Let civil society mobilise itself
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Zeba, Souleymane. 1999. Let civil society mobilise itself. Spore 79. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48331
Souleymane Zeba sits in the Senate of Burkina Faso as a representative of civil society organisations. A rural development specialist, he was Director of Forests and Wildlife at the Ministry of Environment (1984-1993), before working for the...
Souleymane Zeba sits in the Senate of Burkina Faso as a representative of civil society organisations. A rural development specialist, he was Director of Forests and Wildlife at the Ministry of Environment (1984-1993), before working for the national land use management programme. He presided over Burkina's national consortium of NGOs 'SPONG' in 1996 and since 1990 has chaired Naturama (Friends of Nature). For a long time over recent decades we have seen development designers try to 'do' development instead of letting the people do it themselves. Their approach failed because people were not able to organise themselves. Finally, we all came to realise and accept that it is the people who should define their own development needs. The vitality of local communities is only really properly expressed through their associations, movements and cooperatives, and other endogenous bodies that they set up ? in short, civil society organisations (CSOs). It is through local communities mobilising themselves that we can achieve good governance of development. CSOs provide a place for discussion and communication between people and a space for, for example, villagers and farmers to exchange information, knowledge, know-how and savvy. There are many forms of CSOs, depending on the local context. Take livestock: herders form economic interest groups so that they can negotiate with the State or with other communities about such issues as land, or water management Market gardeners and farmers may form cooperatives as their channel of expression. Another form is cultural groupings; people do not live by bread alone, and they often have a need to bathe in their own culture. These associations and groupings are often organised in a traditional way and some say they could be marginalised by being poorly organised. Yet their very strength and impact comes from the close involvement of their members. In the field of environmental conservation for example, there are many traditional organisations in most tribes in Burkina Faso which look after sacred forests. It is worth noting that these forests are better looked after than those managed by the State. 'Go and plant trees' There is a line of thought that, given their ability to provide low-cost services, CSOs should work as development tools on behalf of the government. It is quite widely held in many of our countries, and it causes us a number of problems. For example, the government of Burkina Faso has contracted Naturama to manage a natural reserve in the region of Léo, in the south of the country. Under this, we are responsible for restoring and regenerating the natural resources of the park in collaboration with local communities. We accepted this assignment because we felt it was important, and possible, to reach a balance between the interests of national and global environmental policies and of the local communities. We are faced with a situation where many CSOs cannot fulfil their mandate or their role because, more often than not, financial circumstances force them to undertake such assignments, whilst not being able to bring their members' opinions to the attention of the powers that be, nor to get them listened to. In fact, a member of the government once said to us at Naturama: 'We did not ask you to reflect on our environmental policy, we asked you to go and plant trees.' Just how can we get our voice heard, our message heeded? Many CSOs do not have the right information and communication skills to persuade others to listen properly. We have to organise ourselves so that when we send delegations to meet with government representatives, our people present our message in such a manner (avoiding arrogance!) that it forces their discussion partners to consider us seriously. Right now, many of our organisations lack the communication skills and powers of persuasion to do this. My conclusion is that we have to invest in communication. The Canadian government has set up a support programme called 'Strengthening civil society in the Sahel', working with a small number of trade unions, NGOs and community bodies. The programme aims to help CSOs expand their social base, to improve their management and to increase their financial autonomy. Other organisations such as the World Bank take a different approach, encouraging governments to contract CSOs to be involved in project implementation. The result is that some CSOs have access to finance and resources and can operate more competitively, but their members have not really been mobilised; in a way, the silence and complicity of such CSOs have been bought. Being 100% partners Several of us, as leaders of associations in the South, have said that we shall only really be able to talk of partnership on the day that we finance projects in the North. It is something to dream for, you have to, just like you have to innovate. It might seem absurd, but do not forget that it was CSOs who were the first to fight against slavery, and they won the right to vote for women One of the five priority information themes of CTA today is the 'mobilisation of civil society'. It would be interesting to move beyond this to the point where the communities who form the CSOs mobilise themselves. If the CTA could reach this point, then it could move on to do something else this is something to aim for, but you have to believe in it. You know, there's a Burkinabé proverb which tells us: 'If you see the head of something moving towards you, just be patient: you will end up by seeing its tail.'