Leone can build a truly inclusive and fair society. Our hope is this issue will feature prominently in the upcoming election campaign.’

WFD is implementing this work as a member of the ‘Standing Together for Democracy Consortium;’ a coalition of CSOs funded by UKaid through the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in support of the 2017/18 electoral cycle in Sierra Leone. The coalition aims to create the right conditions for free, fair and peaceful elections in Sierra Leone. Led by Search for Common Ground (SFCG), the consortium is made up of five national organisations – National Elections Watch (NEW), Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Independent Radio Network (IRN), Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) and 50/50 Group – and two international organisations – SFCG and WFD.

This programme forms part of WFD’s work in Sierra Leone.

(Photo: Performance of the PWD agenda song at the launch in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Several key stakeholders including CSOs and Politicians were present at the ceremony.)

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New programme: helping Nigerian youth build a democracy that delivers

On 25 July, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) to support the advancement of democracy in Nigeria through increased political participation and electoral representation of young people.

At 60%, Nigeria has one of the highest shares of people aged between 18 and 35 in the world. Young people make up over 55% of registered voters but are not able to stand as parliamentary candidates until they turn 30, meaning a large share of voting adults are not represented in the National Assembly.

The three-year, 114 million Nigerian Naira programme (279,000 GBP) will support Nigerian youth groups and political parties with the objective of enabling greater youth participation. It will focus on three levels of intervention:

  • Helping establish national cross-party consensus to lower the minimum age for candidates
  • Supporting major Nigerian political parties to develop effective youth wings
  • Enabling Nigerian civil society to engage more young people in the democratic process

The programme will work closely with the Young Parliamentarian Forum of the National Assembly, the youth wings of the APC and PDP parties, local NGO Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports (MoYS) and Nigerian Youth Parliament (NYP).

Launching the programme at a workshop with Nigerian youth leaders in Abuja, Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of WFD said:

“A multi-party democracy can still fall short of citizen expectations when a large chunk of the population is not represented in Parliament. WFD Nigeria’s Youth Empowerment Programme aims at tackling this challenge.

“In 2019, the republican Constitution of Nigeria will turn 20. By then, we hope many candidates born under democratic rule will be able to stand for office and shape the future of Nigerian democracy.”

Participating in the launch, Kate Osamor MP, chair of the UK House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria said:

“Nigeria’s success as a prosperous and progressive country depends on enabling young people to get involved in the political system, shaping the agenda and taking decisions about the future of their country. That is what the WFD programme will focus on.”

WFD will be supporting this three-year programme with funding from the UK Government. It will be one of WFD’s innovative ‘integrated programmes’: bringing together political party and parliamentary expertise to address a policy issue from multiple angles and involving a variety of decision-makers. The WFD Nigeria ‘Youth Empowerment Programme’ will benefit from a partnership with the international offices of the UK Conservative and Labour parties.

(Photo: young women participate in the youth empowerment programme launch, 25 July 2017)
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Follow the money: how we helped establish a watchdog in Mozambique

Democracy can help contrast corruption and enable fair distribution of resource by making information about government accounts available to the public. This is why we are working with the parliament of Mozambique to help them monitor spending.

The country is developing very rapidly by tapping into a wealth of natural resources such as gas. Revenues must be accounted for and used wisely to improve the lives of Mozambicans.

WFD is uniquely placed to deliver high quality technical support in this field:

  • Our work to help establish parliamentary budget offices in the Western Balkans is one of our greatest achievements to date and encouraged other countries to adopt similar initiatives.
  • We partnered with the Scrutiny Unit in the Westminster Parliament and the Financial Scrutiny Unit in the Scottish Parliament to share UK experience providing technical analysis.

The importance of setting up a body to monitor public money in Mozambique was identified in various evaluations, especially following the International Monetary Fund debt scandal that emerged in 2013.

Initially, the office will focus on providing technical analysis of the Budget as well as studies on national economy issues including public debt.
At the centre of our approach is encouraging learning between similar institutions that WFD helped establish over recent years.

