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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

People Powered Accountability Discussion at the AfDB Annual Meetings #AfDB2015

The Forum for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has been just an idea few years ago. However, last week, during its 2015 Annual Meetings in Abidjan, the African Development Bank hosted a full day of panels and discussions dedicated to CSOs. The CSO Forum is aiming at promoting closer cooperation and engagement among CSOs, the Bank, and regional member countries in order to optimize development results and sustain development impact.

About 50 participants representing a diverse group of CSOs attended the event. Different sessions have provided a platform for learning and exchange on how best to cooperate with CSOs.

"People-Powered Accountability" Panel ignited an interesting discussion. Aloysius Ordu, the director of partnership for Transparency, gave a presentation on People powered accountability. He showed the 2014 Index on Corruption highlighting that “Information is power but more importantly is what you do with information”. He raised the questions on how do we scale up as many of the CSOs operate on accountability traps so they can’t scale it up nationally or continentally. Countries, indeed, “look good” but they are trapped in low accountability. Ordu used an interesting metaphor of voice and teeth to emphasize the tide connection; voice being the citizen capacity for collective action and Teeth being the accessible accountability institutions.

“Corruption is a not a myth it’s a reality”, commented Neil Cole, the Executive Secretary of Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) “. He raised the question “what is that still causes corruption in governance as if none of those laws is in place?” He stressed that even within countries that have wonderful constitutions, the question is about the systems that are not robust enough to eliminate and detect corruption when there is a corrupt act.
I was glad also to see the bloggers voice at the panel with the Ghanian blogger, Kinna Likimani. “It’s not just corruption or bad governance, it’s everything else in the environment from disrespect, lack of human rights, lack of inclusion to silencing voices”, she said. Kinna has given many tangible examples of corruption in Ghana suggesting that everyday life is a negotiation of an environment of corruption because “you will not be accorded your rights”. So we eventually buy our respect as citizens, and the leadership takes advantage of that. The solution for Kinna is to educate the people because she is tired of “policy, policy, policy with no implementation”

It was fair enough to bring the voice of the Bank itself, represented by Anna Bossman, the Director of Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department (IACD). Her intervention started by stressing that “Corruption is real when you look at the map, statistics and indicators, but at the end corruption is about people beyond that jargon”. As the moderator directly asked her “What makes the bank a non-corrupt institution?”, Ms.Bossman explained that “the ADB promotes integrity and accountability by strengthening its rules and regulations, investigates, gives trainings to the staff and has recently launched the Citizen Charter”.

Then she directed her talk more towards the collaboration between the bank and CSOs “We need you but you also need the bank, you are the people on the ground who can tell us where corruption is taking place and we have facilities, information and platforms through which you can engage”.

As the moderator started getting questions from the audience, Ms. Graca Machel entered the room. She has been then given the floor for a final word by the end of the panel, where she stressed on regional collaboration. "We are playing the game in a very unequal environment with government, business, parliament and judiciary institutions that have resources which CSOs don’t. CSOs have to be strong enough to face all these institutions to be taken seriously". She raised the question on how to strengthen the institutional capacity of CSOs as strong to play their role on equal basis. She continues "African institutions, including the bank, are not realizing that the citizen voice is fundamental to strengthen democracy". She ended by calling on the CSOs present to work regionally and unite to make "our voice heard". She gave an example of her organization New Faces New Voices which operates in 15 countries.

The panel was interesting indeed but not much time has been given to the CSOs representatives actually to talk and challenge the panelists and themselves. There has been a long silence about the constriction of the civic space, before a shout out came from the audience that the space of civil society is shrinking.“While we are here, civil society activists are imprisoned in Egypt and Ethiopia and internet has been shut down in Burundi, you might be afraid of governments (towards the bank) but you need to call on them when they violate those spaces”. There is a need to have more shout outs like this from the CSOs on the Bank and other institutions to call on countries to give us back the civic space because without that space, CSOs cannot thrive. 

CSOs act as intermediary at all stages and play key role. They should be the ones that raise community awareness of their rights and empower citizen groups for collective action. So, CSOs need to get organized to challenge and to deliver.

