Spaces for Change | S4C and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) jointly launched the Civic Space Resource Hub (CSR-Hub) at a virtual ceremony held on May 12. The occasion brought together participants from over 30 countries comprising civil society organizations (CSOs), faith-based organisations, media practitioners, government officials, donor bodies and representatives of international non-governmental organizations. The CSR-Hub will deliver bespoke trainings, learning exchanges, digital protection, compliance guidance, civic space monitoring and capacity-building on specific subjects such as extractive justice and defending the civic space.
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive Director, Spaces for Change and Nana Afadzinu, Executive Director, West Africa Civil Society Institute, in their remarks, passionately enjoined the civil society sector in Africa to see the CSR-Hub as a joint effort in safeguarding the civic space and building sectoral resilience. In the never-ending dynamics of democracy in West Africa, the civil society has also continued to go through many nuances that come with such a democracy. The methods, actors and social justice mechanisms have changed as much as the resources available to support civil society activities have dwindled. Accordingly, the government has demonstrated a sustained commitment to stifling dissent and restricting civil rights and liberties. These vulnerabilities have necessitated the need for deliberate efforts by the civil society to reclaim the civic space and protect it from further repression through initiatives like the Civic Space Resource Hub.
The moderator, Paul Mulindwa, emphasized the importance of creating an enabling environment for civic space actors to thrive even in the face of an increasingly attacked and repressed civic climate. He spotlighted the role of civil society organisations and civic space actors as the gatekeepers of democracy by monitoring and reporting governance processes across the continent and in the sub-region in particular.
In her remarks, Olufunke Baruwa, representing Ford Foundation, reiterated that the CSR-Hub will focus on building the internal governance processes of organisations, strengthen their research and knowledge-building capacity, reinforce the digital security and data protection mechanisms of digital work platforms and a renewed commitment to protecting the civic space. Ford Foundation hopes that the Hub will be a part of the organisation’s legacy of strengthening capacities of civil organisations and actors and thus directly contribute to the influence of the third sector to globalisation.
Abiodun Baiyewu, Country Director, Global Rights Nigeria, opened the panel discussions by re-stating the regressions in the civic space in Nigeria since the 2000s through the laws and legislations, physical attacks, bans on civic space actors, militarization of elections, restriction of press freedom and most recently, social media. Reading from a 2021 research by Global Human Rights – ‘We no go gree’, she stressed the need for more people to understand their civic rights and the need to build strong allies in the legislature in order for the sector to influence the policy and law-making process to enhance rather than repress the civic space. Community organizing skills, mentorship for young activists, international solidarity, regulatory compliance, and specific funding to support the wellness and mental resilience of civic space actors were highlighted as key drivers in opening up the civic space. The non-profit sector must be committed to investing in arts and media as a tool for telling the shared history of civil societies in Africa and to broadcast the effects of a closed civic space on citizens.
Kojo Asante, Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement, Center for Democratic Development (CDD) Ghana and Aisha Dabo, co-founder and coordinator of AfricTivistes, headlined the effects of the attacks on press freedom on civic engagements and the lack of appreciation of the media in a functional democracy. Ms Dabo stated the need for collaboratory governance between the governments and civil society and between civil society sectors in different countries, and for the government to open up laws to CSOs for criticism and collaboration. They called on the Government to be more compassionate and empathic to citizens’ freedom.
The climax of the event was when Dabesaki Mac-Ikemenjima of the Ford Foundation officially launched and declared the the West Africa Civic Space Resource Hub open to all. The West Africa CSR-Hub is one out of Ford Foundation’s eight resource hubs around the world. The aspiration is for the hubs to be united and connected, to learn from each other, and eventually form a coherent relationship.
Speaking on behalf of Spaces for Change and WACSI, Omolara Balogun expounded that the hub is a five-year project focused in Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal. Regardless of its focus countries, the CSR-Hub will make room for regional issues that need support. The Hub aims at establishing a robust, resilient, well-resourced, and independent civil society responding to closing civic space issues, consolidating democracy and driving sustainable social change. Specific areas of service are:
- Digital security
- Civic space protection, and,
- Research and knowledge-building
In conclusion, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive Director for Spaces for Change, noted that the CSR-Hub is not an S4C, WACSI or Ford Foundation hub, but a hub for everyone. There will be an opportunity for civil society to benefit from the hub, to build knowledge and to deepen civic space activity. It is a collective effort to ensure that we win the quest for advocacy for the civic space in our respective countries.