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Effective Mechanisms in Civil Society for Conflict Transformation
Editors Note: The following paper was delivered to the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) on October 17,2001, to a high-level consultation on peacemaking and peacekeeping in the region. The FOCCISA region consists of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In this paper I am going to focus more on the relationship between state and civil society.
Civil society is generally perceived as being inimical and hostile to the state, yet that should not necessarily be the case. Here I want to correct that misconception by defining what I understand by civil society, the role of the state and the symbiotic relationships between state and civil society, especially in strengthening each other.
Civil society can be defined as a diversity of associational life and struggles that lie outside the formal state structures. This includes: social and political organizations or parties; Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's); religious
Organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues and so on; trade unions; pressure groups; media; women, youth and children; professional organizations; Community Based Organizations (CBO's);academic institutions; traditional leaders; and business and private sector. Civil society can be highly organized, disorganized or unorganized. Organized civil society is more effective than unorganized civil society in carrying out its functions.
The role of the state is to provide basic human needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, education, health and security. This role should be strengthened by civil society. This calls for cooperation, consultation, and the building of mutual respect and trust between civil society and the state.
The function of civil society and the state in relation to one another is that of complimentarity through collaboration and consultation. Sometimes there may be disagreements, which may lead to antagonism. But antagonism need not be the case if the two understand that the state needs civil society and vice versa.
2. Critical Problems
Some critical problems that may occur in the area of civil society and state are:
2.1. Lack of focus and lack of own agenda by both civil society and the state. Very often civil society operates without its own clear agenda which makes it liable to be swayed to the agendas of others particularly those of donors and other external organizations thereby weakening themselves and the state.
When the state is not focused on its own agenda it is often influenced by external organizations, such as the World Bank and the IMF, to follow agendas that subsequently weaken the state. For example, the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP): Mozambique followed to the letter all that these financial institutions recommended, and became poorer and poorer in the process. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said on October 15, 2001 that "ESAP is no more" in Zimbabwe. ESAP has undermined the economies of the countries it was purported to strengthen and has brought untold hardships to the citizens of those countries.
2.2. Poor communication between state and civil society, and within civil society itself.
In order for the state and civil society to fulfill their roles effectively and to strengthen each other there is need to communicate with each other effectively. Most often communication between the state and civil society is very antagonistic and erratic. This is currently the case in Zimbabwe, where the state is suspicious of organizations that it did not found. Since it has lost control of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions it has founded the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions as an alternative.
2.3. Exclusion of civil society from peace-building, conflict resolution, peace
agreements, disarmament, demobilization, and integration processes is one critical problem area that is an obstacle to the achievement and maintenance of sustainable peace in Africa. This is to be regretted, as civil society has a major role to play in these processes of peace-building and conflict transformation. The rehabilitation and integration of former combatants and refugees into society needs the intervention of civil society, such as welfare organizations, educational institutions for setting up special entry points for the returnees, employment agencies, NGO's, and so on.
2.4. Lack of accountability, transparency and legitimacy within both the civil society and the state is a major concern. Very often there is a lack of proper participation in decision-making within both state and civil society. Decisions are made at the top and then filtered down to the bottom without proper consultation and conscientization. This leads to poor ownership of the project or activities by the target beneficiaries. People are not likely to approve the construction of a dam or a road that will desecrate the graves of their ancestors, no matter how beneficial that project may be perceived to be by the providers of the services. Sometimes funds are misappropriated for personal use both within the state and civil society, therefore leaving very little for the intended beneficiaries. In South Africa, for instance, the struggle against apartheid became a great industry, and many fly-by-night NGO's were formed and their leaders benefited financially. NGO's start competing amongst themselves for donors, they undermine each other and become unscrupulous in the process.
2.5. There is a lack of capacity within the state and civil society with regard to skills in management, governance, communication, peace-building and conflict
transformation and prevention, the use and development of early warning systems, and monitoring and evaluation systems. This often leads to corruption, failure to deliver services, absence of a clear agenda, and poor ownership of projects both within the state and civil society.
Popular participation should be encouraged. The community should be involved from the planning phase right up to the end of the project, Since they best know their needs, they should be allowed to make the decisions. They should not be patronized.
2.6. The absence of rules and regulations to guide civil society in its operations and in its relationship with the state and within civil society itself. The absence of a code of conduct and ethics and enforcement procedures has often led to corruption, violations of human rights within civil society, and the lack of cooperation between civil society and the state.
Some disturbing practices within international NGO's could be dealt with if there were rules and regulations with regard to the operations of civil society. Some of these practices include: differential pay structures and conditions of employment between national and international staff in international NGO's; and the evacuation of international staff and not the nationals from dangerous and conflict situations, even when it is clear that the state is in collapse or unable to evacuate its own nationals. The question of whether the life of an expatriate is more valuable than that of a national employee needs to be addressed within civil society and between civil society and the state.
