Strengthening Local Partners

ICNL values the expertise of our partners in Sub-Saharan Africa and seeks to support locally driven initiatives. Over the years, we have been privileged to collaborate on many shared concerns with civil society leaders, volunteers, government officials, lawyers, media workers, academics, and other stakeholders across the African continent.

Workshop participants discussing the closing space for civil society and media in East Africa. (Photo Credit: ICNL)
Workshop participants discussing the closing space for civil society and media in East Africa. (Photo credit: ICNL)


Technical Assistance

We often prepare commentary on draft and enacted legislation affecting the legal environment for civil society in Africa. Our assistance promotes national laws that are in line with international standards and fosters civil society organizations’ advocacy and litigation efforts. We strengthen local capacity by supporting research fellows, grantees, and university partners as they undertake research and build contextually relevant academic and practical instructional programs. Our partners produce assessments of laws, proposals for legal reform, and plain-language guidebooks to help CSOs respond to high-priority issues in their countries.

Legal Education Initiative

ICNL is committed to helping the next generation of lawyers and civil society practitioners build knowledge about civil society law and pursue careers in the nonprofit sector. We work with universities and other academic institutions to develop curricula, facilitate short courses on civil society law, and build partnerships in new regions and at new institutions. Our initiatives increase the participation of young lawyers and practitioners in efforts to strengthen civic space and improve the sustainability of civil society organizations.

Initiative Examples:

Civil Society in Africa Law Course

From September 22-25, ICNL held its annual Civil Society Law course in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria under its Advanced Human Rights Program. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we piloted a four-day virtual course, which attracted 40 participants from 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The course featured several lectures, panels, interactive question and answer sessions and group work led by ICNL along with external resource persons. Presenters included the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clement Voule; and a representative of Prof. Christoff Heyns from the UN Human Rights Committee, amongst others.

Training Initiatives

ICNL supports a wide assortment of training initiatives. We work with government officials to strengthen their capacity to implement framework laws in ways that enable civil society. We work with civil society organizations and media to increase their understanding of relevant laws and build their skills at protecting fundamental freedoms. Our programs encourage civil society and media advocates to work together in their home countries and across borders to resist laws, policies, and practices that threaten to restrict civic space.

Initiative Examples:

East Africa Judicial Colloquium with PALU

In January 2020 ICNL partnered with the Pan African Lawyers Union and the East African Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association to host a Judicial Colloquium on “The strategic role of the Judiciary in ensuring an enabling environment for safeguarding the rule of law and fundamental freedoms” in Arusha, Tanzania. The event brought together judicial officers from across the East African States (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda), officials from the African Union and African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and representatives from the East African Court of Justice to discuss the state of civic space in the region, notable jurisprudence on civic space issues and prevailing challenges in protecting and promoting rights. The African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information provided practical insights on existing regional mechanisms, highlighting opportunities for cooperation with national courts to protect civic space.

Training on Freedom of Expression in Tanzania

In Tanzania, ICNL has partnered with local CSOs to conduct trainings for lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders on protecting the right to the freedom of expression and access to information in Tanzania. The trainings reinforce participants’ knowledge of the domestic, regional, and international legal frameworks governing the freedom of expression, and provide an opportunity for cross-sectoral collaboration to strengthen the protection of civic space. The initiatives have facilitated the expansion of the network of actors advocating on civic space issues across the country.

Gambia engagement on NGO Bill

In February 2020, ICNL facilitated a consultative meeting in The Gambia to discuss the country’s new NGO bill. Participants, who included members of the government and civil society, discussed how the bill could be improved by bringing it in line with existing international and regional standards, as well as best practices on freedom of association. Several amendment recommendations were formulated, which will be presented to a validation meeting, that includes about 50 CSO delegates. Participants also brainstormed key steps and substantive elements that need to be taken into account for The Gambia to formulate a National NGO Policy, drawing inspiration from examples of similar policies in Africa. Learn more here.


ICNL’s Africa program provides talented research fellows with opportunities, space, and resources to undertake cutting-edge research and deepen their knowledge of areas of particular interest. ICNL’s fellowship alumni are strong and lasting partners, who are able to provide the leadership, knowledge, and skills needed to address key issues facing civil society in their home countries.

Small Grants Fund

Each year, ICNL provides small grants to support innovative, locally designed and led projects that advance fundamental freedoms. Funded projects promote research to deepen understanding of important trends, challenges, and opportunities; support advocacy on key issues; encourage public outreach through innovative uses of media; or foster collaboration between civil society and government actors.

Initiative Examples:

Advancing civic space across East Africa

ICNL supports various communities of practice that seek to strengthen collaboration among CSO, media and marginalized groups to advance civic space across East Africa. The Kenya Correspondents Association convened CSO-Media forums in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania that generated collective advocacy campaigns and awareness creation on civic space trends through the media. It also created a special blog (on Twitter: @AfricaCivic and Facebook: Civic Space Africa) that provides credible information on civic space protection issues across the region and facilitates broader advocacy within the CSO-media alliance. The African Youth Development Link in Uganda implemented the “Speaking Together” project, empowering youth in Uganda to use innovative and new tactics for human rights advocacy on civic space. This led to social media campaigns by youth demanding their rights using art, cartoons, and short musical videos and birthed the Ghetto Youth Parliament – a community space to foster civic participation for youth groups in Uganda.

Small Grants in Rwanda

In Rwanda, ICNL’s small grant facility supported diverse community-based organizations to: (i) Train 45 peer educators from the disability sector on the National NGO Law and support community outreach by the peer educators to people with disabilities; (ii) disseminate information on the new Faith-Based Organizations Law to more than 250 religious leaders and stimulate debate within the sector on provisions that require further review and possible reform; and (iii) undertake research on the approaches by CSOs and the corporate sector to corporate philanthropy, identify structural legal and policy barriers inhibiting corporate philanthropy, and develop a strategy to improve corporate philanthropy in Rwanda.