Practices and expertise from countries such as the UK are not all immediately replicable and, for new watchdogs to succeed, a change in culture is necessary. This requires time and support from other institutions nationally and internationally.

“Many parliaments in the world have this technical support mechanism and this leads to positive parliamentary performance in the oversight of public finances, so I think that Mozambique is not an island and has to be part of the world.”

Moisés Mondlane, Technical Cabinet staff

In April, we brought together the Serbian Parliamentary Budget Office and the technical unit responsible for economic analysis in the legislative assembly of Mozambique for a workshop in Maputo.

Comparing notes with Serbian colleagues was something the Mozambican experts found very useful. Abdala Luís, a local trainee with the technical unit commented: “Our colleague from Serbia has shown us the main ways to produce quality analyses that will impress in a positive way our MPs and make us a credible unit. We learned that infographics are the best products to show our MPs; they do not have much text, instead focusing on graphics and some description that is appropriate for MPs’ use, as Members do not have time to read much.”

No matter where in the world you are working on financial analysis, similar challenges emerge. As Nenad Jevtovic from the Serbian parliament explains: “A common problem is how to attract the attention of MPs”. Crunching numbers submitted to parliament for approval in a timely manner is also very important to the success of newly established budget offices.

Serbian researchers helped their peers by suggesting a possible way forward: “It is very important to work step-by-step. In the first five months [of the programme], the Technical Cabinet should develop basic reports and infographics on budgetary analysis. After five months trainees will start to prepare detailed analysis on fiscal and economic issues,” Mr Jevtovic explained.

“Our goal is to provide technical support to the Committees to effectively carry out the public financial oversight of the Executive,” commented Mr. Atanásio Chacanane, Director of the Technical Cabinet. “The Technical Cabinet will provide better service to Members and its impact will benefit Mozambican society,” he continued.

Moisés Mondlane, staff of the Technical Cabinet added: ‘This unit will help MPs make sure that allocated resources are being used properly. Many parliaments in the world have this technical support mechanism and this leads to positive parliamentary performance in the oversight of public finances, so I think that Mozambique is not an island and has to be part of the world.’

The WFD Mozambique mission, which helped establish a Parliamentary Study Centre in 2011, is now focusing on support for Mozambican parliamentary staff to help legislators follow the money and in this way, help all ordinary Mozambicans benefit from economic growth.

(Photo: Nenad Jevtovic, a researcher from WFD supported Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia, shares his experience providing analysis to MPs with counterparts in Mozambique.)
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Better laws for Ghana: making data accessible to legislators

Sitting in the Library of the House of Commons it’s hard to imagine how legislators could lack good quality research to inform their legislative initiatives.

Systems, researchers and the library in the Parliament of Ghana worked in isolation, leaving legislators and their offices confused about help on offer and diminishing the effectiveness of the institution.

The Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG) which we are helping establish provides a facility for Ghanaian lawmakers to commission research and also a system to share information between different departments including Library, ICT and Research.

This week, WFD will open an exhibition, as part of the Research and Information Week in parliament, to present results to legislators, academia, civil society, media and other users of parliamentary facilities.

Before the establishment of the group, departments worked in isolation and competition between them was the norm. The lack of communication led to the establishment of multiple ‘information storage systems’ to the benefit of technology providers and expensive consultants but to the detriment of legislators and the reputation of the parliamentary service.

“What is left is for us in the departments to effectively collaborate to get the best out of this support.”

Mohammed Nyagsi, Director of Research in the Parliament of Ghana

Change is never easy to embrace but parliamentary staff in Ghana are starting to see the benefits of working together. As Gloria Insaidoo, the Director of Library Services, recently told us: ‘we are all aware of the turf protection that exists among departments, I have analysed the concept of working in common areas offered by this WFD platform and I would like to encourage colleagues to take these meetings seriously since it will benefit our work and the parliament in general.’

