Number 6: Sustainable Development Part 2
THE ROLE OF AFRICAN NGOS IN AFRICA'S SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
by Mamadou Lamine Thiam
Today, Africa is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis, due essentially to the exclusion of people from the search for solutions to their own problems.
The UN Special Session on Africa (1986), which resulted in the creation of the UN Programme for Africa's Economic Recovery and Development (UNPAAERD), demonstrated that the international community has committed itself to helping African people in their struggle against underdevelopment and poverty.
At the same time, the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s (UN-NADAF), which is only half-implemented, does not seem to be of any great help to the continent.
Faced with this situation, African populations are now coming together to take their destiny into their own hands. The proliferation of organisations of peasant and village women with links to NGOs and civil society is a good indication of Africa's ability to rely upon herself, something of which African NGOs are well aware.
There is now new hope since, in political terms, African populations have started wrenching power back from dictators who used to exercise it against them and "in their name." They have finally understood that they could contribute to economic recovery, initially by participating in major decision making. As a matter of fact, the many national conferences which have taken place around the continent are proof of African civil society's demands for involvement in the national decision making process and insistence on actual popular participation.
African NGOs' Role in the Development Process
While in its infancy, the associations' movement confined itself to timely actions based on religious or charitable considerations. Today, NGOs have realized that they should have their own perception of development if they want to fully play their part. That perception requires long-term programmes which can help to solve the problems facing us.
This new mission for NGOs calls for a political stance on issues. The kind of sustainable development we want to create demands that we and our populations become involved in decisions affecting the future of the grassroots communities which we represent. This would make it necessary for us to:
In poor countries where technological means and energy resources are limited, each citizen should be relied upon for his or her skills, ambitions, means and priorities. All citizens should be put into a position to use their resources and natural talents on behalf of the continent at large.
Today, Africa needs a strategy which can enable the poor to participate in development. But this would assume the introduction of democratic rules, of peace and of security.
African NGOs' Role for Democracy in Africa
The sudden appearance of local organisations and of a civil society could not have taken place at a better time. This phenomenon is the result of a shift from indifference and fatalism to self-reliance, self-defence and participation.
African NGOs have a major role to play in bringing about such change by throwing their weight behind the population to counterbalance the power of the state, thus ensuring durable peace and a partnership between people and governments. It is in this context that we could consider a development initiative a process of long-term autonomy for Africans.
African NGOs should join grassroots populations in order to enforce popular participation. They should demand the right to participate in political decisions on the future of Africa;this, because sustainable development is a political issue resulting from a set of collective decisions governing the life of each and every one. It is in this connection that one should examine the decisions made by African NGO delegates to FAVDO's (Forum of African Voluntary Development Organizations) General Assembly in Harare on the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) which have been secretly negotiated between our governments and the World Bank, and which have clearly led to increasing suffering and poverty.
Democracy and human rights are the foundations of sustainable, fair and human development. Therefore, an attempt should be made to set up local development programmes which take into consideration the values, needs, aspirations and culture of local populations.
Finally, strengthening the institutional capacity of grassroots communities would allow these to better participate in the struggle for democracy, the protection of marginalized social groups and in making the population more accountable.
African NGOs and their partners in the North should help and encourage civil society actors to express their aspirations and assert themselves in order to actually participate in all decisions made in their name.
This shows that it is urgent for African NGOs to come to terms with the political nature of development and drop their traditional apolitical stance. No African organization can claim it is not affected by the change occurring in its country. And, the involvement of NGOs in the democratic process should start with NGOs themselves through the fair application of democratic rules in the decision making and concertation processes with grassroots communities.
Clearly, no development policy will succeed without peace. There can be no lasting peace without any equal justice for all citizens, all social groups, all social categories, and all generations of both sexes.
No justice can avoid being biased without being grounded in ethics and a culture of equity. Based on solidarity, communal society should include the resources required for the introduction of a system capable of getting everybody involved and giving individuals the security needed to undertake something.
In view of the above, African NGOs should:
African NGOs should now actively contribute to the economic recovery of the continent and to the consolidation of democracy. Therefore, they should, from now on, design long-term programmes with the following global aims:
African NGOs should work towards an empowerment of civil society, giving people the capacity to make decisions and to negotiate. It is in this context that a development initiative can be regarded as a process of autonomy. This will involve giving power to people for greater commitment to participation in survival and development efforts.