Gaborone Consultation Process: Civil Society and the Peace and Security Council

The ACTION Support Centre was represented at the Southern Africa Consultation on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Peace and Security Council held in Gaborone from the 14th to the 15th of May.

In her opening remarks the newly appointed SADC Executive Secretary, H.E. Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax called on participants to use the consultation to reflect on the contribution of civil society in shaping the work of the Peace and Security Council and to make recommendations that could have “profound implications for the future of the PSC in general and SADC’s peace and security agenda in particular.”

Civil society organizations from 12 SADC member states attended the consultation. The hosts of the consultation, ACCORD, acknowledged that the meeting could not claim to be fully representative of civil society views from across the region, however under the time constraints faced, it was clear that some effort had been made to bring a diverse group of relevant organizations together.

The consultation included a set of useful inputs and some discussion amongst participants that resulted in a set of recommendations that were taken forward to the Addis Ababa meeting with the African Union Commission and the AU Peace and Security Council.

The overall process of this continental consultation, and the discussions within the meeting, raise a number of important questions for all civil society groupings, and for governance institutions that seek to involve civil society in contributing to the African Peace and Security Architecture.

Efforts to build consensus or a framework for collaboration between civil society groupings need to pay close attention to issues of mandate and legitimacy. Collaborative efforts that genuinely seek to identify areas of commonality in analysis and approach across diverse civil society actors require careful leadership that finds a balance between arriving at an outcome and ensuring there is a sense of ownership amongst those involved.

Time needs to be given for documentation that emerges out of discussions to be subjected to review, and there must be space for additions and amendments if the document claims to represent the views of all involved. It would be a lost opportunity, and an exacerbation of existing relationship challenges if civil society groups are co-opted into processes that are dominated by one group who then speak on behalf of people from whom they have not really obtained a mandate.

Establishing internal forms of democratic decision-making will add to the legitimacy and accountability of civic voices. Practicing these forms of collaboration in action will demonstrate that as civil society we are able to offer a real alternative to the current status quo in which so many people feel removed from how decisions are made.

Questions around how to build and strengthen existing forms of organization, and to take care not to drown out or marginalize local capacities for peace are also critical within any consultation process. That these processes were hosted by ACCORD in Southern Africa, the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in East and Central Africa, and by Oxfam International in North Africa, does not on the surface appear to constitute a fair or meaningful arrangement that will empower existing national or regional groups.

The ASC will continue to engage in these consultations, based on the belief that the opportunities to extend our web of networks outweigh the concerns raised by the flaws in the process. Engaging with the process, looking for opportunities to assist in strengthening the approach, and to influence the process as it unfolds are still useful intentions.

As this process moved to Addis Ababa the ASC was still involved. Initially it appeared as though a tiered structure of participation, with some relegated to observer status was proposed, though this was withdrawn as the discussions proceeded.

The proceedings and outcomes of the Addis meeting are recorded separately in this newsletter.