As part of this programme, we helped set up the IDRIG coordinating committee and the technical team in June 2016. These meet monthly and during emergencies and host training sessions and study tours which often result in the production of joint analysis, services and learning events that help legislators better fulfil their roles.
‘I have always had confidence in the support that Parliament receives from WFD,’ said Mr. Mohammed Nyagsi, the Director of Research in the Parliament of Ghana in his welcome address during the first meeting of the IDRIG Coordinating Committee, ‘What is left is for us in the departments to effectively collaborate to get the best out of this support.’

We remain committed to providing that support and adapt that support where needed. From human resources to communications, we have expanded our programme to meet the demands of an increasingly more professional parliamentary service and the political parties that can use it. WFD recently received a request from the Parliamentary Service Board to support party caucuses establish units that help them access and coordinate evidence.

Through coordination and better systems, one researcher can help several legislators pass better laws, which in turn will impact on the lives of millions. This is true at Westminster and is becoming a reality in Ghana too.

 

(Photo: Colleagues from the Inter-Departmental Research Group participate in a WFD organised planning event.)
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Hope for democracy: young people and politics in sub-Saharan Africa

George Kunnath, Regional Director, Africa and Europe

Sub-Saharan Africa has a youth population of 265 million. By 2045, the population of people under the age of 25 across the African continent is expected to rise by over 40%. Africa is full of young men and women with huge potential, eager to help build the continent’s future.

The continent’s young leaders are inspiring, ambitious and passionate. However, many of them are denied any real political voice or influence. Yet their role is essential in addressing the continent’s major problems of youth unemployment, underemployment and the lack of education, healthcare and basic social services.

According to the World Bank, Youth account for 60% of all African unemployed. While most African economies are growing, they are not growing fast enough to solve the problems of unemployment. The outlook is not much better for those in employment, as the region continues to report the highest youth working poverty rates globally at almost 70 %. The number of poor working youth has increased by as much as 80 per cent since 1991.

That’s why WFD is committed to supporting young people to engage in politics. To borrow the words of Mohamed Jalloh, who runs our programme in Sierra Leone: ‘we have a generation of young people facing the harsh realities of unemployment, limited space in decision making, exposure to sexual risks, crime, violence and a lack of opportunities for quality education. The energy, talent and determination of youth can be used to sustain development.’

“Despite making significant progress in the last five years, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the lowest levels of youth development in the world. All of the ten lowest-ranked countries in the 2016 Youth Development Index are from Sub-Saharan Africa.”

2016 Global Youth Development Index

The problems of unemployment are linked to education. Young people in Africa are receiving education in industries that have stagnated and have not kept up with global trends. Structural unemployment remains a major problem and governments need to start linking the education system to match the demands of the labour market.

Unless young people have a voice in the legislatures and the spheres of influence their needs will continue to be ignored until the problem spills over into conflict. Critical to giving the youth a place at the table is the reform of political parties to become more inclusive. Parties that offer the youth real leadership opportunities. This is a major challenge as the status quo has served the aging political elite well.

Yet, all is not lost in Africa. The youth of Africa has shown increased political awareness and a willingness to make their voices heard. Credit must be shown to youth of the Gambia who played a significant role in protecting the outcome of the 2016 elections. And let’s not forget, that in 2012 the Senegalese opposition mobilised the youth around the issue of unemployment to defeat President Abdoulaye Wade. Young leaders are waking up to realise that in a few years the youth vote will determine the outcome of every African election.

A window of opportunity exists to help mainstream youth into the governance structures of African countries. Unless the investment is made to support Africa’s youth, there is the ever-increasing risk that many will be led away into tribal, ethnic, religious or political conflict. That is why WFD’s Africa team considers strengthening youth political participation and inclusion as the key pillar of our African strategy.

As our Country Representative in Nigeria, Adebowale Olorunmola put it: ‘Democracy thrives when citizens, regardless of age, gender, and social status, are involved in decisions that affect their lives and the society they live in.’ This is why young leaders must get a seat at the decision-making table and why WFD programmes in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda are working to do just that.

 

 

 

 

Photo: Jo-Ann Kelly

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Using evidence to deliver better services to the citizens of Kenya

Demographic data is key to effective, responsive and evidence-based legislation.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is supporting the Senate of Kenya develop new ways to collect county-level information which will help legislators decide where to improve public services.

