The AfDB strengthens its links with civil society: working towards positive, rapid progress in Africa

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A forum was held on Thursday, May 28, Day 4 of the African Development Bank's (AfDB) Annual Meetings, involving representatives from the Bank and from civil society organizations (CSOs). Several topics were on the agenda, particularly citizen oversight, accountability and the climate. One of the main goals of this forum was to uphold cooperation between the AfDB and CSOs in order to encourage the latter to be transparent in promoting sustainable development in Africa.

Every year since 2009 the Annual Meetings have included this special forum to highlight the important role of CSOs as vital partners of the AfDB, which this year reasserted its support for them. The Bank wants African CSOs, which are partners and crucial players in the continent's development, to be strengthened and become even more effective on the ground.

With this in mind, the new AfDB-CSO advisory board, which was created in January 2015, is reinforcing this partnership for development in Africa. Governance, accountability and transparency have dominated discussions during this session, which also served as an opportunity to present a database of CSOs compiled by the Bank to provide its various departments with accurate information about all the CSOs they work with. So far 1,260 CSOs have been identified across the continent, grouped into thematic categories (mostly governance, development and gender).

The list is far from complete, announced Zéneb Touré, who is responsible for the AfDB's cooperation with CSOs, saying that "this internal AfDB database will be updated regularly so that accurate and reliable information is available to the Bank's departments".

Governance, the key word

For Simon Mizrahi, Director of the Quality Assurance and Results Department of the AfDB, accountability and transparency are the Bank's core values. They are also the key words that should guide CSOs in their work.

Speaking at the forum, Aloysius Ordu, a member of the Board of Directors of the organization Partnership for Transparency (PTF) and a former Vice-President of the AfDB, mentioned studies by Transparency International to highlight the devastating scale of corruption on the continent. Except for Botswana, all African countries are below 50 (out of 100) on the Corruption Perceptions index, he said. In Ordu's opinion, citizen oversight is a decisive weapon in the fight against the cancer of corruption.

Far from being a myth, corruption is a reality in Africa. For this reason all the panelists – from Anna Bossman, Director of the AfDB's Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department (IACD), to Kinna Likimani, a well-known Ghanaian blogger and activist, to Neil Cole, Executive Secretary of the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) – spoke of the need to eradicate this disease.

However, the fight against corruption can only succeed if information is available and used intelligently, taking into account the protection of whistleblowers.

Within the AfDB, the subject is not viewed lightly. The creation a decade ago of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department, which is now headed by Bossman, is proof of this, as well as the many other departments at the Bank that work to promote good governance and reduce corruption and fraud. "At the AfDB, we do not tolerate any corruption," declared Aloysius Ordu, recalling the sanctions taken by the Bank last year against eight businesses with which it had signed previous contracts.

Graça Machel, a surprise guest

CSOs, however, do not always follow the ideals they advocate. Although they demand accountability and transparency from others, their own practices are sometimes off the mark. Moreover, "they are divided, fragmented," said Bossman.

Graça Machel, the former First Lady of Mozambique, humanitarian and widow of Nelson Mandela, attended the forum and addressed the issue. She now chairs the pan-African organization New Faces New Voices, which works in the interests of women in 15 countries, and appealed strongly for cooperation with CSOs. This rallying of forces at a regional level will make them stronger in their actions, she said.

"If not, we will cry, or even shout, but if we are not doing it together, nobody will hear us", Graça Machel warned starkly. The AfDB also needs to support CSOs that work in hostile environments, she said. "We need to strengthen the institutional capacities of CSOs to enable them to fight on a level playing field with executive, judicial and legislative powers that are independent institutions," declared Machel, a veteran activist for freedoms.