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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

CIVIL SOCIETY:WHEN THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED
By Andrew Keili
Apr 24, 2013, 17:08
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Civil society organisations (CSOs) have become important actors for delivery of social services and implementation of other development programs, as a complement to government. Globally CSOs have influenced the shaping of global public policy over the past two decades. On the local scene CSOs have been very dynamic and advocated for many issues pertinent to our national life especially since the end of the war. It is therefore surprising that they seem to be accusing each other now of not being true to the cause.

 

In a recent newspaper report titled NMJD slams civil society organisations, the writer states that the group Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) has criticised some CSOs in a recent report for compromising the intents for which they are established. Referencing NMJDs report on the project titled Initiative to Build Social Movement in Sierra Leone, NMJDs Executive Director Abu Brima lamented the lack of visionary and dynamic leadership in civil society movements accusing two civil society groups, the National Youth Coalition (NYC) and Civil Society Alternative Process (CSAP) for compromising their platforms.

 

According to the report The NYC went beyond its mandate which is to advocate for the Sierra Leonean youth to taking sides on issues that have nothing to do with youth-for example the procurement of arms and ammunition by the government in which it supported the government. He also accused CSAP of being undemocratic and of not changing its leadership since its formation in 2004-the national coordinator had refused to be replaced and when forced to do so had taken away sensitive documents with him. Such actions, he claimed had discouraged donors from working with the organisation.

 

This is indeed disappointing news. No one can dispute that various types of pressure from CSOs have made government reconsider a considerable number of its policies usually for the betterment of the country. I have had a long association with CSOs in the extractives and environmental sectors and have been impressed with what they have done. NMJD, by far the most vociferous of the local NGOs dealing with the mining sector has been singularly effective in bringing to the national and international media and international organisations the inequities in the sector and the perceived excesses of mining companies. Several international initiativessuch as the Kimberley Process have been spawned from the issues emanating from conflict diamonds and other issues related to social and economic benefits from natural resources exploitation which have been brought to the fore by International NGOs such as Partnership Africa Canada (PAC).

 

The role of the National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives (NACE) in educating the public about pitfalls with extractives sector agreements is well appreciated. Green Scenery has almost singlehandedly brought the issue of land grabbing to the fore. In the area of governance, Campaign For Good Governance (CGG) has been instrumental in making the public aware of concerns about governance issues. Groups like National Election Watch  (NEW) have done impressive work in Sierra Leone and the sub region.

 

It is disconcerting that over the past few years, CSOs have appeared to be for hire. Indeed Abu Brima is right. I have mentioned the story before in this column of one gentleman from a health related NGO poking his nose into the Africell radio saga because it is a human rights issue. NMJD itself has incurred the ire of other NGOs for criticising the African Minerals agreement. Another NGO opined thus: The NMJD and its Executive Director, we are inclined to believe are either blind to the reality on the ground with regard the monumental developments taking place in Sierra Leone because of African Minerals, or the NMJD and its Executive Director are trouble-makers with ulterior motives.

 

There is little doubt that some CSOs are now for hire to fight off others. We have also witnessed heads of CSOs condemning government just for them to markedly shift their position on issues and be compensated with government  appointments even to the extent of becoming ministers. It is not however merely the venture into politics that I find repulsive. After all there are several examples worldwide of successful CSO members doing so. Ex Brazilian President Lula da Silva was a Union leader and so is the President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro. Bernard Kouchner the co-founder of MSF was later a successful French Foreign minister. Back home Alpha Timbo, ex Secretary General of the Teachers Union became a successful minister. It is however when they become turncoats and sell out the very ideals on which their organisation was founded as a condition precedent for being invited to serve that it becomes repulsive.

 

CSOs can certainly contribute a lot to bolstering the work of our transparency and accountability agencies and groups. This role and other roles played by various CSOs would require training of staff, which is a necessity for many employees of CSOs. Whatever their deficiencies CSOs are good for our nascent democracy and should be encouraged. That is why we ought to applaud the sort of self censorship advocated by NMJD. The adoption of undemocratic practices and unprincipled positions on issues have no place in Civil Society Organisations. Government and corporate groups should not be seen to engender a split in their ranks for their selfish benefit.Meanwhile, it is good that they now contemplate better coordination and some form of self censorship. The question of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?-Who will guard the guards themselves? becomes more pertinent now than ever before. Civil society can go a long way toward guarding itself.

 

DOMESTIC LABOUR: THEY WHO THREAD THE PATH OF LABOUR........

 

I was very impressed by a presentation on Radio Democracy by Anita Ansu Katta on an indigenous business she had set up to cater for the provision of domestic and office staff for various clients. Anita was the winner of the Business Bomba competition and was using her prize money of Le100 million to implement her business idea. I have always been impressed with domestic staff in Ghana during my visits there and many friends can attest to their relative reliability compared to Sierra Leonean domestic staff. Many people do not bother employing staff for domestic chores as they cannot stand the frustration.

 

Most people experience the services of a domestic worker. Everywhere in the world, domestic workers earn low wages; work volatile hours; receive few benefits, if any; have no career prospects; and are, most often, unorganized.

 

Our employment figures indicate that some 80% of the urban and rural labour force may be under-utilised. Anitas agency registers and trains staff for various domestic and office chores. She negotiates wages for them and brings them into the formal sector by registering them with Nassit. She also takes out insurance on them. She stresses the need for some literacy training for some jobs. Her biggest worry she assays is the unreliability of people-that big T word for most Sierra Leoneans-TRUST. The driver who takes passengers and steals fuel, the housekeeper who steals your valuables and even carts away food, the cleaner who cleans out a lot more things from your house than garbage are much too commonplace now.  Those of us who are much older remember with fondness some housekeeper of driver we had in the house when we were kids with fondness. Not any more- everything now has to be under lock and key.

 

We could potentially create considerably more jobs than we care to admit. Put up your hands if you could employ a driver if you found one that was honest. Your hands up again, if you could allow the houseboy to clean the rooms in your absence. How many of you allow the houseboy to measure rice or take condiments from the store in your absence?  Busy housewives have now become pseudo maids, cleaners and drivers.

 

We should honestly ask ourselves- are Ghanaians more honest than we are? Is the lack of trust now imprinted on our collective national psyche?  We must take action to engender trust between employer and employee-but how do we start doing this? Is this one big homework for the ABC Secretariat to handle?

 

Anita is right that training is absolutely essential. I recall the case of a houseboy of a friend at Sierra Rutile during our bachelor days. We were impressed that our friends chairs, unlike ours were always shiny and wanted a few tips for our own houseboys. Lakayana, as we fondly called the houseboy, what is your secret to these shiny chairs?. Ar de rub pamail pan am sir!  Palm oil?-so this was the source of the troublesome red stains we often had on our clothes?.

 

The ILOs Decent Work Agenda provides a new and promising avenue for ensuring visibility and respect for domestic workers. Other countries have enshrined this issue into their labour laws. In Ghana you could go to an employment agency and get a well recommended  domestic worker and you can almost be certain the recommendation is authentic. As far as Sierra Leone is concerned Anita has entered into uncharted territory which is nevertheless useful in addressing our employment problems. Oh, I almost forgot-is the perception that many Sierra Leoneans dont want to earn a honest wage true? Sierra Leonean workers should  realise there is dignity in labour and God looks favourably on honest labour. As the hymn writer says:

 

They who tread the path of labor follow where my feet have trod;

they who work without complaining, do the holy will of God;

nevermore thou needest seek me; I am with thee everywhere;

raise the stone, and thou shalt find me, cleave the wood and I am there.

 

Good luck to Anita.

 

Ponder my thoughts.


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