Spaces for Change | S4C participated in Security Policy Alternative Network’s (SPAN’s) third annual conference held in Berlin, Germany, from October 18 to 20, 2022. Over 30 participants from 15 countries came together to share contextual experiences and strategies for reclaiming the civic space shrinking as a result of rising authoritarianism, declining democracies, the impact of global security & counter-terrorism measures, and the implications of the Russia-Ukraine war. The conference began with discussions about the successes, challenges, and uniqueness of SPAN, particularly in helping to connect civil society organizations working around human rights, humanitarian action, conflict resolution, peace-building, civic space, counterterrorism, security, and providing advocacy platforms for coalitions.
S4C’s Program Officer, Civic Space, Ms. Ololade Oriola, and Dan Mahanty, Director of Research, Learning, and Innovation at CIVIC, facilitated the session focusing on strategies for defending the civic space under authoritarian and populist regimes. They highlighted actions and tools for supporting civil society organizations (CSOs) working in this area. Ms. Oriola shared advocacy tools and strategies used by S4C to preserve and expand the spaces for democratic engagement in Nigeria. These tools include regulatory compliance clinics, digital security clinics, research and knowledge-building sessions, multimedia materials, and the Closing Spaces Database which monitors and tracks state conduct and actions framed around national security resulting in the curtailment of civic freedoms to speak, assemble and organize freely. These tools have helped national CSOs in West Africa to monitor trends, receive forecasts and early warning signals and develop proactive responses to restrictive regulatory measures. Through a strategic combination of research advocacy and constructive engagement, S4C led a six-year advocacy that led to the delisting of non-profit organizations (NPOs) from the Designated Non-Financial Institutions (DNFI) list in the country’s recently-amended money laundering legislation.
Other participants also shared strategies that have worked for their context. The collection of experiences shared at the conference highlight the need for improving cross-border solidarity, documentation of violations across countries, training security agents about peace and development; partnering with state actors to influence from inside and out (i.e., understanding the dynamics of policy-making and bringing in the CSO perspective, supporting more social movements, encouraging donors to fund local organizations and countering negative narratives about CSOs within regions).
Participants leveraged their presence in Berlin to engage the Foreign Policy Office around Germany’s National Security Strategy to better understand the impacts the country’s new security strategy is having on other countries and the work of CSOs in general. Germany currently holds the third largest military budget, after China and USA, amounting up to 100 Billion Euros. The strategy holds three pillars:
- Security for the invulnerability of lives- in violence and war
- Security for freedom- the resilience of German Democracy
- Security for the fundamental necessities of lives- protection for environment and resources.
As was evident during the conference, the nature of SPAN’s work, diversity of membership, and geographical representation helped members to improve knowledge-sharing and forge stronger alliances to strengthen the network’s capacities to address the common problems linked to securitization. The conference wrapped up with conversations about the future of SPAN, fundraising needs, closing civic space, and supporting members in need.