Kenya, which will hold a general election on 8 August, is currently going through a process of devolution of powers from the central state to its 47 administrative counties. Parliament is committed to developing policy that takes local issues into account and enables a more balanced distribution of public funds.

The WFD Kenya parliamentary programme aims at enabling a successful devolution of powers and at improving both the legislative and representative roles of the Senate. An important component of the programme is the partnership with the Northern Ireland Assembly, which enabled the study of its geographic information system by the Senate of Kenya.

In October 2016, a delegation from the Senate of Kenya visited the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of a WFD study visit to explore data collection methods. The visit included a meeting with RAISE – the Assembly’s Research and Information Services Department – which focused on how to capturing local data and how to processing this into reader-friendly formats by using a Geographic Information System. This can help legislators consider the needs of constituencies, for example on health, education and infrastructure.

RAISE’s use of geographic information helps representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly take evidence-based decisions for their constituencies.

Following a study visit to Stormont, Mr Ahmed Odhowa, Senior Research Officer in the Senate Liaison Office that has been actively involved informing devolution policy, research and analysis explained how “the WFD programme broadened Kenyan Parliament’s understanding of research and evidence can be used to inform and influence legislators effectively”.

WFD is now helping the Senate of Kenya set up an information system covering all of Kenya’s 47 counties. Such a system has the potential to help committees monitor budgets and the provision of better infrastructure across the country. It can also provide a stronger evidence base for laws that deliver better services to citizens while allocating precious public resources in a more equitable way across different regions.

From ensuring access to healthcare and education to improving investment in agriculture and road networks that many communities rely on, the greater use of evidence by the Senate can transform lives and contribute to a more successful devolution of powers.

As Senator Moses Kajwang from the Senate’s Standing Committee on Roads and Transportation, put it: “the time is nigh for a Devolution Revolution. We at the Senate are best placed to represent the counties interests at the national level.”

(Photos: Main: Representatives from the Senate of Kenya and research staff meet with RAISE in Northern Ireland. Inset: Ahmed Odhowa, Senior Research Officer in the Senate Liaison Office)
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Access to politics: Cost as a barrier

Encouraging broader political participation has been a cornerstone of international democracy support since its early days.

This has involved working to reduce barriers to entry to politics often based on gender, age, ethnicity, and other contextual factors. Over the past decade, however, an emergent barrier that has received less attention is the cost of politics.

The more expensive a political system is, the less accessible it becomes, and therefore the less representative and accountable. And the global evidence suggests that the costs for individuals moving from private life to public office are increasing, sometimes substantially. This means those with limited access to resources, such as the poor and many women and youth, cannot participate in the political process.

Moreover, in a country where the cost of politics is high, candidates pay large amounts of money in exchange for their constituents’ support and, in many cases, incur great amounts of debt to cover their expenses. Once in office, many will be tempted to take advantage of their access to state resources to pay their debts and, eventually, to finance their reelection – thus spiraling a vicious cycle of corruption.

To address the problem of the increasing cost of politics, countries need to examine their political systems and bring about the necessary changes through cross-party consensus. This is unlikely to happen unless stakeholders find means to break the pattern of incentives for candidates to spend vast amounts of money to get elected and maintain their seats once in office.

Given the detrimental consequences a high cost of politics can have on the democratic development of a country, WFD wants to contribute to addressing this problem through a three-staged approach:

  1. Conducting robust research on the drivers of the increasing cost of politics and encouraging dialogue among relevant stakeholders to discuss findings and conclusions
  2. Supporting multiple cross-party working groups to agree on what changes can be made in the political system to create greater affordability, transparency and accountability
  3. Providing flexible support to political parties, parliaments and executive bodies in the implementation of reforms necessary to address the causes of the increasing cost of politics
(Photo: Campaigning for President Magufuli’s 2015 win in Tanzania)

WFD is currently working on the first stage of this long-term strategy. After doing background studies in 2016 on the cost of politics in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, and Ukraine, WFD is now conducting a six-month long primary research study on the cost of politics in Ghana.

