|Sustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)|
|Part 4: Institutional issues|
|National, regional, and international cooperation for sustainable environmental and resource management: The place and roles of NGOs|
NGOs are also developing, or are being called upon to enter into, partnerships with many other actors to empower both themselves and also other weaker groups from among themselves. Other groups may be considered weaker because, in addition to information gaps, they may need technical support, or mobilization skills, or supporters and advocators as they struggle for control over the resources they use and manage as part of their daily work, or machinery to link them to national power systems in order to strengthen their work, or the strength of numbers as an empowering strategy for coping with forces that appear too bewildering to be tackled singly.
The ways in which they are doing this include the following.
Networking among the like-minded
Umbrella or membership organizations engaged in networking can identify strengths and weaknesses within their community of NGOs. Then, they either provide the information so that members can contact each other directly, or link members to each other through various schemes. NGOs in Zaire and Tanzania, for example, have strengthened their forestry-related activities and management by learning on the ground and enhancing their skills through networking with NGOs in Kenya: the GreenBelt Movement and Kenya Energy and Environment NGOs (KENGO). NGOs in Kenya and Zimbabwe enriched their organic farming skills by spending time at each other's locations and learning as they worked. In the process they were also experimenting and improving the methods. Similarly, NGOs from Kenya and Uganda have enhanced each other's skills through exchange visits. Many others, including some from other third world regions, have strengthened their networking and management skills through visits to the Environment Liaison Centre International, a membership organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. It is clear that NGOs will enhance their resource-management skills through exchange visits among themselves within Africa and on a South-South basis.
Partnerships with groups at the village/community level
In some cases, NGOs are linking up with local-level groups as a strategy for forging lasting and more result-oriented relationships. But they are also being called upon by the groups themselves to enter into partnerships with them in order to enhance their own efforts. Examples are women's groups, and I don't mean middle-class women, but the groups that depend directly on the resource base for their livelihoods and those of their households. Increasing degradation of the resource base is inflicting a harsher "onslaught" on women resource-users. These are the women who, to a greater extent, have retained what indigenous knowledge of resource management is extant. They are the managers of the resources they use on a daily basis. Therefore they hold a key to the sustainability of the resources. Yet their knowledge and roles remain unrecognized, though talked about. Women continue to represent the majority who are struggling for control over and easier access to the resources.
The idea of partnerships is not new to African women. Recognizing the need for partners, women have developed mutual-aid societies. The Kenyan word "harambee" is the most appropriate one I have come across to describe this. Whether they are known as clubs, groups, or cooperatives, the spirit behind them is the same.
As the environmental issues move from the local to the national and on to the wider world, as ownership of the resources shifts from women to men and from local to national power structures, and as support systems move out of the locality to the national capitals, women's partners must in turn reflect this wider horizon and especially be able to link them to the distant power brokers. NGOs, being of and for the people, fulfil this role. NGOs are already providing invaluable partners, strengthening women's groups in many ways: enhancing their capacities by improving the women's knowledge base, making it more efficient and reflective of the changing environment; empowering women through the acquisition of managerial and other technical skills; carrying out advocacy work on behalf of women to local and national power holders and brokers and to policy makers. Those NGOs that are able to carry out research can facilitate people-centred research, in order to strengthen local-level resource management, by bringing women into the research process. Thus women would be enabled to play lead roles in the use of research results for sustainable development.
Coalitions with other groupings
NGOs are working with an array of other institutions for sustainable management of the resources. Peasant societies and unions, farmers' unions, which in some cases mean large-scale farmers (to be distinguished from peasant unions), legal aid associations, fishermen's cartels, and in a few cases trade unions are some such groupings. NGOs work with them in their struggles against powerful forces whose practices are dangerous to the environment. In other third world regions these types of coalition have grown into movements. This has rarely been the case in Africa. Nevertheless, these unions are emerging and need to be encouraged and supported as a means of sustaining efforts at resource management. They will play major roles in the years ahead.