The Head of Political Affairs at the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the Africa Union (AU ECOSOCC), who also doubles as the Executive Director of Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI), Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, has said that civil society cannot exist without government, and equally, government needs civil society in running the affairs of the state. He made these remarks while speaking at the official opening of a two-day coordination meeting on improved engagement between Civil Society organisations and Governments.
Held at the RadisonBlu Hotel in Freetown, the meeting was attended by representatives from over 30 member states from the Africa Union (AU) and Civil Society Organizations.
In his address, Mr. Abdulai said that African governments continually enact laws, regulations and policies that constrict the civil society space, adding that the draft Development Cooperation Framework that the government of Sierra Leone is proposing as a policy should be reconsidered.
“The draft development cooperation framework of the government of Sierra Leone affects the work of CSOs and thereby undermines the democratic rights of Sierra Leoneans whose livelihood depend on the work of civil society” he said.
Head of the AU Secretariat, William Carew, also a Sierra Leonean, informed delegates and participants that the importance of such an engagement is to facilitate cooperation between AU Member States and civil society organisations working in all sectors of national and continental development, adding that it will lead to the drafting of actionable guidelines that will create positive collaboration between African governments and civil society in a constructive, mutually reinforcing context.
“It is important to state that there has been an unstructured working relationship between government and civil society and it is the belief of the AU that we should engage constructively as the space given to civil society and non-state actors in the AU development agenda is not a token but part and parcel of the bigger process as CSO’s are expected to complement government effort and also provide input into the policy and programme of the AU” he said.
Deputy Minister of Planning and Development, Robert Tamba Michael Chakanda said that the Government of Sierra Leone supports the work of civil society organisations and respects its complementary role.
“We believe that it is only by working hand in hand and not as opponents that governments and their corresponding civil society organizations will ensure the development and consequently oversee the overall realization of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. “ The Africa We Want to See” he said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by the Deputy Minister of Political and Public Affairs, Amara Kallon, who in his keynote address, observed that the work of CSOs is important as they influence their world from outside of government.
“Empowering civil society does not only hold the key to the nation’s democracy and prosperity, but it is vital to the nation’s security. And what better time to begin that empowerment than now?” he asked, adding that any government that tries to ration information and stifle criticism would only erode their own legitimacy and undermine their own ability to reform economies, fight corruption, attract investment, create jobs, hold free elections and manage their relations with their neighbours.
He ended by reassuring the government’s commitment to liberalise the civil society space.
It is expected that strengthened coordination and synergy between African member States and civil society on the implementation of policies, programs and initiatives that contribute to national development and benefit the African citizenry will be a major outcome of the meeting.