|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|
Traditionally, much advocacy work by NGOs vis-a-vis governments (and industry) has been confrontational. This yielded results in other parts of the world, but now everyone, including government and industry, claims to have been converted and to be, therefore, environmentally conscious. Moreover, the targets of protests of 10-20 years ago seem not to be affected by such methods any more. For Africa, in addition, confrontational methods have often led to harassment of the individuals singled out as ring-leaders, without evident results. Often, too, globalization of the environment agenda has thrown African NGOs and governments on to one side of the arena, as both belonging to the globally deprived. Because of these developments, a number of African NGOs have sought more effective ways of carrying out their advocacy work on behalf of nature and people. These have included penetrating key organs within government as entry points into policy and governmental sanctuaries.
The ways in which this is happening include the following.
Individual links to the power structures
Many African countries attained their political independence in the past 30 years or so. Thus, many front-line workers and activists have links with the power structures through some friend, uncle, cousin, etc. These, in turn, introduce them to more of their kind. Some activists have found that they can use these contacts to press their case. The higher the contact is in the power hierarchy, the greater the chances of influencing the views of many. With the opening up of political systems and structures, parliamentarians are also being approached by their constituency members.
It must be admitted that these are not easy methods and it is doubtful whether such alliances can be sustained or depended upon. But there have been a few situations where they have worked and some NGOs would like to explore these methods of bringing about desirable change.
Dialogue with the relevant governmental organs
NGOs recognize that many governments and nascent industry in Africa are under tremendous pressure to meet short-term needs out of the limited natural resources available to the countries. More recently, they have also had to meet the demands of debt clearing. African countries therefore set aside long-term or even medium-term perspectives in favour of incessant political demands to meet dayto-day requirements. Market demands and economic and financial interest in reaping short-term gains blur the link with damaging costs to society. Therefore, a better appreciation of the costs and benefits of resource conservation through sound management is necessary before leaders in government and industry will accept the rigours of sustainable development.
NGOs involved in advocacy work see a role in influencing leaders in these areas, but they need solid, well-researched data to support their case. Confrontational approaches that might work in other instances are not likely to impress the targets in these cases. A number of NGOs have adopted this subtle yet effective way of going about their advocacy work, and it seems to be a method that should be pushed.
Until recently, the dialoguing method has been tried on a case-bycase basis. However, many NGOs whose mandates include advocacy have felt that this method, although it has proved effective in many instances, is reactive. They want to be proactive, particularly if the goal is to change policy so that national development strategies become more ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially and culturally acceptable to the people.
NGOs see an effective way of making any impact to be through: (i) identifying from among themselves those NGOs that share the same concerns, and (ii) initiating a series of dialogues with policy makers at national and subregional levels. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 provided an opportunity for some NGOs to initiate dialogues with their national governments, researchers, and others for effective participation. Since Rio, some NGOs have been attempting to engage in dialogue with governmental organs and researchers so that, together, they may initiate some follow-up action (UNDP 1992). This strategy has the advantage of, in the process, educating concerned policy makers about the state of the resources and about the important roles that grass-roots people, and especially women, play in the sustainable management of the resources. Many NGOs concerned with the sustainability of resources and societies have plans to explore this mechanism further.
The use of external links to penetrate local power structures
Many indigenous NGOs would not resort to the use of external links, but there have been cases, and there are indications that this is likely to occur again, where NGO interventions on behalf of equity of access have fallen on deaf ears in their countries, whereas external forces have been seen to influence change. With careful assessment of the likely implications, and if it is deemed not to be injurious to African dignity, some NGOs will turn to this form of pressure.