civic space

 

  • With mentoring and incentives, CSOs venture into raising key resources and support at home

    FRENCH

    By Yessenia Soto, Community Engagement Officer on Civil Society Resourcing, CIVICUS

    The Change the Game Academy provides classroom training on local fundraising to CSOs.

    It’s something that many in the development and civil society sector have been painfully aware of for several years now. But the reality is hitting home harder than ever.

    Official Development Assistance (ODA) – government aid designed primarily to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries – is steadily decreasing. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently announced that ODA fell almost 3% from 2017, with even larger reductions for developing countries. As foreign aid has long been a significant source of funding for southern CSOs, this news reminds us that civil society can’t rely on it in the long term, so, those who haven’t started diversifying their resource base, should do it now.

    “There will be an end to foreign funding, at least as we now know it,” said Robert Wiggers, manager of programs and policy development at the Dutch Wilde Ganzen Foundation (WGF), during one of several panels about the financial sustainability of civil society held at the International Civil Society Week convened in Serbia from April 8-12. At ICSW, various organizations shared why and, most importantly, how CSOs can leverage more support, money and other resources in their own countries and communities to face financial pressures and gradually lessen dependence on ODA and other foreign aid.

    “This is more than a funding alternative, highlighted Wiggers. “CSOs that mobilise their own resources locally get closer to their communities and the people they serve, gain independence from donors, have more control of their own development and feel even more empowered to hold their governments accountable.”

    There is a wide consensus about the power of local resources to boost the financial sustainability, legitimacy, ownership and independence of CSOs. Even in a world with endless supplies of international assistance, weaning civil society off it should be the goal. But how can a small community organisation or one that has always relied on foreign aid start fundraising “at home” and on their own?

    Agencies, associations, and foundations like the WGF are providing special training, mentoring sessions, online learning platforms, campaigning support and even dedicated grants to prepare CSOs for this journey. And the results are encouraging.

    For example, the WGF partnered with the Smile Foundation from India, the Kenya Development Foundation and Brazil’s CESE, to create the Change the Game Academy, an innovative blended-learning program specially designed for civil society organisations that provides both online and classroom training on local fundraising, lobby and advocacy to hold governments and duty bearers accountable through civic participation.

    The classroom training is delivered in a total of six months by local certified trainers. It includes individual coaching sessions to implement a fundraising plan and uses materials adapted to country contexts. The online platform contains 11 interactive modules of e-learning available in four languages, plus 40 toolkits and 88 inspiring success stories, all freely accessible and free of charge.  

    More than 800 small NGOs and community based organisations have been trained through the Change the Game Academy in fourteen low- and middle-income countries. They intend to implement this initiative in four more countries this year.

    In the Balkans, there is a similar initiative called the Sustainability Academy, created by the SIGN Network, a group of indigenous grantmakers who support the sustainable development of local communities and civil society. This academy focuses mostly on CSOs at a grassroots level, which have an annual budget of less than 10,000 euros, on average.

    Their training program covers strategic planning, financial sustainability, networking, local fundraising techniques and campaign development, and is delivered in three modules over six months. At the end of the third module, the organisations receive small technical grants to implement their fundraising campaigns for four to six months. When the campaign is over and they meet their goal, the SIGN Network provides 100% matching grants.

    “We have had very successful examples where, through our training and accompaniment, small organisations managed to fundraise even half of their annual budget and developed relationships with many local donors,” said Biljana Dakic, director of the Trag Foundation, a SIGN network member. “And most of them consolidated their causes and work in their communities, which brings invaluable support.”

    Since 2014, the Sustainability Academy has supported over 100 CSOs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.

    CISU - Civil Society in Development, an association of Danish CSOs with members engaged in development work in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is also providing knowledge, training tools and assistance for local resource mobilisation in these regions. Additionally, they offer a co-funding modality through which the local CSOs can access 4-year grants if they leverage a small percentage of the total grant, explained Souad Bourrid, advisor at CISU.

    Together, these opportunities have been key to reducing the initial resistance and fear that keep some organisations from exploring and testing new resourcing avenues.

    “Many organisations still think that the only way to get funds is applying for donor grants. So, when we approach them about leveraging local support, they are skeptic and don’t believe is possible. But those who receive the training and try it, see how many more doors open to them and end up very thankful for the push,” emphasized Bourrid.

    Besides strengthening skills, many civil society networks and coalitions (including CIVICUS) around the world are also advocating the need to create or improve other crucial conditions for facilitating the mobilisation of domestic resources for civil society, including legal frameworks and incentives for local philanthropy, establishing alliances with the public and private sector, and promoting policies to support the financial sustainability of CSOs.