The session ended with a clear message that the bank has to do its homework on how much it is taking CSOs seriously and supporting them as much as it supports business and governments. On the other hand, CSOs need do their own homework on how to work together in this unequal space and collaborate on strategic issues so that their voices are much stronger.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Collective Struggle & Solidarity is Africa Unity #AfricaDay

Over the past years, our African unity has been tested constantly to realize that unity is not a one-day celebration or a mere occasional response to threatening events happening across the continent. Unity, instead, shall be a continuous collective struggle and solidarity.

For the past year, Africa has not healed from pain, bloodshed and diseases. From Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the recent crimes in South Africa, and the disaster of endless deaths of Africans sinking in the middle of the Mediterranean; from Al Shabab attacks in Kenya, to the Islamic State killings in Libya, and to Boko Haram massacres in West Africa - a similar pattern of extreme brutality spreading across.

I’m afraid that our sufferings will become normalized and our people will become just numbers and statistical tragedies on indices…

Early this year, over a million people flooded the streets of Paris with more than 40 world leaders participating, protesting the vicious murders of 17 people, including 12 journalists at Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine. While masses marched side by side in the rally at the Boulevard Voltaire, similar tragedies were unfolding on Africa. Just four days before the Paris attacks, Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria (and now in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and the Republic of Niger) carried out its deadliest attack, where more than 2,000 people were slaughtered, including children and women.

These events, when reported in Western media, drew no attention for mass solidarity, but instead, all it could bring to us was travel alerts, tourism and investment threats, and foreign intervention to step into resolving our crises because of the absence of our leadership. Has anyone organized an international protest against the African massacre? Have any African leaders flown to Abuja, Nairobi or Tunis to stand in solidarity with each other?

Likewise, the global outrage over the Chibok abductions, where more than 200 girls still remain kidnapped, was intense but short-lived. The attention of international media soon faded and leadership reaction has been shortsighted. That’s why the kidnapping, killings and abuse by Boko Haram have continued unabated.

I don’t have answers to why these atrocities continue to intensify; I have even more questions. When are we increasing our vigilance and strengthening our collective stand against those who commit such atrocities? When are we starting to treat Africa as our borderless united motherland and not as small divided territories?

The solution to face these atrocities on the continent is not only to ensure short-term security measures or aid, but mainly to work on social and economic development. When are we starting to have a serious talk about economic integration? When are we implementing serious intracontinental collaboration in the attainment of Africa’s development objectives? Africa’s prosperity, as a united continent, will depend essentially on tighter political, trade and economic integration.

As we continue losing our natural and human resources, I am also afraid we are losing our confidence in our civilization, our pre-colonization history, our common identity and ourselves. Usually the unions play a major role in protecting the civilizational values, but our African Union (AU), previously known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU), has failed spectacularly. The AU is strongly based on important principles of unity and pan-Africanism. However, most of us either do not know them, or do not live our lives by them.

African Unity is not only about solidarity within the continent but also our collective response outside. AU member states have rarely voted together in international fora to safeguard common African interests. Regional institutions have had no uniformed mutually beneficial policy towards interacting with outside powers because most of the African countries are eventually bought off by former colonial powers. Sadly, the leaders unite only behind the AU, ECOWAS, CEMAC or SADC to protect each other when abusing and censuring their citizens.

Looking towards the future, we need:
  • A renewed focus on what unites us and in finding our common interest to build a peaceful and prosperous common homeland that allows its citizens and youth to flourish.
  • A united political will to move forward together in solving our problems at continental level, and not turning our backs on our neighbors’ problems.
  • A celebration of our differences as our diversity and our diversity as our unity - a shift in dealing with Africa’s cultural differences that led to the divide and rule by outsiders.
  • To resolve our disputes always through peaceful means that would enable us not to be exploited or manipulated.
  • To unite our youth movements in a common vision to lead the next generations on a solid foundation of values and unity.
While many of our leaders may have forgotten the treasure of wisdom our ancestors handed down to us, the rest of us should not. So let’s remember the African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reflections on the CSW UN Women Celebrity Event

Many people still ask me about my experience at the CSW, so I decided to write some reflections below:

The 59th session of the Commission 
on the Status Of Women (CSW
 New York City

When I first received the invitation from UN Women to speak at the commemorative event of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, I was a bit surprised. Surprised, not only because it’s me who was identified from the million young voices around the world but also because UN Women has finally taken this big step to provide such a crucial space for a young voice in this high level public event.