WFD is implementing this project with funding from DFID’s Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) Initiative and with the assistance of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD). The study seeks to understand how the incentives and constraints that shape the behavior of constituents, political parties, candidates, and sitting MPs in Ghana before, during and after election periods can help explain the increase in the cost of politics in the country and inform strategies to develop a more affordable and accountable political system.

The research study will include survey questionnaires with 300 parliamentary candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, as well as key-informant interviews with political party representatives, traditional chiefs, and members of civil society. By interviewing a wide array of stakeholders, WFD seeks to gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of Ghana’s political system.

The study will be completed by July 2017. Its findings and conclusions will inform a national dialogue conference that will bring together stakeholders to discuss the implications of the increasing cost of politics to the development of Ghanaian democracy and to seek a consensus on how to change the pattern of incentives that is currently driving up costs.

This research study is the first comprehensive in-depth assessment of the cost of participating in politics conducted in Ghana. WFD hopes to replicate it in other countries and eventually draw conclusions that can improve the donor’s community understanding of political incentives and inform future programming on democracy strengthening.

More information on our Cost of Politics research is available here

(Top photo: A women casts her vote in the Ghanaian Presidential elections in December 2016)
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Closing civil society space in East Africa

(Above: Working groups discuss trends within the East Africa region and their effect on CSOs operating space: funding, legislation, freedom of information and human rights)

It has been said that democracy is not a spectator sport.

Good governance is rarely bestowed; it must be demanded and defended by active citizens participating in democratic processes. More often than not, the channel for this participation is through civil society organisations (CSOs), which give citizens the opportunity to engage constructively with government on a wide variety of issues.

But all across the world, civil society is under pressure. In many countries, both democratic and autocratic states are systematically restricting the work of civil society. These developments, collectively known as “closing space”, have become a global trend.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in collaboration with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), hosted a two-day conference on 13 and 14 March in Nairobi, Kenya, to explore opportunities to create a consistently open legislative environment for CSOs at the regional level. The event brought together CSOs, CSO Standardisation bodies, Government and academia to formulate draft principles toward the development of a regional bill to promote and protect CSOs.

Within East Africa, crippling legislation has been passed that severely limits the remit of CSOs. From the need for CSO activities to be approved by the government in Burundi to the inappropriate utilisation of the Cybercrimes Act (2015) in Tanzania, it is a challenging time for civil society. Davis Malombe, Executive Director at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, asked critical questions about overcoming negative legislation: “How do we consolidate the space for CSOs and show governments’ the space is ours and our inalienable right, how do CSOs organise themselves better?” he said.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), the region’s parliament – the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) – presents an opportunity for CSOs in the partner states to articulate their needs and interests as a block. Advocating nationally for supportive legislation and joint advocacy for harmonised legislation for CSO regulation within the partner states provide two options.

Zaa Twalangeti, Program Manager at Tanzanian CSO TAANGO, highlighted the importance of CSOs’ ability to promote and mobilise resources domestically to secure a power base within society: “CSOs assume they are representing citizens but has this been tested? What are we doing as a sector to ensure that we are entrenched as the voice of citizens and so that citizens demand our [CSO] space?” Jimmy Gotyana, South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), asked: “How can CSOs ensure their struggles are expressed within Parliaments and reach the right audience?”

Concerning trends emerging from the research paper and discussions included:

  1. Restrictive definitions of CSOs to only those concerned with service delivery and not advocacy;
  2. Lack of clarity and unreasonable conditions surrounding the registration processes of CSOs;
  3. Increasing regulation limiting funding to CSOs;
  4. Utilisation of various pieces of legislation i.e. cyber security, anti-terrorism, to undermine progressive CSO legislation;
  5. Lack of independence of CSO regulatory bodies and challenges with self-regulation and standards;
  6. Limited access for CSOs to participate in government or legislative processes, especially around the budget and policy;
  7. Lack of protection of CSOs and human rights defenders.

