WACSOF: Promoting Good Governance In West Africa

BY ROSEMARY NWAEBUNI
THERE are many Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) operating within the West African Sub-region with diverse interests ranging from socio-political, cultural,
economic, continental to global issues; all geared towards making society a better place and deepening democracy within their countries of operation.
Over the years, CSOs with related focus and interests have been known to sing discordant tunes and work at cross purposes in the course of their advocacy, especially in their relationships with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); a situation decried by many observers.
The concerted efforts to bring all CSOs in the 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) under one umbrella with a view to creating harmony and sync in their operations and also achieve a coordinated interface between the CSOs and ECOWAS resulted in the formation of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) in 2003. The Forum also received endorsement by the authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in the same year.
Since then, WACSOF has served as a canopy for CSOs seeking to partner with the ECOWAS, promote a system of dialogue and discussion, encourage the sharing of ideas and perspectives and facilitate the building of collaborative relationships and linkages to ensure quality inputs of the civil society into the agenda of ECOWAS. It has also served as the pivot for networking between and among CSOs on the one hand, and between CSOs and the ECOWAS on the other hand.
WACSOF sets out to achieve 6 key objectives:
1. To strengthen and institutionalize a relationship between West Africa’s Civil Society constituency and the ECOWAS System institutions;
2. To facilitate consultations and interactions between
L-R: High Commissioner of Ghana to Nigeria, Amb. William Awinabo Kanyirige; Acting General Secretary, West African Civil Society Forum, (WACSOF), Auwal Musa; Immediate Past President, WACSOF, Mme Natalie
Traore and Minister of Solid Mineral Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi at the WACSOF 6th Biennial People’s Forum in Abuja.
Left, Acting General Secretary, West African Civil Society Forum, WACSOF, Auwal Musa interacting with the Minister of Solid Mineral Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and High Commissioner of Ghana to Nigeria, Ambassador William Awinabo Kanyirige at the WACSOF 6th Biennial People’s Forum in Abuja.
Participants at the ocassion.and among civil society, most notably through the WACSOF Periodic Peoples’ Forum, for the purpose of developing and submitting recommendations to the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government;
3.To audit the implementation and legislative domestication
of ECOWAS treaties, protocols and decisions relating to human security, development and regional integration issues in West Africa;
4. To establish regional, national (and sub-national) mechanisms to monitor and ascertain the status of human
security, development and regional integration in West Africa;
5. To popularize ECOWAS in the consciousness of West Africans, particularly the youths, through appropriate media; and
6. To actively promote a sense of community citizenship between ECOWAS member states and CSOs.
WACSOF’s mission is to serve as a receptacle for civil society organizations feeding into the ECOWAS System processes, and to empower them to exploit the public space at the National
and Regional levels in order for them to contribute
to an integrated, stable and developed West Africa. Thus, WACSOF sets out to create the avenues through which CSOs can more constructively engage with the authorities at the national levels as well as the Institutions of the ECOWAS System.
WACSOF is organizationally structured in the following pattern:
1. Peoples’ Forum
2. Executive Committee
3. Executive Secretariat
4. Thematic/Working Groups
5. National Platforms.
Since its formation thirteen years ago, WACSOF has gone through an interesting and challenging development path, including several thorny efforts at formalizing the entry points for CSOs to achieve the envisioned interaction.
The first concrete step in this direction was the successful
convening of a two-day Consultative Meeting in May, 2003. That meeting which was attended by representatives of more than 45 different CSOs from West Africa including ECOWAS Zonal Officers, government representatives, donors
and experts in diverse fields, gave birth to WACSOF.
Discussions at the two-day Consultative Meeting which held at ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja centered majorly on strategies for achieving regional human security. The meeting concluded with the adoption of a communiqué encouraging ECOWAS and CSOs to institutionalize their relationship and to pursue a coordinated human security agenda.
Pursuant to its efforts to further reposition the Forum to be fit enough to carry out its mandate as the officially recognized platform for Civil Society coordination in West Africa supporting the realization of the ECOWAS Vision 2020, over 100 national and regional CSOs representing the 15 member countries of ECOWAS, gathered at Reiz Continental Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria on 15-16 August 2016 for the 6th WACSOF People’s Forum under the theme: ‘The WACSOF Revival’.
The meeting which was convened with support from Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), Commonwealth Foundation,
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, Oxfam Ibis, GIZ and ECOWAS Commission had in attendance, the President Political Affairs, Peace and Security, representative from the Directorate of Strategic Planning, Nigeria’s Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Ghanaian High Commissioner
to Nigeria, Ambassador Williams Awinado, Regional Director OSIWA, Dr. Abdul Tejan-Cole, FEZ Country Director,
Michael Roll, Coordinator IBIS-Oxfam, Mohammed Mahamud, Dr Kole Shettima of MacArthur Foundation and many other dignitaries.
The gathering provided opportunity for participants to x-ray the challenges facing WACSOF and make recommendations
on how to strengthen it to carry out its mandate within the ECOWAS framework in every aspect of the regional integration of West African States with a full involvement of communities on ground through civil society engagement.