3. Approaches and Measures
The following approaches and measures to strengthen the relationship between the state and civil society are recommended:
3.1.The state should support and strengthen civil society through contracting some of the services out to civil society organizations of reputable standard, as is the case in South Africa where social welfare and health services as well as the empowerment of entrepreneurial skills have been ceded to civil society.
3.2.Permanent regular dialogue between civil society and state should be established and promoted. Structures should be set up to promote dialogue to deal with issues of national interest. From this, parliamentary committees and commissions can be set up. This requires a healthy relationship between the state and civil society to prevail. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Human Rights Commission in South Africa are good examples of the cooperation between state and civil society.
Civil society should become the watchdog of the state and should raise alarm when human rights are violated. Transparency, accountability and good governance should be top priorities.
3.3. Where the state has collapsed and one military junta takes over from another, law and order inevitably collapse. In such cases, civil society should step in to rebuild or strengthen the state by bringing order and harmony through empowering the ordinary citizen to take charge and transform the disorder. In
Sierra Leone, for instance, civil society is in constant contact with the state and other military actors. It has communicated in no uncertain terms to the warring parties and the state that they have had enough of the violence, and impressed upon the government and the combatants that ultimately the power lies in the people. Civil society effectively takes control.
3.4.The state and civil society should jointly work on setting up a national agenda and a national plan to deal with issues such as poverty. This process should engage in broad participation and consultation to ensure ownership and to encourage cooperation, commitment and trust. If foreign aid is to be sought, consensus must be canvassed.
3.5.Civil society should be included in all peace-building processes, such as peace agreements, disarmament, demobilization and integration, as it has an important role to play in peace-building and conflict transformation. It is necessary for civil society and the state to sit together to agree on what role civil society should play in these processes.
3.6.Civil society and state should agree and ensure that the state provides adequate resources for civic education, voter education, popular participation of the citizens in policy formulation, strategic planning and implementation.
3.7 To create the relationship necessary for the ideal relationship between the state and the civil society it is essential that civil soceity and the state understand their roles with regard to each other and how to communicate with each other. To be able to deliver the services required, both the state and civil society need to have the skills needed to secure peace, avoid corruption and evaluate their services and processes. It is therefore important that the key players and actors in both state and civil society are jointly trained in: cooperation, consensus building, conflict transformation, definition of roles (i.e. state vis-a-vis civil society), early warning systems, culturally sensitive communication, and monitoring and evaluation of programs.
3.8 Establish early warning, risk assessment, and food security systems for both the civil society and the state as tools for governance. It is also important to assess the impact and effect of development aid and debt on each country and Africa as a whole. Many governments plunge their countries into huge debts without any consultation with the citizens concerned. The use of these systems will assist in minimizing and pre-empting conflicts.
3.9 There is need to establish and strengthen networks at national, regional, and continental level. These networks should be used to strengthen civil society and the African states through cooperation, information sharing (which may lead to early intervention in conflicts), and setting common agendas. Continental news agencies such as the Pan African News Agency (PANA) should be strengthened by funding from African states so that authentic African news and information on African affairs can be disseminated.
3.10 Legislation, regulations and codes of conduct should be put in place to guide the operations of the state and civil society and to protect and strengthen civil society and democratic institutions. This will ensure healthy relations between the state and the civil society, improve the delivery of services, and avoid corruption.
4. Capacity Building and Training for Transformation
The capacity to engage in conflict transformation activities varies among the civil society entities that have a potential role to play in conflict transformation. Accordingly, there is a significant need for appropriate capacity-building and training in this regard for many civil society actors. Such training can take place at two levels, namely in international peacemaking and peacekeeping, and in community-based facilitation and mediation. The types of capacity-building may range from training and building expertise in the process of international peacemaking and peacekeeping among those civil society actors involved in national and international level peace efforts, to providing mediation training for community-level mediators and facilitators.
A concerted effort will have to be made to identify and provide appropriate training and capacity-building support for civil society actors involved in conflict transformation.
In conclusion, the state's legitimacy lies in civil society, and for the state to be strong it requires a strong and organized civil society. In turn, civil society needs a strong state if it is to function properly. Civil society cannot replace the state.
George Wauchope is a black South African who escaped to Zimbabwe in 1989 as a refugee because of his activities against apartheid. He is the new principal of Bishop Gaul College, a theological institution for the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Due to the volatile political situation in that region, George has introduced a course on Peace-Building and Conflict Resolution, which he teaches. As part of those studies, he spent five months during mid-2001 in Olympia, Washington with the International Trauma Treatment Program, where he was trained in dealing with the survivors of violence and torture. George can be reached by email at email@example.com