10 NGOs: Civil Society Common Position on the Shrinking Civic Space in Africa- Citizens Voice at the Centre of Winning the Fight Against Corruption

Full text of the letter in English.

Full text of the letter in French.

Dear President Buhari,

We the undersigned commend the African Union for declaring 2018 as the
year of “Winning the Fight Against Corruption” and recognizing that this is
indeed “A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.” We believe that this is
a clear indication of the commitment towards realization of the Africa We
Want – An Africa whose development is people-driven and an Africa where
good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule
of law thrives.

We believe that the fight against corruption will not be won without the voice
of the people. The creation of an enabling environment for civil society to
advocate for the protection and promotion of their rights will enable and
empower people to fulfil their accountability role, reducing corruption and
mismanagement of public resources. Data suggests that laws and practices
in place which enable civic space provides a valuable accountability check
on states to reduce corruption and the cost of doing business. The
International Monetary Fund (IMF) puts the annual cost of bribery alone at
around US$1.5 to US$2 trillion, nearly 2% of global GDP.

The fight against corruption and supporting embattled civil society is
intrinsically linked. As the right to be heard is pivotal to fighting corruption, we
are concerned that the space for the people of Africa to speak truth to
power, organize and take action against corruption and its accompanying
injustices is shrinking alarmingly across the continent.

CIVICUS rated that, while states on all continents are violating civic space,
the most brutal conditions for civil society are found in 20 closed countries, 9
of which are on the African continent. Africa is also home to the lion’s share
of countries in the repressed category (15 countries). In 18 African countries
space is obstructed. Worryingly, these ratings of closed, repressed and
obstructed space are correlated with negative scores on the Human
Development Index, lack of democracy, and an increased gap in income
inequality between populations. The situation is more worrying in countries
experiencing crisis.

We are deeply concerned about the growing shrinking civic space in Africa
which is reflected in mechanisms, policies, and practices that exclude citizens
from decision making processes, limit their operating environment and restrict
their fundamental rights to assembly, association and free speech. Policies
and actions of many governments in Africa are fundamentally opposed to
the existence and growth of bold anti-corruption crusaders, a free and
independent media, and a vibrant and vigilant civil society which has the
ability to check corruption and the endemic impunity surrounding it. This is
necessary to hold those in power to account.

While the African Union and national governments recognizes the pivotal role
of citizens, civil society and the media in fighting corruption, their actions are
not in line with this theory. Violation and victimisation of human rights
defenders and more particularly women human rights defenders continues to
rise at a distressing levels.

Since 2012, more than 29 restrictive laws have been introduced on the
continent, and this trend appears to be getting worse, with a number of laws
currently tabled in parliaments. During this period, the continent has
witnessed increased harassment, intimidation and detention of activists,
censorship of the media and journalists and use of excessive force against
peaceful protestors. Such government actions are weakening our ability as
people to organize and fight corruption, and limits our capacity to fulfil our
accountability role as citizens to small circles and in discussions in low tones.

Restrictions on funding, public attacks and disproportionate and
unpredictable administrative requirements imposed by governments limit civil
society and citizens’ ability to take action against corruption. These efforts are
misdirected from fighting institutional corruption to battling civil society. It has
an add on impact in that civil society is unable to fulfil its various other
mandates to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable populations.

The African Union, whose mission is to build “an integrated, prosperous and
peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force
in the global arena”, needs to demonstrate leadership for member states by
increasing inclusivity and consultation with civil society in its respective
mechanisms. The July 2015 decision excluding civil society from subsequent
AU Summits is an approach contradictory to its vision of a people driven
Africa. As African governments meet from today to deliberate on key
actions that will impact on African peoples’ lives, the people themselves
have been denied the opportunity to be part of these discussions.
We would like to remind our leaders that shrinking civic space remains a
threat to “a people driven development”. Winning the fight against
corruption and achieving the aspirations of Agenda 2063, a strategic
framework for the socio-economic transformation of Africa for the past 50
years, requires all stakeholders including governments, the private sector, civil
society and most importantly the citizens themselves to protect, nurture and
amplify citizens’ voices in decision making processes.

We therefore call upon the African Union and respective national
governments gathered here in Nouakchott, Mauritania to;

1. Through the African Union Council of Ministers to adopt a strong decision
to protect civic space and citizens’ participation in all AU Member States
and in AU organs and policy processes. This includes reversing the July
2015 decision excluding civil society from AU Summits, ensuring full
participation of civil society moving forward and leading by example for
all member states.
2. Appoint a Working Group on Civic Space and Citizens’ Participation that
gives recommendations to the AUC Chairperson to address the issue of
shrinking civic space on the continent.
3. Through the Pan African Parliament, as a continental legislature, develop
a model law on CSO regulation at continental, regional, and national
levels to provide a clear framework for strengthening and protecting CSO
space in Africa.
4. Promote and make use of the regional Guidelines on Freedom of
Association and Assembly in Africa, drafted by the African Commission on
Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and adopted at its 60th session in
Niamey, Niger and formally launched during the 61st Session in Banjul, The
Gambia on November 3, 2017. They are a tool for States and civil society
alike to interpret how these rights should be protected across the
5. Member states to review national laws that regulate the right to assembly,
associate and freedom of speech and ensure they are in line with AU and
international standards and further establish national procedures and
platforms to facilitate meaningful consultation and participation of
citizens in all policy development and implementation processes. Any
repressive laws or policy regulating civic space should be urgently
scrutinised, amended or repealed.
6. Member states and the commission must strengthen and expand gender
sensitive anti-corruption frameworks beyond economic and financial
crimes and to include exploitation of women and girls as a form of
7. Governments must uphold and ensure protection of human rights
defenders with specific attention to women human rights defenders as
they face more pronounced violation and victimization.
8. Ratify, domesticate and fully implement the African Charter on
Democracy, Elections, and Governance (ACDEG) and African Charter
on Human and Peoples’ Rights including developing and submitting the
required reports to the African Union on progress on implementation.
9. Ensure the representation of civil society on the African Union Advisory
Board on Corruption as a full member.
10.Institutionalise alternative peoples’ voices report on the state of
corruption in the continent to be admitted and used in reporting to the
member states during the AU summits.

Yours sincerely,
Fight Inequality
The African Women’s Development and Communication Network
Civil Society Reference Group
The Kenya Human Rights Commission
Daughters of Mumbi: Global Resource Center
Tax Justice Network Africa
Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment (KACE)
Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum

Arabic Arabic English English