Botswana’s Former President Says Civil Society is Voice of Individual Citizens

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Speaking on Monday, March 1, 2010, in Tunis within the framework of the African civil society organizations forum organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group, Botswana’s former president, Festus Mogae, said the civil society was the voice of individual citizens and that which would provide a reality check on issues of popular concern, adding that the common factors between these diverse groups were their non-profit nature and facilitation of public participation in the social or civic life of a country.

He congratulated representatives of civil society organizations who were attending the forum, saying that “I am particularly glad that you, the members of the civil society, have agreed to be part of a consultative process which is important to the African continent. As such, I hope that at the end of this day, you will carry this message forward and support a strengthened African voice.”

Speaking about the AfDB, Mr. Mogae said Africa’s leading development finance institution had stood the continent in good stead, supporting its regional member countries throughout the global financial crisis. He stressed that the AfDB had delivered during the toughest times.

“Through President Kaberuka,” he said, “the Bank has charted a development path which will lead the continent on the road to sustainable economic and social development,” stressing that the partnership with the AfDB was long-lasting. He pointed out that the AfDB had achieved because its member countries had already confirmed the positive results on the ground and the stability that is obvious.

Focusing on the partnership, he shared his country’s experience with the Bank and civil society organizations regarding the transparent management of Botswana’s natural resources.

“Throughout the history of my country, civil society participation has been a key pillar of a peaceful and sustainable development process. The kinds of organizations found in the civil society are professional associations, faith-based or religious organizations, community groups, labor unions and citizen advocacy organizations  that speak out for various sectors of society.”

He pointed out that implementing reforms within the context of extractive industries was a complex undertaking. He urged countries to take difficult decisions and design technically sound policies along the entire value chain, recognizing that entry points would be prioritized based on local capacity, political will and leadership.

Underlying these decisions is the challenge of ensuring more transparent and accountable processes for the management of natural resources, he stressed. He emphasized that many rich countries on the continent had comparatively weak government institutions and that strengthening their effectiveness was crucial, adding that it was typically a decade-long endeavor.

“As such, a primary task is to strengthen weak civil society institutions, reform inefficient oversight institutions, of ‘restraints’ such as national audit offices, parliamentary committees, and justice systems which will together promote accountability and transparency in the industry and in the country as a whole,” he said.  

Mr. Mogae said Botswana had established a number of watchdog institutions to ensure transparency in the use of public funds, prevent and fight corruption as well as ensure that the award of public tenders was fully transparent. He pointed out that his country was a partner to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and had the support of the AfDB to build its capacity in the implementation of the programme.  

“We have together made extensive progress in enhancing our capacity in the areas of financial management and audit implementation. We have also embarked on an extensive programme of advocacy and outreach to all citizens and civil society through the sharing of information and periodic publication of all statistics and figures related to the industry,” he pointed out.