I’ve already read couple of days before receiving the email, that this celebrity event was expecting over 2000 people with Heads of State, the Secretary General of the United Nations, The Executive Director of UN Women, senior political leaders, eminent gender equality advocates, dignitaries, musicians, artists…

I opened the invitation letter with a lot of curiosity to know why me? And what is expected from me? Between opening the email and opening the invitation letter, I thought this would be another huge event where young voices are used to be the face that the UN celebrates to support their agenda, no more, no less. I also thought maybe I am nominated and chosen because I come from the region where recently people started to matter.

I was addressed as a distinguished women’s advocate and peace activist, just the way I identify myself but without feeling “distinguished”, because I believe I am doing the work with way more distinguished changemakers around the world, with whom I am inspired everyday to continue changing the reality of young women, our reality.

The invitation listed that I am “a great voice that will be raised to break the chains of gender-based discrimination, stereotypes and violence. Empowering women is empowering humanity!” the letter continues  “We would be honored if you would join us at this historic event and advocate for a world without gender wage gaps and unequal opportunities, a world without low representation of women in leadership in the private sector and in public office, a world without child marriage, violence and other violations of rights of women and girls”.

It all sounded perfect, that’s the world we all want, but not really convincing of why my voice would be important? Why I shall fly from Tunisia all the way to New York when I have a lot of work on my plate already during March?

It is until I read… “Given the relevance of Tunisia as a relatively successful new democracy among the countries of the Arab Spring, yours is an important voice from the region. Yours will be the voice of the new generation of feminists”, … then, I actually decided, YES I have to be there. I have to tell them it’s not the “Arab Spring” but the “Revolution of Dignity”, I have to tell them we are not “new” feminists, we are a continuation of great feminists and history of struggles and victories of my region, and that we are not “relatively successful new democracy” but we have already had “milestones in democracy, freedom and dignity”.

The UN Women invitation has written great part of my talk already. This happens to me every time I feel challenged with these institutions. In order to accept such invitations, I have to make sure I am actually needed in New York at the UN stage more than where I was supposed to be at that moment.

I was given 3 to 4 minutes to speak; I couldn’t ask for more when I knew that Hillary Clinton has equal time to speak herself. I received the program and then realized I am speaking after Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Hillary Clinton, Bill de Blasio, Melinda Gates, Farhan Akhtar, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and before Patricia Arquette and other public figures.

And it was my time on stage,

 Many people would tell you a lot of compliments following your talk when it’s powerful and when the words are chosen perfectly for tweets. But what really made me proud at the end of the event is that many people were telling me “I appreciate what you said” which means it was powerful but truthful. I didn’t want to deliver of perfect speech that says, “women’s rights are human rights” just like what Hillary Clinton said in 1995 and repeated in 2015. I want to say next year instead of “our stories shall not go unrecognized” that “our stories ARE now recognized”. We are a generation of no perfect wordings but rebellions with critiques, a generation that doesn’t use simple data in a complicated language or address simple people with complicated titles.

My highlight of the event was neither entering the pressroom with 10 cameras taking pictures of me while walking on the carpet, nor actually meeting all these celebrities and speaking on the same stage. My highlight was meeting the amazing Maysoon Zayid, on my way to the restroom. If you don’t know her yet you can’t miss watching her TedTalk I got 99 problems…palsy is just one. I was so happy to see her and started speaking in Arabic and she immediately started telling jokes with her lovely humor.

She has been on the stage few minutes after my speech and she said what made the whole audience stand “don’t leave women with disabilities behind”. While we exchanged contacts at the end of the event, she told me “I am already felling so proud of the lady I just met few minutes ago in the restroom”. Likewise, I was feeling so proud of her with the different image she presents for Arab Muslims and people with disabilities.

Unlike some of the events where I leave very frustrated from the slow process of the UN, perfect program for the perfect audience, and unsatisfying outcomes, this was one where my voice was heard and hopefully carried many of the concerns of my generation.

Following my return from New York, it has been very humbling to receive all the encouragement and support, endless requests for interviews and to be listed among the 12 best quotes of the event along side with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Hilary Clinton. However, the reward of this event was really to break the headline and change the narrative from the "Arab Spring" to "the Revolution of Dignity" at Uplift ConnectNew Story Hub and Youth Post.

Aya Chebbi,  July 2015

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