In the last 20 years, the role of civil society in environmental policy development has changed significantly. Today, African governments recognize that civil society must be consulted in environment and development initiatives. Increasingly, civil society organizations are demanding to be more actively included in policy-making processes, including those at a national, sub-regional and regional level.

Civil society is often thought of as a third sector in a tripartite relationship with the state and business. This is the arena in which citizens collectively exercise social and political values to promote various aspects of community well-being. Civil society organizations (CSOs) include religious, traditional, farmers’, women’s, academic and professional, civic, microfinancing, rights claiming, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as trade unions. CSOs do not equate with civil society as a whole and they may have diverse or even contradictory interests (Chaplowe 2002). The number of CSOs participating in environment and development issues has grown considerably since the beginning of the 1980s and these organizations vary in scope and scale. There are those that operate primarily at a local level, including community-based organizations (CBOs) and those with national, sub-regional, regional and global mandates. Although the number of CSOs has grown across Africa, there is considerable variation between countries and between urban and rural settings.

In the 1980s, CSOs began to engage more actively in development issues as illustrated by their roles in fighting apartheid, advocating an international code of conduct for the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, improving and increasing official aid (including food aid) following the African famine of the mid-1980s, and working with UNICEF and others to reform SAPs given the negative social impact of these programmes (UN 2003). The activities of African NGOs concentrated on development tasks in the economic, social, cultural and environmental sector. Most African NGOs were not actively engaged in defining policy but had a strong programmatic focus that sought to improve human well- being through improved agriculture, more efficient energy management, water purification and the development of microenterprises among other things. During this period, science and particularly government science-based institutions played a central role in explaining problems and defining solutions and, because the environment was seen as a public good, a government lead was believed to be warranted (Berkhout and others 2003). There was a proliferation of laws and policies that sought to increase controls over environmental use. At the regional as well as the national level, NGOs worked to complement the activities of governments and international agencies in humanitarian areas, such as food crises, but also in environmental management areas including water, wildlife, forest and energy management. The increasing role of community-based organizations, and in particular NGOs, during the 1980s, was linked to a reassessment by donor agencies on the states’ ability to act as vehicles for development (Chaplowe 2002). Structural Adjustment Programmes introduced in the 1980s forced many African governments to withdraw or reduce many development and public services, which created a space for the growth of CBOs.

By the 1990s, the role of CBOs began to widen, particularly in the environment and development sector. In 1990, the Arusha Charter on Popular Participation recognized the need to fully integrate African civil society in various governance structures of key institutions in order for them to fully participate in defining the long-term development policies of Africa (UN 2003). CSOs began to actively carve out a role that went beyond being service providers to being more active participants in policy making. Success in this has varied from country to country and institution to institution; in many places this role has remained superficial. At the same time there were important shifts taking place in how the environment was perceived. A more complex understanding of the environment that acknowledged its role in local livelihoods and human well-being was beginning to emerge. Although the framing of solutions to environmental problems still tended to be externally focused or driven, concentrating for example on the role of international environmental law, markets and incentives, the role of local users was becoming more prominent. NGOs took on active advocacy roles, often focusing on the subsistence needs of poor people. Increasingly, NGOs were present at hearings, panels and briefings and in dialogues with governments (UN 2003). In global policy processes, there was a gradual increase in the prominence of Southern NGOs (UN 2003).

Box 4: Women negotiating for peace
Although women are often better equipped than men to prevent or resolve conflict, they face formidable obstacles to participating in peace negotiations.
    The contribution from Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) demonstrates how effective organizing and collaborating with other CSOs can enhance women’s advocacy and role in peace negotiations. Femmes Africa Solidarité has successfully employed a multidimensional approach to advocacy. First, the women made their voices heard through international conferences, such as the Pan- African Women’s Conference on a Culture for Peace in 1999. Second, the women successfully mobilized for the women of Burundi to attend the third round of inter- Burundi peace negotiations in Arusha. Third, the women built a common platform – the Mano River Women’s Network (MARWOPNET) – to resolve the crisis between Guinea and Liberia. Subsequently, MARWOPNET received international acclaim for its key role in rebuilding diplomatic relations between Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Fourth, the women built partnerships across national boundaries – MARWOPNET was the result of collaboration between women from three countries. Fifth, the negotiation strategies included unified voice, persistence and image-making via the media. Through these approaches, FAS helped women develop more comprehensive, gender-specific policies and practices for addressing conflict that were incorporated in the conflict resolution process.

Source: Tabbush 2005

At the global level, various initiatives to increase opportunities for participation in environmental policy development were also adopted. The United Nations made direct provision for CBO participation at the 1992 UNCED. Since then, CSOs have played an active role in UN conferences concerned with development issues and which have a bearing on the environment, including ones on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), human rights, women, social development, racism, least developed countries, food aid, and communication and information, as well as the Millennium Summit. Although such approaches were adopted, they fall short of a concerted and formalized approach to bring all sectors together (Reinicke and others 2000). The UN conferences and other processes seek to deal with issues that cannot be treated purely from a national perspective – environmental issues, for example, traverse national or regional boundaries (Tabbush 2005). Participation has given CSOs the opportunity to engage with CSOs from other countries and regions, as well as with governments other than their own. More recently, initiatives by various UN agencies have been adopted to increase CSO participation in UN-led development activities. For example, UNEP’s Global Civil Society Forum and Global Women’s Assembly on Environment provide new opportunities for civil society participation in its programmes. These initiatives have played a key role in widening the influence of CSOs, including those from Africa.

Although there were many successes after UNCED, the following decade revealed the need for users and managers of natural resources to be more actively involved in shaping their own futures. It has also drawn attention to the complex links between human-driven change and the environment (Berkhout and others 2003). From this emerged a new understanding of the need for integrated approaches focusing on multiple and cross-dimensional linkages. Increasingly, there is a shift to policy processes that bring together not only the different environmental sectors but also other sectors which impact on the environment, such as health, technology and finance, with intellectuals from different disciplines, including the biophysical and social sciences, in partnership with civil society in formulating responses. These approaches are discussed in depth in Chapter 8: Interlinkages: The Environment and Policy Web. Rights claiming and advocacy by civil society have been important in bringing about this shift. NGOs became key players in putting forward public concerns, interests and priorities.

By the end of the 1990s, CSOs had come to engage more actively in analysing problems, defining solutions and framing policies. There has been a notable growth in civil society organizations across the board and the kinds of roles they have taken on. They have successfully negotiated a place in regional and sub- regional intergovernmental organizations, including the AU and NEPAD, as discussed later in this chapter. Civil society organizations have played an important role in the development of AU protocols in critical issues of environment and development concern, including biosafety, genetic resources and the rights of women. Partnerships with governments and the business sector have also become increasingly important. This includes partnerships establishing transboundary natural resource management areas, protected areas management and implementing environmental impact assessments. They have also become more critical development partners, raising concerns and drawing attention to some of the potential difficulties associated with new state initiatives. For example, in January 2001, some 200 CBOs from 45 African countries met at the African Social Forum and rejected a neo-liberal approach to globalization (Chaplowe 2002). New kinds of CSOs have begun to emerge: of particular importance has been the development of networks, bringing together different types of CSOs for a common purpose, sometimes in partnership with business, governments and multilateral organizations. Some of these have been local or national in focus, addressing for example HIV/AIDS, land claims, and participation in PRS. Others have taken regional or sub-regional approaches, focusing on a growing range of issues that require cooperation including water resource management, malaria, chemical management, peace- building and food security. These include networks such as the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and the African Stockpile Programme.