Civil society bodies vital to development

Trade law centre for Southern Africa, April 29, 2011

By Fredrick Njehu

Civil society organisations, popularly known as the fourth estate, have been known to play a very significant role in our societies economically, socially and politically.

Most of these organisations have been very instrumental in changing the face of the world. As much as they may not be as well resourced as their counterparts in the state and private sector, they have been known to utilise the few resources at their disposal to make a significant contribution to the society.

The majority of their activities have been informed by evidence based research and analyses which have been used widely to complement other stakeholders’ efforts, such as the state, and influence policy at high levels. It’s worth noting that some of their actions have impacted positively on the outcome of policy adoption and implementation.

In Africa, for instance, they have been actively engaged in campaigns and interventions to fight poverty, fostering equity, accountability and transparency, defending human rights violations, improving governance to protect citizens as well as consumers in general, and played a splendid role in complementing private business practices.

They have established networks, coalitions, and groups in order to drive their lobby and advocacy activities. They have been instrumental to the development of a critical mass of knowledgeable and empowered groups by fostering their confidence and capacity in articulating grassroots needs.

Over decades, they have continually lobbied in different global platforms, such as the Copenhagen climate change talks, series of WTO negotiations, United nations MDG Campaigns, EU Economic partnership agreements, EAC-ACP Cotonou agreement, establishment of various regional blocs in Africa including EAC, ECOWAS, SADC and COMESA, launch of various declarations such as the Abuja, Accra, Arusha, Addis Ababa and Maputo treaties, to mention but a few.

There is need for the civil society and government to embrace the responsibility of mutual existence, create a holistic legal mechanism of engagement, harmonising their activities and play a more complementary role in order to have a more positive impact in their respective activities. Civil society organisations can ensure that they utilise the policy space accorded to them in the best way possible. This will ensure effective execution of their mandate in a very benevolent manner.

Njehu is a trade analyst, CUTS International, Nairobi.

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