     

  • Women’s bodies are the battleground for civil liberties

    By Teldah Mawarire and Sara Brandt

    Around the world, civic spaces are shrinking. In many countries, activists are under threat as governments increasingly use the law and violence as tools of oppression, according to a new report. For women human rights defenders, this means their bodies have become the battleground on which the fight for civil liberties is being waged.

    Read on:Mail and Guardian: Bhekisisa

     

     

  • Worldwide attack on rights: over three billion people living in countries where civic freedoms are violated

    French | Spanish

    • Global impact laid bare by the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online research tool that rates civic space around the world and documents violations of rights
    • Governments shutting down civic space and shutting up dissenting voices

    Johannesburg, 24 October 2016 –More than three billion people live in countries where the rights to protest, organize and speak out are currently being violated according to the CIVICUS Monitor, the first-ever online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

    The new tool, launched in beta today by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, rates countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

     

  • Worrying legislation to restrict Nigerian civil society sector underway

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) are deeply concerned about impending legislation to restrict freedom of association in Nigeria.

    Nigeria’s National Assembly is currently considering a bill to provide for “the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations etc. in Nigeria and for related matters.” First introduced in July 2016, the bill has since passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill has now been referred to the Committee on CSOs and Development Partners for further legislative input.

    “The bill is in conflict with Nigeria’s Constitutional and international law obligations,” says Oyebisi Oluseyi, Executive Director of NNNGO. “We must instead strengthen civic space in Nigeria, as our sector’s role in finding solutions to the enormous challenges facing our nation cannot be overemphasized”.

     

  • ZAMBIA: ‘Electoral practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region’

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS speaks to McDonald Chipenzi, Executive Director of the Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative and Chair of the NGO Council in Zambia, about the state of civic space ahead of the crucial general election being held on 12 August 2021.

    What is the state of civic space and media freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The civic and media space in Zambia remains fragile and has been shrinking due to legal restrictions. This has now been compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and newly crafted rules and guidelines that have heightened restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This has led to ineffective citizens’ participation in national affairs.

    COVID-19 rules and guidelines have compounded the already delicate and restricted state of the civic, media and political space in Zambia. These restrictions are the result of the selective application of archaic legislation such as the Public Order Act of 1955 and newly enacted laws such as the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act of 2021, which is aimed at intercepting, monitoring and interfering with citizens’ conversations, correspondence and communications, even without a court order or warrant. This new law, viewed as aimed at shrinking virtual civic space, has instilled fear in citizens, deterring them from effectively engaging online. As a result, many have opted to remain silent or opted out of online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

    The media space also remains intimidated, harassed and cowed as a result of restrictive laws and the actions of ruling elites. The closure of Prime TV, a private television station, in March 2021, sent a chilling wave through the media community. Most of them now fear hosting critical voices and opposition leaders. They fear losing government advertising and other business opportunities. Those associated with the powers that be also distance themselves from those media houses giving platforms to critical voices.

    What are the main concerns of civil society in the lead up to the elections?

    Civil society’s main concern is the security of all stakeholders, as the police are not committed to providing security to all. The police have been reluctant to deal with the violence perpetuated by ruling party elites and have even been instrumental in it. The fear is that on election day, when some parties feel that they are losing in some polling stations, they may engage in disruptive activities to push for a re-vote, which may give them advantages. Another concern is the possibility of a shutdown of internet, mobile services and social media, especially after the vote, to try to black out results.

    A third concern is the COVID-19 pandemic, which was seen to have the potential to be spread by political parties had they held rallies. According to the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), rallies were seen as potential superspreading events for COVID-19, and therefore they recommended a ban. This mostly affected the opposition while ruling party officials were busy campaigning in the name of launching and inspecting developmental projects.

    Note that ECZ constituted a task force on COVID-19 to develop guidelines that was dominated by government institutions. Out of 14 institutions represented, nine were in government with only three spaces for the media, and two for civil society organisations in gender and water and sanitation. To prevent violence and keep violence under control if it happens, civil society is engaging with the police, encouraging them to be more professional and ethical, and with political parties to provide leadership to their cadres. 

    Regarding the possibility of a media and internet shutdown, civil society organisations have sent petitions to the President of the Republic to refrain from shutting down the internet or social media during and after the elections. For the purpose of this election, the GEARS Initiative developed what it termed as the “Ing’ombe Ilede strategy” to allow for the collection of election results in an event of an internet shutdown. A common place has been designated for constituency and provincial coordinators involved in the election to share their documents without needing to meet with each other. This strategy is borrowed from the old trade tactics at a place called Ing’ombe Ilede in the Gwembe Valley of Southern Province in Zambia. We feel this strategy will help navigate the possible internet shutdown, which the government has already signalled.

