[Dakar – 22 July 2022] Leaders of organised civil society and drivers of social movements across West Africa held a three-day workshop in Dakar, Senegal, to design a transformative strategy that will help drive effective policy engagement and empower citizens to build a resilient civic space in the region.
The group explored extensively dynamics of the shrinking and restrictive nature of civic space, constraints of organic entities (social movements), emerging issues—especially in the Sahel region and citizens efforts to pushback these restrictions in an unstable and post-pandemic West Africa.
Convened by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) and Oxfam regional office in West Africa, the workshop which commenced on 19 July 2022 created a tactical platform for participants to reflect and discuss on collaborative strategies to leverage the strengths and strengthen accountability mechanisms for social movements and organised civil society.
The actors used the opportunity to identify, share, learn and explore potential mechanisms aimed at enhancing the social movements’ ability to mobilise resources from traditional donor by meeting basic donor requirements for grantmaking and reporting, without necessarily transitioning to an NGO in any form or format.
The Acting Director of Oxfam Senegal, Zeinabou Coulibaly, in an opening remark emphasised the importance of the convening. According to her, “it was crucial and timely for Senegal, at a time the country needed a unified front to drive citzens’ collective mandates ahead of the forthcoming general elections.”
She expressed confidence that the outcome of the workshop would revigorate the needed solidarity to pushback degrees of state’ restrictions on civic space and citizens organising.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event to Senegal-based WALF TV, Omolara Balogun, Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy, WACSI reiterated the timeliness of the convening. She recounted that the past few years had seen a resurgence of new set of actors such as social movements, online/social media activists, ‘democratives’ (activists in the creative world) in civic space.
She said the impact of these new actors had been significantly felt in countries such as the Gambia, Burkina Faso, Guinea (Conakry), Mali, Senegal, and Nigeria where they acted swiftly to safeguard democracy and demand for accountable governance using street protests, rallies, technology and social media to mobilise and call public attention to several social, political and economic challenges.
She said, “social movements have become a powerful force in the quest for democratic consolidation and social justice across West Africa”. While emphasising the importance of a workshop like this at a time where the region was grappling with democratic instability and witnessing a comeback of autocratic regimes, she indicated that the dialogue sought to glavanise practical ideas to foster collaborative approach for open civic space in the region.
Balogun affirmed WACSI’s commitment and readiness to support organic groupings (social movements) in their bid to restructure and be better placed to drive their mandates. She indicated that the outcomes from the event will be documented to serve as a pool of knowledge that will provide hands-on information to activists in the region.
More than 40 leaders from organised CSOs, social movements, international non-government organisations and donor institutions across the region attended the workshop. They expressed confidence in the outcome of the workshop and indicated their readiness to apply the lessons learnt.
Oyebisi Oluseyi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) believed the workshop had built on the knowledge of social movements leaders who participated. He challenged social movements to shift from “emotional and overly sentimental activism, towards evidence-based activism, because government do not work based on sentiments but with evidence.”
Fatou Sy, a Political and Governance Progamme Associate at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa said the organisation was resolute to support the civic space in the region especially towards removing persisting restrictions to the freedoms of activists, human rights defenders, and civil society advocates.
She said the institution was ready to provide long term funding to support organic activism. However, it was prudent for organic movements to put in place mechanisms to facilitate accountability, transparency, donor funding and reporting.
The workshop ended on high note on 21 July 2022 with closing remarks from partners Oxfam and WACSI, where Omolara Balogun, WACSI, assured participants of accelerating the deployment of an advocacy capacity building programme designed for social movement in West Africa.