Bahaa Eddin Al-Dahoudi is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).
Besides experiencing three destructive wars in less than ten years – Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge – the Gaza Strip has suffered since 2007 from two unprecedented major political events that affect both the lives and future aspirations of the Palestinians: the Israeli blockade and internal division.
The Gaza Strip, now in its seventh year under Israeli blockade, remains isolated from the outside world. The blockade affects many fields including education, business, the environment, technology, and culture. What is more, there is the internal Palestinian division which has further exacerbated the situation. The political and social division among the two largest Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, has led to declines in many areas.
Pro-democracy reformers and activists are among the most driven and courageous people in the world. Speaking out against abuses committed by authoritarian governments often brings the risk of punishment, and meaningfully engaging on policy issues even with democratic governments takes dedication, mobilization, and discipline.
Civil society is a key conduit between citizens and their governments through which such engagement should happen. Yet, in a troubling global trend, we are witnessing the shrinking of civic space, with a number of countries from Ethiopia to Russia having passed restrictive anti-NGO legislation.
Especially in such difficult environments, human rights defenders and democracy advocates more than anything need to know that they are not alone, that the ideals they fight for are universal, and that they are a part of an international community. That is exactly what the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy helps to accomplish.
Now in its third edition, the Dialogue, which took place October 23-25 at the Natolin Campus of the College of Europe in Warsaw, is an international gathering devoted to democracy and civil society, bringing together representatives of civil society, human rights defenders and activists from Africa and the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Eastern Europe. The Dialogue is a forum for the exchange of good practices and expertise in the evolution of democratic systems as well as a place to share success stories and challenges of democratic transitions.
The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit concluded last week and the delegations have returned home, but conversation about U.S. engagement with Africa still continues in DC. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the summit, CIPE and Freedom House initiated a dialogue on advancing political and economic freedom in Africa and on Wednesday, CIPE and the Society for International Development-Washington, DC Chapter concluded summit events with a discussion on African civil society and its sustainability by bringing together civil society practitioners. The discussion revolved around possible solutions to two main issues civil society is facing in the developing world: a dependency on donor funding and draconian laws restricting civil society.
The panelists included: Lars Benson, Senior Program Officer for Africa at CIPE, Jeremy Meadows, Senior Democracy Specialist for Bureau for Africa at USAID, and Natalie Ross, Program Officer for the Aga Khan Foundation, USA. The discussion was moderated by Richard O’Sullivan, co-chair for the SID-Washington Civil Society Workgroup.
Yesterday was the first day of the inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. Representatives from CIPE’s partners in Africa – including association and chamber leaders from CIPE’s KnowHow mentorship program – in addition to 200 other government, private sector, and civil society leaders from Africa attended the summit’s Civil Society Forum.
With seven of the world’s fastest growing economies and a fast-rising middle-class, no one can doubt the potential for economic prosperity in Africa. What’s questionable, however, is how African nations will achieve this prosperity. And the answer should be through inclusive democracies. Global initiatives like the Open Government Partnerships are already building momentum towards open governments that empower citizens in Africa.
Moreover, as Secretary Kerry and Vice President Biden noted in their remarks yesterday, sustainable economic growth can only come from accountable and transparent societies that address corruption. For more African nations to take advantage of opportunities and accelerate growth, governments, civil society, and the business community must confront corruption.
This is where CIPE’s partners in Africa can come into play. Situated in between the private sector and government, business associations and chambers of commerce can best represent the private sector to improve governance and eliminate corrupt practices that impede market development. The Kenya Association of Manufacturers, for instance, partnered with CIPE and Global Integrity to engage relevant stakeholders in developing recommendations for the local governments to improve service delivery and minimize corruption.
It will be interesting to see what happens next after these high-level business, government, and civil society leaders return to their home countries. Certainly, going beyond rhetoric will be a requirement to systematically tackle corruption and help countries meet their potential.
Maiko Nakagaki is a Program Officer for Global Programs at CIPE.
A member of one of Kenya’s new county assemblies sets up an office in an open-air market outside of Nairobi. (Photo: VOA News)
One way to improve democratic governance is to devolve more responsibilities to local and regional governments — but only if those governments have the capacity take on such responsibilities and a willingness to listen to input from their constituents. This is the challenge Kenya faces as it implements the devolution outlined in its new constitution.
On April 9th, Chief Executive Officer of CIPE partner in Kenya Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Kwame Owino gave a presentation at the National Endowment for Democracy on the status of the country’s constitutional reforms. Owino explained the contentious transition that has been occurring in Kenya since the March 2013 elections, which transferred some key powers from the central government to 47 newly-created counties.
Owino cited many roadblocks in the way of quick, successful decentralization, including power struggles between newly-established governors and county senators, a highly centralized government bureaucracy reluctant in some cases to relinquish power after an institutional life of 50 years, and an economy weakened by poor policies and widespread corruption.
To address the uncertainty regarding the strength of the devolution movement, Owino stated that accountability was the answer, arguing that Kenyan civil society organizations had a place as “protectors of devolution,” and that they must put pressure on the government to stay the course of decentralization. For devolution to succeed, the constitution needs to be followed exactly, and not be avoided or ignored as it is in many instances to maintain some of the employment and power institutionalized in the old bureaucracy.
“Scientists have discovered an enormous energy source for the world…located in the poorest countries in the world,” announced Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) President John Hamre recently. “If we tap it, this energy source will double or triple GDP growth in those countries.”
The resource Hamre was discussing is not a fossil fuel like coal or oil and is not a new form of renewable energy. His remarks were a reference to the 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24. This youth population is the largest the world has ever seen and their contributions to society have drastic implications for the development of emerging markets and fragile states. If youth become productive civic and economic participants in their communities, the benefits are immense. However, when young people are forced to the fringes of society and do not have sufficient opportunities to participate in society the consequences can be devastating.
In order to help policy, society, and business leaders better understand how to ensure that young people are best positioned to be drivers of growth and development, CSIS recently developed the Global Youth Wellbeing Index in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide.
Egypt has been in the process of rapid change since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. So far, the conservative Military and Muslim Brothers, in addition to an ineffective opposition, have failed to agree on a plan to transition to democracy. Moreover, democracy has been limited to episodes of conflict over the ballot box while disregarding its other essential components, such as freedom of association and the independence of civil society, which are inseparable from democracy.
According to the 2012 constitution, “Citizens have the right to form associations and parties only by notification, and they shall have a legal personality and said entities or their boards of directors may not be dissolved except by a judicial order.” Observers consider this article to be a breakthrough in the relationship between state and society in Egypt. Conversely, the new draft NGO law discussed by the Shura Council in April 2013 empowers the government to impose restrictions on civil society.
Before discussing the major concerns about this draft law, it is important to highlight the nature of the relationship between state and society in Egypt. Middle East observers need to be aware that the state-society order in the region is different than in established democracies. In Egypt, the society is trying to emerge out of a state and not vice versa. In other words, the state remains the dominant institution, not society.