COVID-19: WACSI Offers A Platform to Exchange Experiences and Recommendations on Civic Space for CSOs

COVID-19: WACSI Offers A Platform to Exchange Experiences and Recommendations on Civic Space for CSOs

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Most West African states recognise civil liberties in their legislation as an essential component of a strong and resilient democracy. However, in practice, West African states have been increasingly restricting freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, in turn reducing civil society’s capacity to act. Indeed, according to CIVICUS, today 88,9% of the West African population lives in repressed or obstructed civic spaces.

On the other hand, in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, West African states have closed their borders, established curfews and instituted rules of social distancing. However, these health measures have been criticised by civil society organisations (CSOs) on the grounds that they often have not been subjected to democratic debate and parliamentary oversight, and that they could be used as a pretext for these states to abuse their power.

In this context, on April 30, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) organised a one-and-a-half-hour webinar in partnership with CIVICUS and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network to provide an overview of the most common restrictions faced by protest movements, journalists and CSOs in West Africa.

The event informed the 55 participants from the West African civil society sector about the results of the new global report developed by the CIVICUS Monitor on the state of civil liberties in West Africa and the world. According to the report, in 2019, only 3% of the world’s population lives in a country where civic space is considered open. If 2019 was a year of protests and demonstrations, it also faced significant setbacks for civic space. More specifically, in Africa, the dispersal of demonstrations has been identified as the main violation of civil liberties, explained Ine Van Severen, the researcher at CIVICUS Monitor. Other main violations of civil liberties include arrests during demonstrations, censorship, among which are cutting off access to the Internet and social networks, and attacks on journalists.

Through a panel of 5 experts from civil society in West Africa, the webinar consisted of a knowledge and experience sharing platform around civic space in West Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Guinea. According to Nahounou Daleba, Vice National Coordinator for Human Rights and Relations with CSOs of the “Coalition of the Indignants of Côte d’Ivoire” (Coalition des Indignés de Côte d’Ivoire), in the run-up to the Ivorian elections scheduled for October 2020, there have been significant restrictions on civic space. Among the many arrests of civil society actors, trade unionists, journalists, cyber-activists and political opponents in 2019, he cited the case of journalist Hubert Yao Konan, detained since 4 August 2019 in the Bouaké prison for organising a demonstration against the opening of a gold mine in N’Ka, in the central-eastern part of the country.

A statement that was also shared by Pierre-Claver Akolly Dekpoh, Head of the Promotion and Fundraising Programmes at the West African Human Rights Defenders Network, who noted that in Togo, restrictions on civil liberties have been in place at least since 2017 but have intensified in 2019. According to him, while the Togolese regulatory framework theoretically guarantees civil liberties, it is the implementation of these liberties that raises issues. For example, in Togo, there exists a law that recognises freedom of demonstration. However, it has recently been amended without consultation with civil society actors, which has led to strong criticism by human rights defenders at the local, regional and international levels, including four UN international rapporteurs.

For his part, Sékou Doré, National Coordinator of the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse de Guinée (RAJGUI) pointed out the double standard that prevails regarding the treatment by the state of organisations that support the government and those in the opposition. On the one hand, political parties and civil society that support the ruling power are always allowed to organise rallies or demonstrations. But on the other hand, peaceful marches organised by the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (“Front National pour la Défense de la Constitution in French”, FNDC) have been constantly banned and repressed in blood.

These restrictions on civic space are further amplified during the epidemic and prevent civil society from carrying out their activities, argued Clément Voulé, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association. He also criticised the lack of prior consultation with civil society on holding elections during the pandemic and the unilateral decision to postpone them in several West African countries. He thus called on CSOs to continue to exercise their role by sharing information about their activities and by reporting restrictions on civic space with the UN Special Rapporteur (the link to submit information to the Rapporteur is available here).

Faced with these challenges, according to Christian Elongue, Program Officer in the Knowledge Management Department at WACSI, West African CSOs need to be better prepared for violations of civil liberties in West Africa. According to him, it is fundamental that these CSOs strengthen their resilience by developing and implementing proactive strategies to prepare for future crises. He thus encouraged CSOs to strengthen their financial and organisational sustainability, through the establishment of a reserve budget, intelligent use of digital activism, or the creation of broad and inclusive alliances and partnerships. To learn more about recommendations to CSOs to protect civic space, please read our Op-Ed here.

The informative and interactive nature of the webinar was highly appreciated by the participants, with 67% of them expressing satisfaction with the training. According to one participant, the training “allowed us to see the situation in our countries in relation to civil liberty, and also to get to know better the organisations and movements defending rights and civil liberty in our countries”. One participant also highlighted the event’s relevance to the current context: “All the interventions are topical in view of the current situation due to the measures that our governments are taking to limit the spread of COVID-19″.

The active engagement for an open civic space in West Africa of all the actors gathered on this platform demonstrates once again the essential contribution of civil society to democratic vitality. Through their various remarks, the participants promoted the need, especially in times of crisis, for civil society participation in the management of public affairs, through several proposals: more citizen control of resources allocated to the management of the pandemic, more thorough monitoring of government measures taken in relation to COVID and the implementation of effective strategies to address the challenges posed by the limitations of civic space, to name only a few of the fruitful recommendations of these civil society actors.

About the author

Yse Auque-Pallez holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences and Philosophy from Sciences Po Paris and La Sorbonne Paris IV since 2018, she is a Second Year Master's degree student in International Development with African Studies and Project Management Majors at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA - Sciences Po).


Yse Auque-Pallez

Yse Auque-Pallez holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences and Philosophy from Sciences Po Paris and La Sorbonne Paris IV since 2018, she is a Second Year Master's degree student in International Development with African Studies and Project Management Majors at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA - Sciences Po).

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


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


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


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 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 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 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.


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 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 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, 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 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, 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 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 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 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 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 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.