CONFERENCE BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE
This conference seeks to consolidate visions and views towards building a continent wide social justice platform for civil society advancement, solidarity and protection. The immediate opportunity arises from the decision by Action Aid Denmark to hand over their TCDC facility to an African institution that could act as a new Africa wide centre for civil society.
Over 2016, consultations have taken place with civil society activists, regional and local networks, NGOs, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), trade unions and faith-based groups across the continent. Three main trends emerged in the consultations. Africa is still too weak to fight climate injustice, political exclusion and economic globalisation. At home, too many autocratic Governments continue to shrink civic space and seek to control our independence. INGOs continue to dominate local and national NGOs and both are increasingly disconnected from social movements from the poorest and most marginalised.
By the end of the conference, participants will have reached agreement on the main organising rationale, programming areas, membership and governance model and resource-mobilisation strategy.
CONFERENCE METHODOLOGY AND PARTICIPANTS
This conference will be organised around participatory, experiential and deliberative thought circles and plenaries. A conference pack will share some useful reading for the 200 leaders of civil society organisations and networks, civic associations and social movements, foundations and funders who have confirmed to attend. The conference will be facilitated in both English and French by Irũngũ Houghton and Aya Chebbi. Participants are invited to forward any comments on the agenda to Moses.Isooba@actionaid.org for consideration by the organising team.
CONFERENCE WORKING AGENDA
Monday 22 August
The conference will be preceded by a meeting of the interim working group on Monday 22 August between 9am-5pm and a media briefing at 2pm. We are requesting all other participants to ensure their arrival by 6pm to enable us to register and have dinner together. There will be an after dinner session resourced by Kumi Naidoo on “The next decade of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation: How can the Foundation support African civil society?” at 8.30pm
APPENDIX 1: Africans Rising for Justice and Peace: A Call to Assemble Rustlers Valley, South Africa 3-4 May, 2016
Recalling the faces, spirit and hopes of past, current and emergent leaders, we gathered for two days to examine the complexity of Africa’s struggles for democracy, justice, equality and a sustainable planet. Coming from over ten African countries, we also discussed the imperatives of our current context and generated some propositions for the new Africa Civil Society initiative.
Africa has faced and continues to face a persistent scramble for its resources by both African and non-African elites. In turn, Africa has found ways to speak and act collectively through the series of Pan African Congresses (1900-2015), the Harare Caucuses (1990s), the African Social Forums (2000s) and the African Union Summits (2000s). Whether it be nationalist movements, civil society networks, social movements or Governments, these moments have all been pre-occupied with the restoration of a Pan African voice, activism and agenda.
Today, we face a future of increasing chaotic and catastrophic climate change, unsustainable natural resources extraction with low value addition, unequal growth, joblessness and de-industrialisation and state over-securitisation. We in turn, find ourselves struggling with domestic relevance, hampered by over-bureaucratisation and instrumentalised by commercial and foreign policy interests. Re-reading the 2014 “An open letter to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders”1, we reiterate its vision for a new pedagogy and praxis for organising.
This vision is reinforced by the people’s activism from below. Recent civic organising has shattered any illusions that the majority of Africans are passive or content with the status quo. Civil society organisations have found themselves unable to predict or add value to new expressions of frustration, discontent and anger. From #EnoughIsEnough campaigns of Nigeria, #Rhodes/Fees/ZumaMustFall of South Africa, to the struggles against #ThirdTermism in Uganda, Burundi and the Congo, new and digital forms of organising are being led by young and fiercely independent leaders. These protest movements find international solidarity in the struggles against extra-judicial killings in North America (#BlackLivesMatter), rising anti-immigrant racism in Europe and a capitalist system that only benefits the 1% (#OccupyMovement). These movements offer glimmers of hope and inspiration in ways current NGO organising cannot.
We can draw lessons from their ability to frame issues, offer compelling narratives and catalyse and coordinate mass action.We can learn from how they quickly build ownership and find resources across unlikely partners, yet remain decentralised and free of recognisable brands and leaders. The new movements are largely decentralised and driven by crowding voluntarism, civil disobedience and innovative spontaneity. If frankly honest, we must recognise our organising language is outdated and stale. Our actions are neither rooted nor framed effectively to reach the majority of our people. It is this that the programme of the proposed African Civil Society Initiative must intentionally address.
Specifically, we point the organisers towards three areas of possible focus for the Africa Civil Society Initiative; Knowledge curation, learning and sharing; Struggle Leadership Development and Alliance and Network Support. This can be further reinforced with more mapping and conversation with social movements especially from Northern, Central and Western Africa. Thematically, democratic governance, justice and equality offer a broad framework for taking forward issues that are important to millions of Africans.
The Africa Civil Society Initiative should offer sustainable community organising paradigms and post-NGO organising models that coalesce/catalyse peoples self-defined and driven struggles. It should bring like-minded organisations and cross-border solidarity that can speak continentally and set agenda for AU states. These could include progressive CSOs, alliances, trade unions, private sector, social movements and civic associations.
By way of governance, the ACSI should expand the existing working group, ensure gender, generational and geographical balance but keep it lean and mean. In order to avoid the traditional dependency on overseas development assistance and donors, the initiative should actively cultivate new forms of funding. Some sources that could be actively cultivated include inter alia regular continent based and diaspora individual giving, organisational subscriptions and centre block bookings, endowment contributions from wealthy, progressive individuals and African Foundations, crowdfunding among others.
By way of next steps, the African Civil Society Initiative should translate this declaration, hold online consultations (where possible face to face consultations) and map further the communities and constituencies that this initiative should focus on before framing the strategy.