This is a result of the feeling that while CSOs tend to be well represented at various levels in national governance, their place in regional platforms and systems of administration is unclear. Quasi-governmental agencies like business councils have a defined mandate.
Leaders of civil societies or their umbrella groups aren’t just demanding changing some of the statutes of the regional organizations so that CSOs are consulted or brought to the table at various levels. They are engaged in preliminary work of making such an effort feasible, namely conducting training for their members, or say leadership cadres of various NGOs to comprehend in a rather systematic manner what the regional organizations do, the kind of outreach they seek, the challenges they face, etc. Only when CSOs are helpful in that run of activities can they be relevant.
At the same time, there are technical issues of what sort of business is being transacted at this or that organ in regional organizations, or the level of participation that is sought by NGOs/CSOs. There are issues of a representative sort and those of an executive character, where CSOs may find themselves trying to fit into either pair of shoes with difficulty, if statutory space for independent actors does not exist. This is not just the case in SADC/EAC businesses but is true of governmental agencies as a whole and thus CSOs tend to create parallel forums when high level meetings occur.
It is unclear if NGOs in the region have explored this parameter, held meetings and reached any conclusions, and indeed, what sort of forums or platforms were provided at that level during the recent charged week of the SADC ministerial and summit organs. There was an Industrialisation Week and Exhibition, and auxiliary forums so as to build a case for an agenda of action to be presented to the ministerial council for instance. That is a different matter from seeking to be ‘included’ in those proceedings.
There is another dimension that works to favor heightened activities for NGOs in the region, namely rising levels of integration in various spheres of economic activity. This creates numerous interactions especially via travel, which ease communication among interested parties to list key agenda items. They range from conservation to migration.
Integration of migrants from across the region is proving a problem in South Africa, and a take up of the matter by civil societies might be of help. Ruling party and governmental reminders of roles of others in liberation struggles are now threadbare so other links must be created, like reciprocity in movement to take up opportunities. It is a work that is just shaping up, but NGOs need to approach it realistically, to be relevant – to take up a function that state agencies fail to handle, not supplant them.
It is this impression that NGOs are wont to mess up with delicate consensus building among the ministerial council members for instance that may hinder active ‘inclusion.’ But if there is an area where the ministers can credibly rely on NGOs, they would take up results of those efforts to give them a stamp of authority. It can certainly be done.