CHOGM 2022: Citizens Decry the Shrinking Civic Space, Violations of Human Rights and Freedoms in Commonwealth Africa

CHOGM 2022: Citizens Decry the Shrinking Civic Space, Violations of Human Rights and Freedoms in Commonwealth Africa

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[23 June 2022] Over 70 African citizens held a dialogue to address the shrinking civic space and violations of human rights and freedoms in Commonwealth Africa during the Commonwealth People’s Forum held at the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda.  

The virtual event which was co-organised by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), CIVICUS, International Centre for Non-Profit Law and Network of Women Leaders for Development under the theme: “Shrinking civic space and freedoms in Commonwealth Africa: a deliberate silence, feigned ignorance, or indifference?”, brought together civil society actors, human rights activists, and civic space advocates from diverse backgrounds and commonwealth countries.    

Speaking at the event, Dr. Anne T. Gallagher, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation urged civil actors and organistations to consciously carry the principles and ideals of the Commonwealth Charter forward in their quest for a free and open civic environment. She said the Charter already has significant provisions to support human rights and freedom of expression.  

In her words, “the Commonwealth Charter is an anchor which professed commitment towards promoting human rights, freedom of expression and democratic societies in Commonwealth member states.” 

Dr. Gallagher noted that the dialogue was strategic and timely at a time when civic space restriction and human rights and freedoms violations continued to be a major concern in Commonwealth Africa.  

She however admonished civil society to intensify efforts to reclaim civic space by exercising their rights as recognised  in the Commonwealth Charter, and never give up their power regardless of the struggle.  

Closing her presentation, Dr. Gallager reaffirmed the foundation’s commitment towards advancing the interest of civil societies to make them more resilient in pursuing their effort to reclaim civic space, especially because human rights and freedom of expression remain a key area of focus of the Foundation strategy. 

In her presentation, Nana Afadzinu, Executive Director, WACSI recounted the unprecedented wave of democratic decline and retrogression being witnessed in the region and how it further impacted the work and space in which civil society operates. 

According to her, “West Africa has enjoyed progressive democratic growth since the 1990s with practices such as open, free, and fair electoral systems, promotion of civil liberties, increased multiparty political system amongst others.  

However, the past few years and indeed, recent times, has witnessed several states backsliding in this democratic journey.” 

Citing the 2021 Freedom House report, “22 African countries suffered decline in democracy and out of the twelve largest declines globally, West Africa had five – Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea and Mali with Nigeria being a Commonwealth member,” she said. 

Afadzinu added that recent years have witnessed violations of political rights and civil liberties including numerous incidences of police brutalities, growing citizen protests and agitations, internet shutdown, coup d’états, fast shrinking civic space and restrictive cyberspace among others in the region.  

She said many civil society actors, activists and human right defenders have been brutalised and arbitrarily arrested in their quest to mobilise people against States oppression or even hold government accountable.  

She added that, the decline in sources of funding, constantly shifting donor priorities coupled with the adverse effect of COVID-19 further exposed the fragilities of many civil society organisations (CSOs) and impeded their efforts to establish dynamic institutions with strong governance, accountability, and civic leadership.  

Closing her submissions, she reiterated the importance of constant tactical space for CSOs to engage governments to bring about change, through different entry points including leveraging the various arms of governments 

She also urged the Commonwealth Foundation to exert more peer pressure and implored the secretariat to lay out sanctions or punitive measures to deal with Commonwealth member states who are non-conformists to the principles of the Commonwealth to promote civil liberties, human rights, and freedoms.   

Madi Jobarteh, Country Representative of Westminster Foundation for Democracy, The Gambia, bemoaned new acts and laws being enacted by some governments which he said seemed to place limitations on citizens’ rights and freedoms. This he added shakes the foundation of every strong democracy.  

Jobarteh explained that the past few years have seen governments across the Commonwealth African states passing new laws on areas such as anti-money laundering and counterterrorism which in most cases contradicted and curtailed the very constitutional provisions on human rights, freedoms of expression and assembly fashioned by same states. 

On her part, Adenike Aloba, Programme Director and Managing Editor, Dataphyte, Nigeria urged media and CSOs to tell stories about their struggle, frustrations and how violations of their rights and freedoms posed threats to the democratic impetus of their societies in ways that connect easily with the people.  

She indicated that to reclaim the civic space, there was the need for “multiplicity of strategies” and collaboration between CSOs across the region to build a stronger force.  

Saril Tripathi, Senior Advisor, Institute for Human Rights and Business posited that there was the need to transform the shrinking civic space to “a shared civic space” where CSOs could build relationships with the private sector and leverage same to propel their mandates. 

Muthoki Mumo, Representative for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists, Kenya emphasised the crucial role media played in reclaiming civic space and ensuring public interests, rights and freedoms were protected.  

However, she decried the brutalities and human rights infringement journalists in the region continued to suffer including arbitrary arrests, physical attacks on journalists and attacks on media houses. 

She urged governments of the Commonwealth African states to “stop harassing their employees who work in the state media” and protect their freedoms of expression and rights of access to information which are fundamental to democracy.  

Mumo added that one of the best ways the state media could play its role objectively was to shift from being “government media” to “public media” so that their focus would be on pursuing public interest and holding government accountable. 

Yona Wanjala, the Executive Director of Defenders Protection Initiative, Uganda, opined that international bodies that made Anti-Money Laundering and Counter terrorism laws architecture be held accountable adding that “there is the need to assess the risks” and application of these laws as some of them posed threats to open civic space.   

Over 70 people from the world, especially from Commonwealth Africa participated in the webinar which was moderated by Dr. Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa Lead, CIVICUS, South Africa.  

The webinar generated a communique to be submitted to the CHOGM, Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth Foundation, national government, agencies, opinion shapers, media, and the public. 

Click on this link to access the full video of the dialogue.  

 

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FIIFI BOATENG

Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.

NANCY KANKAM KUSI

Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.

AGNES ADWOA ANIMA

Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.

DORIS ODEI

Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.

PRINCE AKOWUAH

Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

MAXWELL APENTENG

Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.

GEORGE ADU-MINTAH

George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.

IBRAHIM KWAKU GBADAGO

Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

RUTH YAKANA

Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

BETHEL KWAME BOATENG

Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.

WHITNAY SEGNONNA

Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.

STELLA YAWA WOWOUI

Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.

KWAME ASANTE

Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.

GRACE AKPENE ZIGGAH

Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.

LILLIAN DAFEAMEKPOR

Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

JOHN P. FRINJUAH

John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.

GERVIN CHANASE

Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.

LEANDRE BANON

Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.

SAMUEL APPIAH

Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.

JIMM CHICK FOMUNJONG

Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.

FRANCK A. SOMBO

Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.

OMOLARA T. BALOGUN

Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.

KWABENA KRODUAH

Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.

CHARLES KOJO VANDYCK

Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.

NANA ASANTEWA AFADZINU

Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.