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CSOs in dialogue: Expanding engagement with civil society to advance Africa’s climate-smart development

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The example of Menengai geothermal project

On May 28, 2015, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) co-hosted an open dialogue session in the AfDB’s Civil Society Organization (CSO) Forum in the margins of its Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. In the session, participants used as a jumping-off point the CIF’s unique multi-stakeholder approach, with the AfDB serving as a key implementing agency and partner. 

The lively session with more than 60 representatives of CSOs explored ways to effectively engage stakeholders, consider their views, and measure their influence as the CIF-AfDB African portfolio expands, particularly through the CIF’s Program for Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries (SREP). The commitment of the AfDB and CIF partnership to increase transparency and accountability in policies and programs was highlighted. In particular, Kenya’s innovative Menengai geothermal project – the most advanced of all CIF SREP projects worldwide -- was explored as a best practice example for CSO engagement on key points.

First, stakeholder engagement requires a multilevel effort. Zhihong Zhang, CIF SREP Coordinator in the CIF Administrative Unit, and Joseph Kitilit, Deputy Manager, Corporate Planning and Strategy for Kenya’s public developer Geothermal Development Corporation (GDC), confirmed that in this project, the engagement occurred at the multilateral development bank (MDB), national, and local levels.

Second, early civil society participation is important to ensure a project achieves its economic and development goals. Alex Rugamba, Director of the AfDB Energy, Environment and Climate Change Department, declared that “Consultation with CSOs is crucial in the earliest stages of project design, as it allows a project to gauge potential local support for, or opposition to, different options and alternatives. It allows the identification of key issues and concerns that might affect the viability of a project before too many decisions are made.” For Menengai, early engagement with civil society helped GDC improve project operations, allowing the company to address issues before they occurred in the project’s implementation phase.

Third, CSOs provide another layer of oversight. Judy Ndichu, UNDP Kenya representative and former CIF Observer, noted that CSOs perform the necessary function of articulating the complaints and grievances of local communities that relate to a project’s design and implementation. Kitilit said that this grievance mechanism exists in the Menengai project and that the GDC stakeholder policy demands that all local grievances be accounted for and responded to.

Finally, effective knowledge management can help proliferate the use of best practices. Moderator Lisa Elges of Transparency International asked the panelists whether the success of the Menengai project could be replicated elsewhere, and if so, how. In response, Ndichu pointed to effective knowledge management tools. For example, the proposed stakeholder advisory network (SAN), is a platform for stakeholders in different countries to share their experiences. Also, pilot country meetings facilitate knowledge exchange between countries. Adding to this, Kurt Lonsway, Environment and Climate Change Manager and CIF coordinator at the AfDB, stated that the Bank already has a knowledge management function in its CIF activities. Through this function, new pilot countries benefit from stories and experiences of previous projects’ teams. However, Lonsway noted that AfDB could do more to build the capacity of CSO to gain this specific knowledge.

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