Over 70 civil society organization gathered for the African Summit of Civil Society Organizations at the UN-HABITAT headquarters in Nairobi from 17 – 19 January 2007.
UN-HABITAT and MWENGO (Mwelekeo wa NGO) together with a number of oher partner organizations brought together leaders of African National and Regional networks to compare experiences and exchange views on how to address priority concerns on development in Africa. The Summit discussed how best to strengthen the African civil society infrastructure and was attended by 95 participants from 19 countries representing 73 civil society organizations including non-governmental organizations.
The overall aim of the Summit was to strengthen networking between African CSOs and give a stronger voice to the organizations by creating a continental platform for exchanging views and enhancing understanding of African development issues. It is expected that this consolidated Civil Society network will help to enhance the role of CSOs as credible, legitimate and accountable actors in development.
Alioune Badiane, UN-HABITAT’s Director of the Regional Office of Africa and Arab States, said during the opening ceremony, “Those of you that are assisting in any way are valuable partners. We in human settlements know that we cannot do this alone. This is because government can legislate but cannot execute the best policy. We realize that in an urbanizing world the role of local authorities and civil society is paramount. We must recognize them.”
During the deliberations, there was heated debate on the relevance of the African CSOs. Dr. Tujadeen Abdul-Raheem, Deputy Director of the Africa Millennium Campaign said, “A difficult topic, not an either or situation. I am an Afro optimist and have confidence. As Africans we need to be proud. Are we proud to be Africans? To be black and relatively conscious about it is to be angry all the time. So this means that to be African is to be angry. There are many things we do right, but too many things we are doing wrong, it’s time for change.”
Fatimata Sore, President, National Coalition for Housing, Burkina Faso reflected the views of participants when she said: “NGOs will not die as they are with the grassroots. They are feared and revered as they have power due to the grassroots connection. So we must promote the NGOs, this way we can force our governments to do what the grassroots want to do.”
The meeting proposed a re-branding of the sector and the setting of benchmarks for measuring CSO performance. Another key recommendation was annual meetings to discuss African priorities, share best practices, provide feedback, and explore new ways for harnessing Government assistance without compromising their independence and autonomy. The meetings would also provide an integrated platform for an integrated approach to learning and capacity building and serve as a suitable forum for more effective dialogue with multi-lateral bodies including the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) , and the African Peer Review Mechanism.