    How is polarisation increasing ahead of the election, and what are the election’s likely impacts on social and political division?

    The election has polarised the country as politicians from the ruling party are now using regionalism and tribalism to win votes from their perceived strongholds. The impact of this will be deep divisions after elections, especially if the ruling party now wins the elections as it will marginalise those they feel did not support them during the elections. Already, the groups or regions perceived as strongholds for the biggest opposition party have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of development and economic opportunities, including political positions in government.

    Employment and trading opportunities are also a preserve of those perceived to support the ruling party. Markets and bus stations are all in hands of ruling party supporters and not the councils. This has shrunk the civic space for many citizens who survive through trading in markets and bus stations as it has led to them adopting what they have termed the ‘watermelon strategy’, symbolic of a watermelon fruit which is green on the outside (the colour of the ruling party) and red on the inside (the colour of the opposition) in order to survive at these markets, bus stops, stations and taxi ranks. This situation may be escalated should the ruling party retain power.

    What is the state of the economy and how will this influence the choices of voters?

    The state of the Zambian economy is not pleasing but biting to many ordinary people. The local currency, the kwacha, has continued to depreciate against major convertible currencies. The cost of living has quadrupled and the cost of essential commodities is skyrocketing. The poor are barely managing to live while the ruling political elites are sleeping on top of money due to excessive corruption and abuse of state resources in the absence of controls and accountability. The poor eat in order to live rather than live in order to eat. This will have effect in the peri-urban areas of major cities like Lusaka and the Copperbelt towns.

    The rural population, on the other hand, may not be as badly affected by the state of the economy as most of them had harvested good crops during the past rainy seasons and further benefited from a scheme involving social cash transfers targeted at older and vulnerable people, which has now been converted into a campaign tool. In addition, rural voters tend to be conservative and vote for the traditional political parties preferred by their forefathers.

    Zambia has been known as a bastion of democracy in the region. What impact will this election have on democracy both in Zambia and the region?

    This election is key to the unfolding of a unique trend in the region on how elections can and will be handled. If it is handled very poorly and it results in chaos, it has potential to influence the region in a negative way, as the leaders of most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries tend to copy from each other. This being one of the few elections held in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic after Malawi’s landmark election, Zambia has an opportunity to show the region that it remains the bastion of democracy in SADC.

    However, the practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region. For instance, the cancellation of rallies and other campaign activities, mainly targeted against the opposition while the ruling party and public officials continue to run their campaigns, is a very bad lesson for democracy, fair competition and credible elections. The selective application of the electoral code of conduct by the electoral manager is also a very bad example for the region. Therefore, the region will have to cherry-pick the good lessons from the bad ones. However, most electoral institutions and political leaders are more inclined to cherry-pick the bad lessons and leave the good ones aside, since bad electoral practices benefit incumbents.

    What can regional and global civil society groups do to support Zambian civil society during this period of elections and after?

    Regional and global civil society have a larger role to play to ensure that peace prevails in Zambia and targeted intimidation and harassment of the civil society movement does not occur after elections. There is a need to keep a watchful eye over the post-election events, especially regarding manoeuvres to shrink civic space. With the election a few days away, on 9 August the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Amos Malupenga, issued a statement warning citizens that the government might shut down the internet ahead of the election, a direct threat to the enjoyment of citizens’ online freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression during and after the elections.

    The army and other defence forces besides the police have been deployed on the streets around the country on pretext of quelling any possible political and electoral violence, which can potentially be abused and undermine physical civic space. Therefore, physical and online civic and political space will constantly be under threat from the establishment during and after the elections, as it has been before.

    Civil society and critical media outlets are potential targets of post-election intimidation and harassment, hence the need for global and regional civil society to support civil society in Zambia with strategies to counter the reprisals that may be imposed on them by the state machinery after the elections. If the current government wins, its categorisation, marginalisation and discrimination of civil society organisations according to their real or perceived party affiliation will get worse after the elections.

    There will be need for solidarity strategies and legal funds to help those who may be incriminated and litigated against using archaic laws. There is need to continue challenging the existence of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Law, the Public Order Act and the NGO Act. To this end, regional and global civil society needs to support, defend, promote and protect the civic and media space in Zambia before, during and after the elections.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with GEARS through its Facebook page and follow @GearsZambia on Twitter.

     

  • Zambia: State of Emergency signifies worrying signs for civic space

    The declaration of State of Public Threatened Emergency in Zambia is a glaring indication of plans by the government to increase restrictions on civic space in an effort to consolidate the regime of President Edgar C Lungu, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambian Council for Social Development (ZCSD) noted today.