After an extensive review of WACSOF’s relationship with ECOWAS, its internal governance and its engagements both internally and with other regional CSO networks, the Peoples Forum resolved to:
I. Invite the ECOWAS to effectively mainstream through WACSOF, civil society interventions into the ECOWAS Vision
2020, particularly the ECOWAS Community Strategy Framework (CSF 2016-2020);
II. Encourage the ECOWAS to implement the CSF component
on effectively involving national level CSO’s in its popularization, implementation and monitoring, as well as the component on providing human, technical and financial
support to West African civil society through WACSOF for an effective implementation at regional, national and sub-national levels;
III. Assure the ECOWAS of its dedication to regional integration and its readiness to pursue its effective collaboration
with the regional economic community in all of its program intervention areas;
IV. Renew its commitment to strengthening its governance
structure both at regional and national levels with a new direction based on transparency and good internal governance which is being materialized through the adopted
action plan, already being implemented.
V. Chart the way for a new leadership based on integrity, governance and accountability with a stronger membership
as well as a more effective partnership with national, regional and international stakeholders;
In his address delivered at the Forum, the Acting Secretary-
General of WACSOF, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) stated that WACSOF was committed to facilitating the actualization of ECOWAS vision, where citizens will enjoy the benefits of a borderless, peaceful, prosperous, and cohesive region, built on governance and they can better harness and access its enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental preservation. He added that the ECOWAS could only actualize its dream of free movement only when we have realized a region where everyone can access unconstrained movement.
Musa revealed that WACSOF has already aligned its programs with those of the Political Affairs, Peace and Security Commission, particularly the Early Warning Directorate of the ECOWAS Commission, against the background of the Region’s volatile nature, continued threats of insecurity from Boko Haram insurgency and other similar conflicts.
While chronicling the achievements of WACSOF thus far, he mentioned that WACSOF assisted in facilitating the implementation of ECOWAS agenda on Regional Integration,
Democratic Governance, Peace and Security.
WACSOF also successfully conducted the following activities in collaboration with ECOWAS:
1. Needs Assessment of WACSOF National Platforms, which was followed with the production of the “National Platform manual’ to serve as a guide for effective functioning
of WACSOF National Platforms;
2. Desk Research on:
a) The role of CSOs in Agricultural and Food Security Policy Formulation and Implementation in West Africa with focus on Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal;
b) The role of Women’s organizations in the promotion of gender equality and Women’s empowerment with focus on Gambia, Guinea, Benin and Togo;
c) The State of Youth Employment in West Africa, which focused on Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire; and
d) The role of Civil Society in Malaria Prevention in West Africa, focusing on Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
With Support by Ford Foundation, WACSOF equally played significant role in “Curbing Early Child Marriage in West Africa” by taking the issue to ECOWAS Commission
and Parliament to ensure that they put it in their top agenda.
WACSOF developed a four year strategic plan to guide the Forum from 2016 through 2019. The strategic plan is expected to address the deficit of Civil Society participation under the theme, “Positioning Civil Society at the Centre of a New ECOWAS System”. In the light of the ECOWAS vision 2020 and the current directions of the regional integration agenda of ECOWAS, this theme accentuated the strategic and practical importance of civil society programs to the ECOWAS agenda in various fields of development and at all levels of the regional community.
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) averred that the Civil Society through WACSOF have continued to play significant role in the actualization of ECOWAS Vision 2020, adding that WACSOF is well positioned towards complementing the efforts of the ECOWAS.
On behalf of WACSOF, the Acting Secretary-General expressed gratitude to the ECOWAS Commission, Ford Foundation, Commonwealth Foundation, IBIS, Plan International, WACSI, OSIWA, GIZ, FES, National Coordinators and many others for keeping faith with WACSOF despite the challenges it had been grappling with.
In his keynote address at the Forum, the Minister of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi challenged Civil Society Organizations to wake up from their slumber to put governments in West African countries on their toes for even development and make them deliver on their primary duty, which is to give good governance to their citizens.
Fayemi called on the media and civil society groups operating within the West African sub-region to take their role as watchdog of society and voice of the voiceless serious by safeguarding the rights of ordinary citizens and making sure that the leaders that were elected take those rights passionately.
The Minister stated that democracy had come to stay in West Africa, which is one good thing going for the region. He therefore urged WACSOF as an umbrella body of the Civil Society Organizations in West Africa, recognized by ECOWAS to take advantage of the democratic environment to insist that member states give good governance to their citizens.
VI. Be committed to providing
mechanisms for resource
mobilization, learning
from best practices, knowledge and innovation;
VII. Bring to the knowledge
of the public that a new Executive Committee,
composed fully of new members from various countries of West Africa with various expertise and a new vision for civil society
based on innovation and transparency has been elected to replace the out-gone Executive as a way of injecting new blood, which was badly needed for WACSOF to deliver on its important mandate.