At the end of the two-day conference participating CSOs agreed that regional solidarity is needed and eight draft principles were agreed upon to form the basis of a draft regional bill. Stakeholders must now collaborate across borders and take proactive steps to engage with EALA in order for the draft regional bill to materialise.

This bill can ensure that CSOs operate in a more enabling environment with a dedicated framework for human rights defenders’ that will promote greater accountability from respective governments. The East African experience has the potential to contribute to the global discourse and provide a practical example of how this issue can be overcome.

This conference was organised by WFD’s Kenya Team, based in Nairobi, contact maureen.oduori@wfd.org for more information. 

The WFD-EACSOF Commissioned Research on this topic which triggered this event will be available in coming months and is part of WFD’s wider research around this topic.

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Why regional networks are important for women’s empowerment

(Above: Representatives from sister parties in Africa, the Middle East, and Western Balkans attend Women’s Political Participation Day in Parliament organised by the Labour Party International Office)

Political parties play a fundamental role in ensuring women are represented at all levels of decision-making.

A key area of the Labour Party’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy work is supporting and developing the skills set of social democratic women to play a more active role in party politics and public life.

The establishment of regional networks like the Women’s Academy for Africa, the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Tha’era, and the CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans have allowed the Labour Party to facilitate mentoring, learning and best practice exchanges between women activists operating in very different contexts but facing very similar challenges.

In a recent visit to the UK Houses of Parliament to engage with UK politicians and women activists from different regions ahead of International Women’s Day 2017, all three groups explained what it is like to be a woman activist in their region and what they get out of international support.

Fatemah Khafagy, a representative of Tha’era from Egypt felt regional networks “are the only way to change things for women.” Improving women’s rights in the Middle East “is not an easy job; there is a lot to be done and a long road to go down” Fatemah explained, “But there is no other way.”

Tha’era has received support from the Labour Party since its inception in 2013. In two years, it has formally trained 150 women through a bespoke training programme, and hundreds more informally through the space created by the network.

Fatemah added that they “benefit so much from exchanges with different countries in the region, especially the ones who are more advanced.” Referring to neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Morocco whose parliaments are already tackling discriminatory legislation, described as “crippling women from being active in public life” by Laila Amili, a member of Tha’era from Morocco.

(Above: Members of Tha’era visit the Fabian Society on a previous best practice exchange organised by the Labour Party’s International Office)

Traditional attitudes and culture, including the violence and economic discrimination women face, play a huge role in shaping all women’s political experience. The Regional Commissioner of the Southern Africa Women’s Academy for Africa, said “a change in mindset, attitudes and beliefs is needed. Women can do things – not just what society has told them to do.”

The Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection.

Fellow WAFA member and Deputy Secretary General, Daisy Bathusi, explained that the exposure regional networks and engagement with international partners, like the Labour Party’s International Office is crucial for women’s development. “Women are stronger by networking, by sharing experiences and learning” Daisy said. “It is not only an opportunity to share what is going on in Africa or our region, but to learn from others and what challenges they face. Together we can find better solutions” she added.

The importance of sharing and engaging with other women activists was echoed by Sonja Lokar from Slovenia, who has been engaged with the Labour Party’s work from 2002. “We can’t do it without the support” Sonja added, “it’s not only money; it’s know how, best experiences, relationships with other networks. Without this we are not capable of connecting, of being in real daily contact to learn from each other.”

Representatives from the Western Balkans placed an emphasis on the role political parties can play in transforming attitudes towards women. “For us the never-ending question is how to achieve gender equality within the party and then how to act outside the party externally” Dajana Bakic, a member of the SDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina explained.

“Without the support of the Labour Party/WFD, and some other international groups, our parties would never had made the progress which has been done” Sonja added, but more work is required to ensure gender mainstreaming happens.

The Labour Party remains committed to supporting women around the world become active members of political life, through their WFD programming. The mainstreaming of women’s voices in politics might not be there yet but with women from around the world working together for change through regional networks significant change is long overdue.

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