Promoting Good Governance and Democracy: Insights from the West Africa Civil Society Week

Promoting Good Governance and Democracy: Insights from the West Africa Civil Society Week

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The West Africa Civil Society Week which took place from 29 August to 31 August 2023 in Lagos, Nigeria brought together over 80 actors in the civil society ecosystem from Southern Africa, East Africa and predominantly from West Africa. The overall theme for the conference wasCivil Society in West Africa: reimagining the role of the third sector in protecting civic space and consolidating democracy for regional development’. The entire programme can be summarised in the opening words of Nana Asantewa Afadzinu, that “…we want democracy and good governance. We oppose coup d’états and prefer constitutional rule and good electoral governance…”. Undoubtedly, the engagements during the programme proved that this is what the peoples of Africa want: good governance that transcends into development. 

The conference dealt with critical issues the sub-region is battling with such as issues of security, democratic backsliding, technology and good governance, and the role of civil societies in all these. One of such thought-provoking discussions was on the ‘Shrinking Civic Space and Democratic Backsliding in West Africa: innovative actions from civil society and partners.’ Two views seemed interesting from the discussions: the views of Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh and Ms. Nnena Paul Ugochukwu. 

The selected topic for the discussion was a critical one that needed to be dealt with.  It has become obvious that issues of bad governance, insecurity, poverty, etc. have been reasons for the upsurge in coups in West Africa and across Africa as a whole. Yet, these has been described as an “unacceptable” excuse for coups. The argument is that human beings are not perfect and may poorly govern their people at some point. This is why there are elections and opposition parties waiting to replace the existing government. This was expressed in the views of Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh during the discussion as he explained that: 

“I don’t think a coup should be an accepted corrective for bad governance… Bad governance will happen… that’s why there are opposition parties waiting to replace you [the government] … This idea that because people have governed badly, a coup becomes acceptable is not an acceptable answer for me”.  

Even though Prof acknowledged that this is not to pardon the bad governance some countries are experiencing, it is important to note that citizens and governments have a social contract. This social contract allows citizens to offer part of their freedoms to the government, who is to ensure that citizens are protected, and is seeing to the welfare of the citizens according to the three contractualists, Thomas Hobbes J.J. Rousseau and John Locke’s conception of the social contract. In the view of Locke 

“The obligation to obey civil government under the social contract was conditional upon the protection of the natural rights of each person [right to life, liberty, and private property] … Sovereigns who violated these terms could be justifiably overthrown”.  

In this line of argument, it is the “obligation” of citizens to rebel against a government who fails to adhere to the terms of the contract, thus seeking the welfare of the people through their right to life, liberty or freedoms, and private property. Let me hasten to add, that this is not to justify the coups that have occurred based on the theoretical approach of Locke. It is to point out to governments that nothing should be taken for granted. They have a responsibility to execute, and they must do that to the satisfaction of the citizens in the country. This was echoed in Ms. Nnena Paul Ugochukwu’s statement during the discussion. She explained that: 

“The baseline of democracy is that this is a government for the people, by the people; if it is not people centric, then it cannot be democracy.”

This is to say that the focus of democracy is the people. Therefore, in all the activities of the government, the aim should be to improve the living conditions of the people. Bad governance occurs when the “people” variable is replaced with another variable. If features of good governance entail efficiency and effectiveness, participation, rule of law, transparency and accountability, responsiveness, etc. all of which focuses on satisfying the citizens, then the reverse is also true of bad governance. Bad governance therefore fails to take into consideration the wishes of the people. If the reiteration by Mr. Braimah Sulemana that “democracy dies in steps” is to be used, then bad governance is one major step to the death of democracy. 

Governments cannot be given even a little room to manoeuvre on the issue of bad governance. There should be zero tolerance for the term. This is why civil societies are paramount in democracies. They are to constantly remind governments of the social contract governments have with the citizens. Civil society groups cannot only be concerned about the processes in democracy. They cannot only seek to promote good governance by promoting democratic processes. But the results of such processes also matter. The results which have been seen as unsatisfactory hence sparking a lot of unrest on the African continent are to be faced head-on by civil society groups. 

This makes civil society’s role in promoting good governance crucial. It is true that governments cannot replace civil society groups and vice versa. These parties all perform distinct but interrelated roles to ensure citizens get what they bargained for. This calls for a strong collaboration between both parties.  

But aside the collaboration, Ms. Nnena Paul Ugochukwu pointed out the need to employ Artificial Intelligence to improve governance. Ms. Nnena argued that Information Technology has the potential to draw citizens closer to the governing process. She explained that 

“If this kind of system is brought into government, you can have conversations with your leaders in real time… This could help foster citizen engagement. 

Conversations on the use of technology to improve good governance is hence an area that governments will have to look at. Employing this, technology, can promote governments responsiveness, accountability and transparency, and draw citizens into the processes of government. When citizens feel part of the governance process, it increases legitimacy of the government and reduces the likelihood for coups to occur. 

Indeed, the West Africa Civil Society Week introduced critical discussions into sensitive areas. This is how it is supposed to be. The tough issues, sensitive issues and critical issues are what civil society groups need to be focusing on. This should be the direction of civil society groups in the sub-region. Such steps will put governments on their toes and citizens will breathe a sigh of comfort in the end. The lasting effect is that this will promote good governance and subsequently reduce the political unrest in West Africa and on the African continent.  

About the author

Patrick K. Adu

Patrick K. Adu is an EPL Fellow and an MPhil student from the University of Education, Winneba. He is a professional teacher who teaches Government and History at the Senior High School level. Patrick currently assists in research and information gathering at the Knowledge Management Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI).  

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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.