Daniel Molokele, a human rights lawyer and civil society advocate based in Zimbabwe, share his thoughts on the current civil society environment in Africa. This was during an interview with the Advocacy Accelerator’s Executive Director Wanjiku Kamau, before a webinar hosted by the Accelerator on 23rd August 2017. The webinar’s topic was ‘Accelerating African approaches to advocacy: From conversation to action. A debate with African Advocates.’
For the past 20 years, civil society organisations have struggled to play the critical watchdog role when it comes to policy commitments made in Africa. Retrospective in his stance on the evolution of civil activism in Africa, Molokele points to the global recession of 2008 as one of the key factors that has adversely affected civil society activism.
Molokele has been a civil society advocate for over 16 years and has played different roles in the advocacy milieu. Inspired by his late father who was a trade unionist fighting for thousands of workers at the coal mine, Daniel’s journey as a civil society activist started in Zimbabwe and then South Africa.
He is now an African and global civil society activist. “I worked briefly as a legal practitioner before I returned to my real passion which is advocating for human rights and good governance,” he says.
During the 1990s, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Africa evolved progressively and became a huge phenomenon. He recalls the active role of civil society in advocating for access to HIV treatment. The successful campaign continued for most of the first decade of the new millennium. This led to numerous gains on rights issues related to child marriages, infant and maternal mortality, gender equality and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Africa today has made several gains in the development and adoption of various policy commitments. Some of the most crucial ones include the East and Southern Africa (ESA) Commitment, Abuja Declaration, Maputo Declaration, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and more recently, the SDGs.
“Sadly, after the pomp and ceremony of signing declarations nothing much really happens after that and targets are hardly ever met in the continent.” Molokele attributes this to the shrinking funding space, competition between CSOs and a general lack of impetus from CSOs to build formidable sustainable coalitions and platforms. In addition, civil society organisations have lost a lot of experienced leaders in the past decade which has then led to weakened advocacy initiatives. “Innovation is the biggest challenge when it comes to advocacy in today’s era,” says Molokele. Strategies that used to work years ago have become obsolete. He points to the need to try and adapt to the new millennium scenario.
“For example, we need to evolve new advocacy challenges with the rise of information technology such as social media. While advocates in the Global North have embraced social media advocacy, the same cannot be said about advocates in Africa.” With a myriad of technological platforms available at our disposal in this information age, there is need to harness the potential that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp that require minimal input in terms of funding and other resources. In addition, these platforms are timely and could be less time consuming when it comes to implementation.