Over 200 delegates representing all civil society sectors from 45 African countries gathered for a conference in Arusha, Tanzania, this week to create an umbrella civil society movement to act as the “voice of ordinary Africans”.
Kumi Naidoo, interim director of the new movement, said the conference will focus on six priority areas which include strengthening democracy, fighting corruption, dealing with poverty and the effects of climate change. Naidoo boldly told African Independent that this movement will be financially self-sufficient within the next five years to eliminate some of the views by African governments that civil society organisations which are critical of them are proxies for Western imperialists, due to the funding these organisations receive from foreign donors.
“If you go with the definition that because civil society organisations receive resources from abroad and are therefore agents of Western imperialism, then every African government is an agent of Western imperialism because they all receive massive amounts of (foreign) funding, which is more than what civil society organisations receive,” he said, adding that funds will be raised through crowdsourcing from Africans on the continent and from the diaspora, together with membership fees.
“If we can get one million people in Africa and the diaspora to contribute one US dollar a month, this will be more than enough money to run this movement effectively. In the early stages we will rely on some solidarity funding but over time the intention will be to use crowd funding, membership fees and individual contributions to build resources for our movement,” Naidoo emphasised, saying that they borrowed this funding model from the environmental lobby group Greenpeace, which he was a part of for more than six years.
Ibrahim Ceesay, head of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and a delegate in Tanzania, said this movement does not want to be unnecessarily antagonistic towards the continent's political leadership. Rather, they want to bridge the gap between some of the progressive policies adopted by the African Union (AU) and what he feels is a lack of implementation at national level by member states – adding that the AYICC has lobbied the AU on youth issues and found the AU's c hairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma very receptive to their proposals.
“In our last dialogue with Dr Dlamini-Zuma in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) earlier this year, we made a call to have an AU youth envoy office … to be the youth's voice at the AU Commission and AU Chairmanship to make sure that the young person selected lobbies governments and promotes the youth voice at the member states,” Ceesay explained, adding that Dlamini-Zuma committed to establishing such an office before her term ends, like the special envoy office she created for women.
Ceesay emphasised that it had taken almost ten years to talk to African leaders and be listened to. “Young people were not given accreditation in the past to speak at AU meetings. We were always in the corridors carrying placards but now we can carry the placards and engage in the political space,” he chuckled.
Both Naidoo and Ceesay admitted that mobilising the rest of Africa around their vision will be challenging, and Naidoo said they will “be using social media as a core way of connecting people, ensuring that people have the right information for activism because the continent is vast and we can't rely on face-to-face gatherings over time as they are very expensive to organise”.
Ceesay said he will lobby young people, also using social media, by alerting them to what he calls Africa's two extremes: “extreme poverty and extreme wealth. As young people we are the powerhouse of every African country and it is up to us to change the narrative of Africa leading up to the AU's Agenda 2063. Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today.”