An enabling environment is key for civil society sustainability. However, across the globe, there have been growing concerns of threats to civil society sustainability due to the dearth of or non-compliance of laws that ensure an open, functional and civic space. For instance, in Ghana, the proposed non-governmental organisation Bill (NGO Bill) has raised a lot of concerns among civil society in the country. The Bill, which is set to be passed by July 2020, was drafted with little consultation and input of the Ghanaian civil society and many fear that it may further restrict Ghana’s civic space, curtail donor-funding and create a less than favourable environment for civil society to thrive.
It is against this backdrop and in line with its 2018-2022 strategic plan that the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in partnership with African Philanthropy Network (APN), commissioned research to rapidly assess the existing legal environment for civil society organisations (CSOs) and philanthropy in Ghana. This research, which was conducted by Mr Edem Senanu, an expert management and development consultant, sought to examine and review relevant Ghanaian laws and policies that aim to regulate CSOs and philanthropy, find out its efficiencies, weaknesses and gaps that have necessitated a new bill for NGOs in the country.
Following this research, WACSI organised a-day workshop to validate the research findings and collate inputs from broad stakeholders to further enhance the assessment report. The workshop, which held on 27 February 2020, saw a gathering of more than 40 participants representing different CSOs including NGOs, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) platforms, networks and the media. This rich mix of civil society stakeholders brought to bear the extensive and diverse experience of Ghana’s legal environment and how it directly affects civil society sustainability and philanthropy operations.
The highlight of the workshop included the presentation of the assessment findings by the lead researcher, Mr Edem Senanu. According to him, the approaches adopted during the assessment included desktop research, literature review of several national and international legal documents; interviewing of key informants, few focus group discussions, among others. His presentation also revealed that civil society sustainability was heavily reliant on the legal framework for CSOs in the country. “It is clear that our ability to access funds whether local or international have a lot to do with the legal framework that exists”.
Mr Senanu emphasised. He submitted that Ghana is yet to pass a bill to regulate civil society as a sector, though the country is a signatory to international treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR). Thus, indicating that the lack of a national law regulating CSOs does not necessarily indicate the lack of a legal environment for CSOs.
In addition, the report declared that the Ghanaian civic space is not closed but rather repressed due to lack of enabling environment for civil society to thrive, which has over the years been fuelled by cumbersome and expensive registration processes; a lack of a favourable legal framework, a lack of a national, legally-recognised CSO and philanthropy platform for self-regulation; among others. Therefore, an introduction of a new Bill to regulate the operations of the sector without the input of stakeholders is a move that could only further repress Ghana’s civic space.
Participants of the workshop expressed satisfaction with this initiative. They particularly appreciated the fact that the assessment filled gaps on relevant data on the legal framework and highlighted the contemporary challenges confronting the sector. The stakeholders gave feedback on relevant areas to improve in order to finalise the report. One major point discussed during the validation exercise is the glaring scarcity of documented data on philanthropy operations and impact in Ghana.
This according to Nana Asantewa Afadzinu, Executive Director, WACSI, could be because, “a majority of CSOs and philanthropic organisations operate in an uncoordinated manner, due to the lack of an umbrella body, as well as unhealthy competition within the sector”. The participants echoed the urgent need for Ghana’s civil society to work on consolidating its efforts to increase impact in the lives of Ghanaians; in order to have the confidence to leverage on the power of the people when engaging government for a more progressive, effective and enabling environment to thrive.
Closing the workshop, Dr Stigmata Tenga, Executive Director of APN, noted that repressive laws in civil society is a trend across the African continent, and pledged APN’s dedication to advocating for civil society and philanthropy in Africa.