Later this week, together with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA-Ghana) we are holding a West Africa regional forum on the impact of the financial crisis on countries in the region and policy responses. In anticipation of the main conference, which will bring together as many as 100 public and private participants from Ghana, Togo, Mali, Senegal, and Nigeria we are holding a small public-private advocacy session to establish a common understanding of advocacy and discuss concrete reform priorities.
It is quite interesting to hear people’s view on advocacy. One of the opinions in the room was that the private sector should confront the government on key business issues. The notion, however, was quickly disputed by some of the participants (myself included), making the point that advocacy is not about confronting the government but it is more about building a case for reform and carrying through, which is quite different. You don’t have to be confrontational with government to be an effective advocate. On the contrary, you have to be able to engage the government and get its buy-in into your agenda.
Having French-speaking participants is also presenting some challenges. In talking about advocacy and its distinction from lobbying, it is difficult to describe the difference between being political and engaging the government on specific policies, as politics and policy is the same word in French (as it is in Russian as well). The two concepts are worlds apart and ensuring that we are in fact talking about the same thing (promoting policies not engaging in politics) requires some extra attention.
The key debate right now is focusing on funding of private sector reform efforts by donor organizations. One comment from the Private Enterprise Foundation in Ghana — that “if we want development, the money has to come from within” — has stimulated quite a discussion here. Both the private sector and public officials seem quite skeptical of having donor funding, yet you look around and many, many development projects in Africa are financed and facilitated by donors. How do we address this gap?