[Accra, Ghana] 24 November 2021 — The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) held a half-day dialogue on civil society contributions to national development and efforts towards rebuilding better the Ghanaian society post the COVID-19 pandemic.
The incursion of COVID-19 into the country since March 2020 stalled many important national activities, processes, and impacted many livelihoods. Although, civil society has made significant effort in responding to COVID-19 and towards rebuilding the society devasted by the pandemic, it is widely acknowledged that civil society contributions to national development and post pandemic recovery have not been well highlighted. And the impacts of the pandemic will linger without the concerted efforts of all stakeholders – of which civil society is key. It is within this context that WACSI commissioned research that assessed the contributions of civil society organizations (CSOs) to national development and particularly to overall COVID-19 responses and post-pandemic recovery efforts.
The dialogue therefore provided the opportunity for the presentation and validation of the research finding as well as enrich and complement the findings through in-depth commentary by civil society actors present on the role of CSOs to national development, efforts at rebuilding society post the pandemic, current challenges, and opportunities for civil society to play its role as a vital force in bringing Ghana out of the pandemic crisis and into a desired future. The dialogue was moderated by Omolara Balogun, Head, Policy Influencing and Advocacy Unit, WACSI, and featured distinguished representatives of Ghanaian civil society, including Beauty Emefa Narteh, Executive Secretary, Ghana Anti-corruption Coalition (GACC); Mohammed Awal, Senior Researcher, CDD-Ghana; and Mary Awalena Addah, Program Manager, Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) as panelists.
Below are the key highlights of the research:
- CSOs in Ghana have been instrumental actors in consolidating democratic governance, policy advocacy and influencing in addition to poverty reduction and service delivery.
- With regards to policy influencing, CSOs have become influential policy entrepreneurs in shaping government’s policy formulation and implementation.
- CSOs have also been active actors in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through awareness raising and education, advocating for the rights of citizens and ensuring government’s accountability and transparency.
- The COVID-19 pandemic will not significantly alter the relationship between government and CSOs post COVID-19. At the moment, their relationship is characterised by superficial cordiality and antagonism especially when CSOs criticise the government.
- CSOs’ contribution to national development and ability to contribute to building back better post the pandemic is hindered by lack of access to information, perceived shrinking civic space, limited funding and lack of credibility and apathy by citizens.
Both speakers and participants made important recommendations to rebuild better after COVID 19. These recommendations include the following:
- The need to generate evidence and data – both national andgrassroots data to showcase the contributions of civil society. Data should not only be provided by big organizations like Afrobarometer, CDD-Ghana, and others. To rebuild better post the pandemic, there is a need for data on the work organizations are doing at various levels that allows citizens and key national stakeholders to have a clear picture of the contributions of the third sector.
- Further, relating to data collation, big organizations suchas WACSI should support local-based and grassroots organizations to build their legitimacy and credibility through quality evidence generation and use.
- Within Ghana, grassroots capacity exchanges and experiences are increasingly important. And there is the need therefore to ‘shift power’ within country from national-based organizations to local-based organizations akin to the global efforts championed by organizations like WACSI and its partners to shiftpower from the global North to South non-governmental organisations. National-based organizations must collaborate with local partners at the district/local level and ensure that power and resources are sharedto enable local and grassroots organizations to effectively execute their mandate at the local level.
- It is important that civil society pays attention to its own accountability. CSOs musthold themselves accountable and to their beneficiaries instead of just the traditional form of accountability where CSOs are only accountable to donors.
- CSOs need to strengthen their engagement with government on local governance reformsand improving services delivery capacities at the local level
- CSOs must be proactive and adopttechnology to better deliver on their mandate. The outbreak of COVID-19 has made the adoption of technology a necessity as far as the survival and continuous impact of civil society are concerned.
- CSOs must amplify their advocacy around COVID-19 responses and national efforts at building back society from the devastation of the pandemic
- There is a need for meaningful engagement of CSOs in the post COVID processes.CSOs must effectively coalesce and mobilize for an effective role in national development and post COVID-19 recovery. There is a need to present as a united front on national issues that impact citizens
- CSOs need to re-strategizeanti-corruption actions around COVID-19 responses and recovery efforts given that corruption is heightened during emergency periods.
The dialogue concluded with the clarion call to all CSOs strengthen the way they engage on their commitments to citizens and to their mandate in order to contribute effectively to rebuilding better society. And WACSI is committed to supporting the third sector in the process.