Learning and teaching in AfricaOur mission statement at S&T is to use our skills to put Africa first.
In recent weeks, weve had the privilege of being invited to work in Nigeria
and Kenya, offering us the chance to be true to our mission.
Training in public participation in Abuja, Nigeria
The change to democracy in Nigeria brought with a constitutional review,
following similar undertakings in Kenya, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and of course
South Africa. David, who was the official evaluator of the public participation
process for the South African Constitutional Assembly, was invited to participate
in a civil society training workshop held in Abuja.
Under the auspices of the Centre for Democracy and Development, an NGO
that stretches across Nigeria and Ghana, civil society structures in Nigeria
were brought together to analyse their own strategy and to learn from our
experience in South Africa.
The South African team initially included Hassen Ebrahim, Deputy Director-General
of the Department of justice and former CEO of the Constitutional Assembly,
but he had to withdraw. John Tsalamandris, who had managed the Bill of Rights
committee in South Africa, went with David.
A skewed process?
The President of Nigeria has appointed a constitutional review committee,
with a mandate to travel across the country and solicit inputs, and to report
back in 3 months. Bearing in mind that there are 120 million Nigerians
with over 250 different ethnic groups and languages clearly the process
is inadequate, when judged against what took place in South Africa.
The civil society structures heard about the South African experience,
our strengths and weaknesses, based on the successive evaluations that David
had managed. They were also trained in conflict management, negotiation
techniques and a host of other important issues by John.
The African experience
We forget that we had a unique opportunity in the mid-1990s, to draw up
a genuinely democratic and participative constitution. We had a government
that wanted one; donors that put money into the process; and a powerful
set of civil society structures ready to participate, and fight hard for
what they believed in.
In Nigeria as elsewhere the situation is different. No real mechanisms
exist for broad-based public participation, which is left entirely to CBOs
and NGOs. This is as true in Nigeria as it is in Kenya.
But if there is little up-front space for mobilisation, the experiences
of countries other than South Africa shows that a critical mechanism for
legitimacy is a post-drafting referendum. The referendum in Zimbabwe is
the best-known example of this, and shows how a process that is skewed to
favour the ruling elite can be thrown out by the citizenry.
And it is it this kind of mechanism that the civil society structures in
Nigeria are now calling for. A referendum opens space for debate and mobilisation,
and for resources to be made available by wary donors. And critically
it is a process that can confer or remove legitimacy, with important and
far-reaching implications for ordinary citizens.
After days of intensive work in the 41 degree heat of Abuja, we felt exhilarated
and exhausted. Civil society is alive and well and growing in Nigeria, and
the more we can learn from each other, the more a common experience can
be analysed and understood.