It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to this timely event, “the first Annual West Africa Civil Society Conference” which is one of its kinds.
This event with the theme “STRATEGIZING FOR THE POST 2015 AND ECOWAS VISION 2020 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA FOR WEST AFRICA” is coming at no other better time than now that we are close to the MDG timeline which is just few months away. Despite the fact that the timeline to achieve these goals is near, a lot of them are yet to be accomplished in most regions especially in West African countries. This is why this conference is not only pertinent but is being organized at the most appropriate time to remind us that a lot have to be put in place in less than a year from now.
Obviously, collaboration on the post-2015 agenda in West Africa is weak and uncoordinated on a regional scale, and this is where WACSOF has got a role to play. Given its mandate and position as the West African regional focal point for civil, discourse on post-2015, it is exceptionally placed to promote civil society ownership and active involvement in pushing forward the new agenda. There is increasing recognition of the need for West African civil society to work toward greater synergy to ensure coherent outcomes that reflect regional and continental priorities.
Civil society in West Africa is an essential part of the proper functioning of the state and possesses a wide range of knowledge, experience and expertise that could be of great benefit to states. By virtue of its flexible, multidimensional and non-rigid structure, it has the capability to adapt to rapid global changes, helping to initiate, promote and strengthen comprehensive and objective dialogue between governments and their people. In this way, civil society fosters conflict resolution, advances human rights and promotes better democratization processes. A strong West African civil society will contribute meaningfully to the successful design and implementation of development policies. However, in spite of its many advantages, civil society organizations (CSOs) are operating with serious challenges, some of which include low capacity to carry out their mandate fully, the lack of recognition and respect from governments and the unavailability of financial resources to develop innovative approaches to regional development challenges. All of this has deprived stakeholders of critical civil society perspectives and is ultimately stagnating regional development.
In light of the above, there is thus a strong case to be made for empowering Western African civil society through WACSOF to secure its place at the core of development in the region by creating a path towards political renewal and the deepening of democracy and good governance.
To address the numerous development challenges in the region, the West African Civil Society constituency represented by WACSOF in partnership with WACSI through the support of Commonwealth Foundation, collaborated to bring together civil society organizations, Institutions in Governance, Development Partners and other relevant stakeholders to strategize and design a Post 2015 regional development Agenda framework that will be mainstreamed into the ECOWAS regional development agenda.
The Objectives of this conference are as follows:
- To institute an annual platform for CSO to discuss development issues;
- To review CSOs participation in post-2015 and devise strategies to influence ongoing discourses at the regional level;
- To discuss the strategies that civil society can use to effectively engage with ECOWAS and the vision 2020 through WACSOF;
- To highlight key capacity building areas to enable the effective engagement.
It is expected that at the end of the event,
- A detailed report that captures the richness of debates on the various topics that will be discussed here, as well as the key aspects of the presentations and identified ways forward are made available;
- Post-2015 and ECOWAS Vision 2020 Development Agenda Regional Strategy Interventions for Civil Societies to engage ECOWAS is developed;
- Key capacity building areas and regional advocacy strategy for CSOs to effectively engage ECOWAS on post-2015 and ECOWAS Vision 2020 Development Agenda would have been identified.
We are optimistic that at the end of the conference, West African CSOs would be able to engage with ECOWAS, national governments and Development partners on the realisation of the ECOWAS vision 2020 and the Post 2015 Regional Development Agenda; also Local/regional issues identified by civil society would be reflected in the ECOWAS Development Agenda.
It is pertinent to note that WACSOF is seriously concerned in working with the governments of west Africa and ECOWAS in key areas of Democracy and Governance, Peace and Security, Migration and Freedom of Movement, Natural Resources and Economic Development, Agriculture and Food Security, Trade and Investment, Women and Gender, Regional and Continental integration, health, and Youth and Employment
We urge the national focal persons of ECOWAS in all its states to closely work with all the WACSOF national platforms in supporting the implementation of ECOWAS vision 2020, as we are committed to making sure that ECOWAS moves from ECOWAS of states to ECOWAS of the people.
The West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) as the official hub for the coordination and synergizing of West African civil society initiatives and activities, as well as the interface with the ECOWAS nomenclature and processes, will be delighted to continue to work with other regional organizations in creating enabling environment for civil society to engage effectively and constructively in the development of West Africa.
We call on all civil society groups to identify themselves with WACSOF’s national platforms in all the West African countries, to work towards greater synergy to ensure proper engagement with the ECOWAS Commission in achieving the vision 2020. Our vision is with the ultimate aim of facilitating building of networks, promotion of solidarity, trust and reciprocity among CSOs such that they can better enhance the efforts of the ECOWAS towards fostering regional integration and development in West Africa.
We thank the Commonwealth Foundation for their support and urge them to continue to strengthen our engagement with the regional institution of ECOWAS by providing us with enabling support to effectively coordinate the civil society organizations in the region.
We also thank WACSI for its full support in organizing this conference, the Institute has been of immense backing in ensuring that this conference is a reality, we also thank other development partners, journalists here present, and all other participants for gracing this occasion.
We hope that next year we will gather again to evaluate the performance of our engagement.
Thank you and God bless you all.