|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|
Many NGOs recognize the importance of policy in their daily work. They find that, unless policy is in line with sustainability on the one hand and people friendly on the other, much of their work will be short lived. Yet, although they acknowledge the need to understand the policy implications of their work and, where possible, influence it, they admit their shortcomings. They see these shortcomings in the following ways:
(a) Very few NGOs are intellectually equipped to analyse the longterm implications of national and international environmental and development policies for them, their work, and the societies they work with/for. Moreover, there are very few organizations addressing policy in Africa. These gaps handicap NGO work further.
(b) Most policies are evolved by governments behind closed doors. Societies and NGOs that work with them rarely make inputs into or shape the outcome of policies.
(c) As a result, most policies do not create the physical or moral environment for effective implementation of NGO work.
(d) In many countries, environmental concerns remain theoretical. They are not linked to issues of sustainability and sustainable livelihoods and development. As a result, the resource base continues to be degraded, thus undermining the very basis of the work of those NGOs that are either concerned with creating or raising awareness or working with poor people in their struggles to increase productivity.
For these and many other reasons, some (albeit few) NGOs have started to address the need to include policy in their work. They do so in many ways.
Direct participation in policy-formulation processes
Some NGOs see an effective way of accomplishing direct participation through dialogue: seminars, roundtables, discussion groups. Those involved either seek ways through which they can be invited by the governmental organs concerned, or organize seminars to which key governmental functionaries and politicians are invited. It is acknowledged that very few governments in Africa have opened themselves to NGO intervention. Therefore, it is rare for governments to have invited NGOs to interact with them. However, there are indications that, after the UNCED, the trend of dialogue that the summit process initiated in some countries will be built upon.
Advice to governments
Some NGOs advise governments through submissions, while others get themselves invited to comment on documents. None the less, it must be mentioned that the trend has been for the involvement of larger NGOs, some of them Northern. True, these are better equipped to handle policy issues, but many of them are removed from the daily concerns and struggles of the direct users and managers of the natural resources. Those working at the grass roots question the knowledge and objectivity of such NGOs, especially Northern ones. They wonder to what extent they can truly represent people's perspectives. Therefore, there are tendencies for grass-roots NGOs to seek other ways of directly influencing policies.
Seeking organizations specifically devoted to policy
Some NGOs see a need for organizations that will devote their attention specifically to policy development, formulation, and analysis. These would assist in mobilizing NGO participation, particularly by the smaller NGOs and community groups, and would also support governments in developing environmentally friendly policies rooted in Africa's social and cultural reality. In addition, NGOs see such organizations as playing a role in facilitating NGO appreciation of the implications of international policies for their work and the communities they work with. There are indications that NGOs are searching for such organizations and that, where possible, they are initiating them. The trends is for such nascent organizations to link up with similar institutions in the North, in an effort to inform governments worldwide, and as humanity searches for sustainable livelihoods and development.