CSOs Can Expect a Struggle at Busan

Posted on 29 November 2011 by admin

By Miriam Gathigah

BUSAN, Nov 29 (IPS) – Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from around the world attending the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in this South Korean port city have a rare opportunity to be on equal footing with governments and donors in a global conference.

Busan CSO session

Busan CSO session. Credit Miriam Gathigah

This sense of being not just activists for change in aid effectiveness but development partners in their own right is palpable as the Nov. 26-28 Open Forum for Civil Society gives way to the three-day HLF-4, starting Tuesday.

“Often, governments try to limit their interactions with CSOs as much as they can and when they do interact, it’s often in an aggressive and antagonistic manner,” said Ken Ofula, a Kenyan political activist.

“Stories from across Africa of CSO people being harassed and their human rights violated for taking a stand that is contrary to the government of the day are rife,” Ofula said.

Recently in Uganda, the world witnessed gross human rights violations when the government released its police force to rain terror on those demanding that the government reduces the spiralling inflation rate which has continued to increase the cost of living.

Similarly, in Zimbabwe, citizens are expected to toe the line and not question the government of the day even as the hyperinflation rate leaves little to be remembered of a country that used to be Africa’s bread basket.

The ongoing crisis in the Arab world is also a clear indication of the extreme measures that people will take when no longer willing to tolerate human rights abuses.

This discontent in the developing world requires a voice of reason to ensure that the government is monitored before the situation gets out of control. And this is where the CSOs come in.

Constantly in touch with the grassroots people, in a manner that eludes donors or governments, they understand the need to place human rights at the heart of development. They see the impact of poverty in people’s lives on a daily basis.

“We elect the politicians who disappear until the next general election. Meanwhile, the only people who make a noise about the problems that ordinary people face are the CSOs,” Ofula explains.

It is for this reason that CSOs in many African countries continue to fight to ensure that governments give aid a human face and that there is a strong connection between economic, social and political rights.

“Development should be measured against human development. CSOs have been at the forefront to ensure that when donors want to engage with their respective countries, then they have to engage with the people. They have to be accountable to the people who receive their money,” explains Carolyn Long of InterAction.

Long, who is also a member of the BetterAid Forum, says that enabling people to be involved in making decisions on how aid is spent “allows people to be in control of their destiny and they must be allowed to do so in dignity.”

Says Meja Vitalice, a policy analyst with Reality of Aid Africa, “Governments are still reluctant to democratise funding. The financial system is not structured towards management of aid for results. Consequently, governments only account to donors.

“We need a multiple accounting system where governments can also account to their people. Even donors with direct projects in Africa don’t account to anybody,” Vitalice said

Long says that since the 1996 United Nations declaration on rights to development, many governments have committed to giving development a human face, but this is yet to be seen.

Therefore, the role of the CSOs is to agitate and negotiate for a paradigm shift in the way aid is received and spent. But this can only happen in a significant way if the five demands that they brought to the Busan summit are approved.

“They include: human rights approach to development, enabling environment that allows them room to raise funds, express themselves and also freely associate with each other. There is also a demand on the vision or role of the private sector in development, inclusive growth as well as the post-Busan architecture,” Emily Duituturaga of the Open Forum explains.

Unfortunately, the demand for an enabling environment has been rejected.

“The Busan summit cannot demand of governments to implement any laws,” says Antonio Tujan, who was part of the team pushing for these demands to be part of the Busan outcome.

This comes as a major blow to the CSOs who now more than ever need to be bolder to stand up against political regimes, and also donors who have little regard for human rights in development.

IPS thanks Better Aid, the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, OECD and U.N. Women for their support.

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