In the lead up to the Fourth Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011, one of the key achievements noted by African countries from the review of the implementation of the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness was the presence of a nationally owned development plan. This signified to many that Africa had indeed come of age in consulting citizens on key issues of development policy and programmes.
Closer examination, however, of this achievement reveals many contradictory outcomes. For one, civil society organisations (CSOs) involved in the Busan process criticised the independent monitoring and evaluation report of the Paris Declaration on the basis that the so-called country-owned national development plans were government-owned development plans and not citizen-owned plans. Citizens had not been part and parcel of the process in the development of the plans, and were for the most part not involved in their implementation.
African CSOs also noted the fact that the environment in which they operated had become too hostile to allow for the mobilisation of citizens to participate in the development process. It is because of these trends on the ground that many still remained sceptical as to whether the notion of country ownership on its own is a sufficient principle to deliver development effectiveness to hundreds of millions of poor citizens across Africa.
CSOs noted that many African countries had not moved beyond the imposed processes related to World Bank Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) to institute a country framework for national development. Most of the national development plans reflected a process that was prescribed under the PRSP, with adjustments for a few local consultations, and less tighter time schedule. But when consulted, CSOs were merely called to rubber stamp what the government consultants had produced. Furthermore the role of CSOs in the development of national plans was that of mere passive participants. Governments developed impossible schedules that could not allow for meaningful input from citizens and there were no feedback mechanisms.
African CSOs engaged in the Busan process also noted the fact that the environment in which they operate had become too hostile to allow for the mobilisation of citizens to participate in development processes. New restrictive laws were either in the offing or existing laws were being made more restrictive.
It is because of these trends on the ground that many still remained sceptical as to whether the notion of country ownership on its own is a sufficient principle to deliver development effectiveness to hundreds of millions of poor citizens across Africa.
The Busan HLF4 agreement (Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, BPd), however, has brought a new impetus to strengthen the concept of country ownership by qualifying the notion to include the essential importance of democratic ownership. CSOs see this as an opportunity to put citizens at the heart of development planning and indeed enable them to claim their political, social, economic and cultural rights.
Paragraph 12(a) of the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation notes, ‘These shared principles will guide our actions to: Deepen, extend and operationalise the democratic ownership of development policies and processes’ (BPd, 2012)
What conditions are required to enable ‘democratic ownership’ in African countries? This chapter seeks to understand the level of preparedness of African governments, development partners and civil society alike in the implementation and achievement of the democratic principles in a multi-stakeholder manner. It uses country experiences from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia to discuss some of the challenges countries face in seeking to implement elements of democratic ownership. It concludes by proposing some of the key areas for facilitating the entrenchment of democratic ownership at the national level.
Towards entrenching democratic ownership at the national level: the challenges
Entrenching democratic ownership at the national level requires changes in attitudes, policies and practices for both governments and external donors. These conditions vary across the continent. The value of CSO participation in policy formulation processes seems to be better understood and appreciated within some specific departments. Some government departments see CSOs as partners in both policy development and service provision. For others, CSOs are seen as a potential agent for outsourcing some government services, but for others still they are mere noisemakers. In Zambia, for example, at the local level CSOs are seen as being better placed to distribute antiretroviral drugs, while in Kenya they are well equipped to distribute humanitarian assistance to drought stricken areas. In Ethiopia, on the other hand, there is very limited space for CSO participation in policy debate. This compared unfavourably with Ghana and Zimbabwe, where CSO expertise in policy formulation and dialogue is acknowledged and utilised to facilitate the development of policy documents on issues of governance and poverty reduction respectively.
What conditions are required to enable “democratic ownership” in Africa? Entrenching democratic ownership at the national level requires changes in attitude, policies and practice for both governments and external donors.
Nevertheless, even in the same ministry, there can also be departments that are not friendly to CSOs. This can also be the case where ministries have ministers and/or officials who are antagonistic towards CSOs. They find it difficult to engage CSOs in policy debates and planning. Space for participation of CSOs can be influenced by the personality of the minister, or senior officials in charge of key processes. In one recent case in Kenya, a minister rejected an invitation by a civil society organisation to officiate its event because this CSO did not have a good relationship with the minister. In Zambia, there has been a standoff between the government and CSOs over the secondment of CSOs to the NGO Co-ordinating Board, because the relevant ministry does not agree with some of the proposed CSO names. In the same vein, many Zimbabwe-based human rights organisations have gone underground because of a government crackdown on their activities for being anti government.
The individual peculiarities of attitudes and responses by different governments and different parts of government towards CSOs’ efforts to engage in policy dialogue and co-operation in development programmes has the potential to enhance or reduce the gains made towards those government’s commitment made in Busan to ‘democratic ownership’.