For more than a decade, conflicts and instability have affected West Africa through terrorist attacks, community conflicts (identity-oriented, and between herders and farmers who are fighting over spaces and water sources), political and institutional crises (constitutional coups to ensure longevity on power coupled with the problem of the number of presidential terms, military coups, the challenge of organizing indisputable elections).
This sad picture is compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global financial crisis, climate change, the Russia-Ukraine war, the food crisis and the Development-Poverty-Illegal Migration nexus.
Meanwhile, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) are even more affected by the drying up of funding sources and the various forms of restriction of civic space. All this paralyzes the implementation of their projects and action plans towards the communities.
In terms of the management of official development assistance (ODA) and support from donors and multilateral cooperation institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), their investments do not sometimes reach the final beneficiaries, either because there has been diversion of resources, or because the real needs of the communities have not been taken into account during the development of policies and the definition of programs and projects.
This is why NGOs, CSOs, associations and other rights organisations demand their involvement in every development program and project, because they are the ones who are closest to the populations and who know their aspirations and priorities.
The 4th Finance in Common Summit (FiCS) which is being held from September 4 to 6, 2023 in Cartagena (Colombia) offers the opportunity for CSOs from all continents to join development finance institutions, including Public Banks of Development (BPD) and private sector companies, for discussions and the definition of strategies aimed at guaranteeing the success of their investments by achieving the objectives of sustainable development. The condition for achieving this is that BPDs and companies see them as true partners in development.
In West Africa, the Network of National NGO Platforms, REPAOC, fights for the protection of the rights and the improvement of the living conditions of communities, in particular, those who are marginalized. But the activities of the thousands of NGOs often come up against institutional, financial and security difficulties.
The Regional Coordinator of REPOAC, Mr. Julien Comlan Agbessi, stated that they are not only faced with the challenge of limited access to the projects of public development banks, but also with the hostility of certain governments: “There are many factors such as institutional, with the restriction of civic space by governments. For some time now, human rights NGOs which play their natural role of monitoring, alerting and advocating for the protection of rights and freedoms have often been wrongly accused by some governments. They use all tricks to restrict their room for maneuver and their visibility,” noted Comlan.
A significant number of these human rights NGOs are subject to close surveillance, see their leaders arrested or are outright banned from activities by the public authorities who consider them to be opposition parties in disguise. : “… These are restrictive measures, surveillance and control of funding sources. State structures are also trying to find out who NGOs work for and what their relations are with opposition parties. Why are they watching us? The public authorities have forgotten that not only do NGO interventions cover aspects and localities not covered by national development programs, but that they are just as much a source of proposals for improving governance in all sectors”, said the representative of REPAOC, stressing that their presence in the 15 ECOWAS countries is rather an advantage for development and the strengthening of peace in the West African region. NGOs and CSOs cannot therefore be threats to the interests of States. “When we talk about human rights, it touches on many aspects (social, economic, environmental, religious, political, etc.). Failure to meet the needs of individuals and communities is the breeding ground for frustrations, revolts, radicalization and extremist acts,” he told the Cameroon News Agency in an interview.
The situation of the National NGO Platforms members of REPAOC
The COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis have caused enormous damage to development projects, most of which have been suspended or could not be completed. The security crisis induced by terrorist attacks in the countries of the center of the Sahel and which is dangerously evolving towards the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea is reducing more than ever the chances of success of projects submitted either by the regional level or by national collectives of NGOs. This context has been worsened lately by the proliferation of coups d’Etat, the contestation of traditional partners which sometimes leads to diplomatic crises. All this hardly reassures and puts the donor community in an attitude of observation.
Bad governance and its effects on African youth
The political will to solve the problems in West Africa is lacking, which has consequences for social cohesion. Unemployment has become enormous in West Africa, leading to a massive exodus of young villages to cities (rural exodus) and cities abroad in search of betterment (migrations), lamented Julien Comlan . “We talk about the problem of migration and its consequences. After being treated inhumanely and unworthily by the smugglers in their adventure to Europe, it is the seas and oceans that become cemeteries for young Africans. It is a pity that governments do nothing in the face of the denunciation of these situations and their causes”, lamented Comlan.
Collaboration with Public Development Banks (BPD)
When asked if they had collaborated with the PDB, the Regional Coordinator of REPOAC replied: “We have engaged in a dialogue with the banks, it is now that we are starting talks with them. We appreciate the paradigm shift in NGO funding with the concept of Finance in Common which wants to see NGOs and CSOs being partners in the implementation of development projects with BPDs and private sector companies… it is important to make the BPDs understand that they, the CSOs, are a category of partners that they have forgotten, yet they are the ones who have this operational proximity with the communities, understand their aspirations and the real challenges they face” .
Julien Comlan said that if BPDs collaborate with CSOs, sustainable development will be quickly achieved. “Bound by our ethical rules and the principles of transparency and accountability, we do not misappropriate resources or project objectives… By partnering with us NGOs and CSOs, BDPs and companies will have no not only the possibility of verifying at any time the quality of the implementation of the projects, but also will have elements of comparison with the results of the programs that they had previously financed for the benefit of the communities. he assured.
Corruption is a vice to eliminate
Governments are the primary partners of donors. Despite the wealth of the African continent in resources of all kinds, and the significant investments made since independence, poverty persists, communities continue to suffer. The reason for this is the combined effect of lack of patriotism, corruption and embezzlement, among other bad practices. The civil society leader believes that it is necessary to eliminate corruption and put safeguards against embezzlement to give guarantees of success to the projects. “Africans are workers. All people have to do is to give them the tools and means and organize them. This is why at our level, we make capacity building a cornerstone of our interventions…”.
Thus, Comlan believes that the 4th FiC Summit in Colombia will produce positive feedback on the existence and functioning of CSOs, and hopes that within five years, the results of this unprecedented partnership with BPDs and the Private Sector companies will be remarkable./