In November, representatives from NDI’s civil society partners in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan came together for a two-day virtual roundtable event addressing their respective advocacy efforts focused on the preservation of civic space. As countries across sub-Saharan Africa face a worrisome trend of democratic backsliding, NDI seeks to provide opportunities for civil society organizations (CSOs) to learn from their peers' experience operating in increasingly repressive environments and promoting greater respect and protection of civil liberties.
At the event, discussion from all three organizations highlighted the common challenges resulting from increasingly restrictive policies towards CSO activities. Participating staff from the DRC-based organization Lucha observed that "these issues impact all countries in a cross-cutting manner, [...and…] this collaboration is quite critical." Following a discussion of the challenges of operating in Sudan's increasingly repressive climate, staff from the Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment (KACE) shared their experience forming a national solidarity group of civil society activists. Staff from Lucha called it "inspiring" to hear about KACE's ability to continue impactful work despite such restrictions. Participants also considered the need for a more structured approach in their work, rooted in the analysis of repressive cross-border trends and a shared understanding of regional mechanisms and resources for the promotion of human rights, such as the South African Development Community Tribunal and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.
As part of a regional initiative funded by the National Endowment for Democracy to promote and highlight African ownership of democratic norms, NDI has an opportunity to bring together civil society organizations across varying country contexts and subject specialty areas. CSOs under this initiative are both diverse and innovative, representing the manifold nature of dialogue regarding democratic consolidation in the region. Roundtable events such as this one bring advocacy organizations together to share best practices and lessons learned, gathered from their experience implementing unique slates of activities addressing pressing issues and democratic threats in their respective countries.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum - a coalition of 22 human rights NGOs - works to reduce the level of organized violence and torture in the country perpetrated mainly, though not exclusively, by state agents and their ancillaries. Working through four functional units, the Forum works to rebuild social trust, repair a fractured justice system, and build a democratic system of governance. The Forum's Public Interest Unit challenges impunity and holds the government accountable by litigating cases of organised violence and torture in the domestic and international courts. The Forum's roundtable presentation focused on its coordination role in relation to advocacy initiatives, and to foster a united response by CSOs within the country to cases of human rights violations.
In the DRC, Lucha operates as a social movement advocating for political enfranchisement, peace and equal opportunity, human dignity and social justice for all Congolese. Under this program, Lucha have formed a consortium with Rodhecic - a network of Christian inspired human rights and civic education organizations. Staff from the Lucha-Rodhecic consortium presented on recent advocacy meetings with political and security authorities across key regions of the DRC and public sensitization campaigns including the production of a slam song promoting the right to political, civil society expression and protest.
In Sudan, where the country’s increasingly repressive climate has presented a narrow space for CSO participation, Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment (KACE) is the face of resistance and continuity. KACE is dedicated to promoting a democratic, multicultural Sudan where human rights are respected. During the November session, KACE shared their experience organizing and leading the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum.
Discussion during this session generated several collaborative action points. KACE and the NGO Forum identified fruitful parallels between their efforts to establish regional working groups for the preservation of civic space. Meanwhile, the NGO Forum plans to support Lucha in outreach and dialogue with the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), in order to promote judicial independence and reforms within the DRC's legal profession. Knowledge sharing and the streamlining of collaborative efforts through regional forums can help these organizations realize greater impact, while amplifying cross-border demands for enhanced protections of civil space and democratic values.
As CSOs across the region experience greater threats to democratic space, the chance to gain inspiration and guidance from their peers becomes increasingly vital. In the remaining months of this regional program and beyond, NDI will continue fostering opportunities for collaboration and supporting its partners in realizing their full potential for collective impact.
NDI’s engagement with this program is implemented with the support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) program.
Authors: Margaret Wiggins, Program Manager, Southern and East Africa and Mistire Kifle, Temporary Project Assistant, Southern and East Africa
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.