Post-independence states on the continent and indeed worldwide are increasingly seeing the convening and mobilising power of civil society as a threat to their authority. As pressure has mounted from groups that are tired of being viewed as third-class citizens in their own countries, an increasing number of States are resorting to violent crackdowns, using and mis-using domestic laws and regulations as well as the state security apparatus to assert their authority.
A number of reports and publications have been produced over the last couple of years by various organizations that have examined the fact that spaces for civil society organizations are closing, particularly in relation to work on democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and minority rights issues in Africa. OSISA, TrustAfrica, Southern Africa Trust, CIVICUS, the World Movement for Democracy (WMD) and the International Centre for Non-Profit Law (ICNPL) are among the organisations that have undertaken this work.
While the work being done by these organizations is commendable, it has become increasingly clear that more effort needs to be made in terms of putting into action the recommendations emerging from these reports. In light of the above, the Centre for Citizens’ Participation on the African Union (CCP-AU), the Midrand Civil Society Support facility, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the Southern African Trust, Trust Africa (TA) and other partners held a Pan-African meeting as a first step towards developing a collective voice around these issues.
Under the theme of Protecting Democracy – Reclaiming Civil Society Space in Africa, the conference in Johannesburg in November 2011 brought together a vast array of actors to strategise on defending the democratic space for civil society; identify tools and strategies for defending democracy and to sustain the process going forward.
With participants drawn from civil society and academia and from all 5 regions of the continent as well as from pan-African organisations and networks working on these issues, including International NGOs and donors, the conference tackled a host of critical issues in debates and workshops.