The Road to Korea and Civil Society’s Participation

Published By UNNGOF |  June 24, 2013

This year, 2011 will see the end of the Paris Declaration, which for the last 5 years has set out the key principles that should guide aid effectiveness if the world is to reach the millennium development goals. Ministers of development, Finance Ministers, Heads of bilateral and multilateral organizations will all meet for the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), from the 29th November – 1st December in one of the modern cities of South Korea – Busan. South Korea is of course a good place to meet because it is a world case study of a country which 50 years ago had the same socio-economic indicators like Uganda but managed to become a fully developed country in less than a century. Other than that, it will also be the first time that the Paris Club opens its doors to civil society as legitimate development actors in their own right. This recognition of follows a journey started in 2008 in Accra, Ghana when the Accra Agenda for Action (which was the outcome document for the 3rd High Level Forum) recognized civil society as a development actor.

Importantly, the Accra Agenda for Action committed governments to provide favorable conditions for civil society organizations (CSOs) to conduct their work – what is referred to as an enabling environment. Despite this commitment, however, enabling environment trends in recent years especially in Africa have been in fact reversed, with numerous reports speaking of an actual crackdown on civil society and citizens. The Government restrictive measures include administrative obstacles like the NGO Act in Uganda, arbitrary dissolution of NGOs like what was tried in Burundi recently, strict State oversight like in Malawi since the protests in that country, the creation of Government-Patronized NGOs and freezing of funding for CSOs like in Ethiopia and persecution and arrest like in Zimbabwe.

These challenges have a fundamental impact on CSOs’ ability to support the most marginalized and vulnerable, creating the collateral damage of denying the support to those most in need. This is why the CSO Key Messages and Proposals for the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness call for the affirmation and guarantee of CSO participation in development. Several meetings have been held around the world with civil society actors looking for ways and means in which they can make their contribution felt at the 4th High level Forum.

For the next two day from the 7th – 8th November, over 80 participants from 30 countries in Africa will be meeting in Entebbe to concretize the African position. At one of the preparatory meetings, when – Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate was asked to give a message to the world on issues of enabling environment – she did note that ‘secure governments give their citizens the space to participate in development and unsecure ones do not’. As the world goes to Korea, civil society across Africa will have generated several messages for their governments. Here in Uganda, we opted to host the last civil society preparatory meeting as a means of ensuring that as a country we fully get the message out loud and clear. Some of the key points that our government and donors to listen to are:

First – governments and donors should fully evaluate and deepen the Paris and Accra commitments; second strengthen development effectiveness through practices based on human rights standards; third affirm and ensure the participation of the full diversity of CSOs as independent development actors in their own right and lastly to promote equitable and just development cooperation.

The world is at cross roads and just like the leaders of the G20 nations said in their communiqué – at Cannes in France on the 3rd and 4th of November 2011 – ‘global recovery has weakened, leaving unemployment at unacceptable levels, there are also clear signs of a slowing in growth in the emerging markets and global imbalances persist’.

The G20 leaders then reaffirmed their commitment to work together to reinvigorate economic growth, create jobs, ensure financial stability, promote social inclusion and make globalization serve the needs of the people. These are important messages even for those out of the G20 like Uganda. As we go towards the 4th High level Forum in Korea, Uganda will need to rethink its position on aid and development and also on how to respond to the critical challenges that once looked global but are now local.