Juliana Francis

Human rights activists who attended a two-day workshop in Accra Ghana, have shared their benefits and take away from it.

The workshop tagged: ‘The Civic Space Resource Hub (CSR-HUB) workshop,’ was held at Mensvic Hotel, Accra between the 12th and 13th of October 2022.

It was organised by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in partnership with Spaces for Change (S4C), and funded by Ford Foundation.

The central core of the workshop was on strengthening Civil Social Organisations in West African countries.

There were 25 CSOs at the workshop, with 10 from Nigeria, 10 from Ghana and five from Senegal.

Some of the participants, who spoke with after the two-day workshop, share their benefits and how they will replicate and utilise the knowledge gathered.

The Executive Director of CLEEN Foundation, Mr Gad Peter said: “The workshop provided an opportunity for CSOs in West Africa to network better, to ensure the sustainability of democracy, and sustainability of good governance. In some African countries, the civic space is being taken away and the voices of the people are no longer heard.  The workshop gave us the opportunity to search ourselves and see where we missed the mark, what we need to do, how to protect the civil space, how to ensure that we are active citizens and how to ensure the government works for the people. Again, how do we ensure that the people are able to voice out when they are not happy with the government in the way and manner the government will not take advantage of that to kill or jail them? If the government becomes hard on the people, the people should be able to have a voice to resist the such type of governance and ensure that the government works for everybody.”

Peter said in the organisation he works, there were several networks it hobnobs with and others that his organisation was mentoring. These partner organisations were going to benefit from the knowledge he acquired from the workshop.

He said: “While the workshop was going on, I sent out messages to everybody, letting them know that we are going to have a lot of interfaces. The idea is to share this type of information and ensure that everybody is in tune with reality and everybody will be able to stand up and speak without waiting for an NGO or anybody to prompt them. We should see the issues and all be able to address them.”

The Executive Director of Africa Media Development Foundation, Mr Benjamin Yunana Maigari, said: “The workshop is timely because across African countries the civic space is shrinking, more so in Nigeria where I came from. A lot of government programmes, policies and laws limit people from exercising their fundamental human rights, especially around freedom of expression. The workshop is timely as it gives an avenue for us to connect with our counterparts and colleagues from other West African countries, share ideas and also come around and use the knowledge we have acquired to go back to our various countries to see how we can work with the relevant authorities. We can also use the knowledge to partner to expand the civic space for people to really express themselves so that at the end of the day we will have a good government.”

Maigari said that he was already drafting and making plans on how he was going to replicate everything learnt at the workshop in his organisation, among his staff.

Maigari was most impacted during the discussion on leadership structure in CSOs, Board members activities and reports and emerging issues around CSOs.

He stated: “I was doing a lot of things, in a kind of reflection and internal assessment of where my organisation is, concerning documentation and also issues of how we have been working around the civic space. Basically, I have come to realise that there are emerging issues around our work, which we had never taken notice of. On getting back to Nigeria, I will step down for all the members of my organisation, including Board members of our organisation because I have learnt a lot about organisational leadership, ability and capacity and I have seen a lot of gaps where our Board members’ activities are concerned. If one looks at the schedule of our Board members, it will be discovered that they meet maybe once a year, which is not good enough.

“We will not see their report until after the close of the following year when they close for another meeting. There are a lot of things they also need to know. I need to go back, sit down with the entire organisation, management staff, and even the other staff of the organisation to give a Step-down training.”

The Programmes Manager, Alliances for Africa, Ms. Blessing Duru said: “The workshop was a welcome initiative by WACSI. This is an opportunity where critical state actors within Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana are in one room to look critically at what has been the challenge in terms of regulation and compliance and how these affect us as CSOs, and how the government is actually using compliance as a restrictive mechanism to actually clamp down on civil society spaces. Whether we like it or not, the issue is applicable to the three countries that are represented here. The meeting actually is giving us that opportunity to look at these issues critically and think outside the box on how to begin to address them, and recognise that we are one continent.”

Duru further added: “We are Africans and our issues are the same. We need similar strategies and mechanisms to begin to address all the issues that are coming out of this gathering. One thing that has stood out for me is the exposure we got in terms of compliance issues and restrictions that is especially for those of us that came from Nigeria. Many of us do not even know that we still have emerging issues. We thought we were still dealing with the present situations and the issues as they come on a daily basis. However, this forum has been able to expose to us that there are emerging issues and we need to begin to think on how to address them.”

Duru, whose organisation is a women’s human rights organisation, added thus, “whether we like it or not, restrictions of civil spaces affect women more. Part of my take-home assignment, is, to look at the organisation’s totality. Are there gaps and are there things we are not doing in terms of policy, governance, and ensuring our data are secured? If we are not doing that I think the learning here, will help us begin to put in measures on how to address and identify the need of the organisation. Then secondly, we have been doing a lot of work in terms of documentation and research on civic space challenges and how they affect women and girls in Nigeria, we are going to intensify our work.”

Director of Business, Placement Ghana, Dr Eileen Goody Gans-Lartey, said that it was necessary to explain certain things about her organisation.

She explained that placement Ghana is an organisation that connects people and builds the capacity of individuals.

She said: “To be able to take full advantage of these opportunities, we look at the areas of tourism and culture. We look at the areas of teaching, business and proposal writing, areas of project management where we can find the expertise and technical warehouse and how to furnish those products to ensure people and have an immediate impact on all the goals set at the beginning. The company also focuses on the area of resource mobilisation.”

Gans-Lartey said it was due to the speciality of her organisation, that it was invited as part of the resource experts that will train the CSOs on how to strengthen their different organisations.

She said: “We are one of the experts for this project. What we seek to do is to build the capacity of organisations from the three countries, Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana. In ways, they can be financially resilient, how to be able to write proposals to be able to attract the right funding. How to be actually financially stable as organisations because finances play important roles in terms of organisational growth.”

Gans-Lartey said that the resource experts and organisers, will be expecting the participants to be bold in speaking their minds on the real challenges their organisations were experiencing, but only after carrying out a need assessment.

She added: “We will advise strategies based on the information we get. Certain tools that we have made available to access the needs of these organisations and based on that, we will be able to come up with the right approaches tailored to their specific needs. I have seen a team of people who are ready to be proactive and energetic to put this training to good use. My expectation, based on what I have observed is that we are able to have people who are able to raise funding. You do not expect the blue sum of money and expect progress and you know that progress happens over time. So by the end of this, we will have a lot of success stories in terms of fundraising and better-structured abilities from these organisations.”

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