African civil society representatives from 14 countries and a wide variety of organizations gathered with international civil society partners and representatives of donor agencies for a two-day workshop to address increasing concerns about shrinking civic space in Africa. In the midst of a trend of restrictive laws, regulations, and policies targeting civil society across the continent, the workshop provided an opportunity to deepen conversations and foster collaboration among key actors.
Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, addressed the workshop stating, “We can and must do better as activists, partners and donors on the local, national, regional, and international levels to overcome this great challenge of our time: those who would try to silence their peoples’ collective voices. Most worryingly, we have seen efforts to constrain peoples’ fundamental rights by despots and supposed democrats alike, not only in Africa, but worldwide.”
Ambassador Maria Leissner, Secretary General of the Community of Democracies, expressed her solidarity with civil society activists in Africa and around the world working to address the “international disease” of restricting civil society. She emphasized that this is not a “West versus the rest” issue, but rather a global conflict between “democrats and crooks; governments that have asked their people for their mandates through elections and those that seek to hold power by any means.”
Discussions focused on three key areas, namely 1) responding to constraints on freedom of assembly and expression, 2) coalition-building and advocacy strategies, and 3) access to resources. Participants collectively identified obstacles to their work, shared experiences and best practices, and identified priority issues looking forward. Key recommendations addressed how African civil society colleagues, African governments, and the international community can better expand and protect civic space.
A substantive report is being prepared to capture the experiences, best practices, and recommendations put forward during the workshop in order to inform allies in Africa and the international community. Participants expressed their sincere hope that the workshop and report will lead to further dialogue, but more importantly, concrete actions in support of African civil society.
The workshop was co-convened by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, CIVICUS, and the Community of Democracies in cooperation with the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, as part of their series of regional dialogues on access to resources. The workshop was generously supported by USAID, as part of President Obama’s Stand with Civil Society Agenda through the Legal Enabling Environment Program (LEEP), and the Government of Sweden, through the “Protecting Civic Space and the Right to Access Resources” project implemented by the Community of Democracies.
Pretoria, South Africa
November 18, 2014