V. Gaps and Opportunities
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The purpose of this section is to highlight gaps identified in the survey—both on the recipient side and as related to donor engagement. Gaps refer to lacks, shortfalls, or interventions that have not been successful. On the basis of this gap analysis, this section identifies and spells out potential opportunities for enhanced collaboration between AROs and CSOs, private foundations, and other donor organizations. Opportunities relate mainly to how donors can add value to existing and potential initiatives being undertaken by AROs and CSOs. It should be noted here that since AROs tend to receive support from bilateral and multilateral inter-governmental sources, the below discussion will refer largely to CSOs and non-governmental think tanks working regionally or continentally in Africa.
It should be noted that in the pages that follow, gaps and opportunities are analyzed from a macro perspective, albeit with reference to examples as needed. This is intended to complement the detailed theme-by-theme analysis in the previous section on context and emerging challenges. The rationale for this is that to the extent that can be generalized, the problems faced by CSOs ring true across the landscape. Similarly, most funding gaps and opportunities identified can be said to apply across the spectrum of donors.
Despite the exponential increase in the numbers of regional actors and the scope of their work, and notwithstanding the mounting interest within the donor community, the survey identified a number of gaps that must be addressed if regional approaches are to make a tangible and lasting contribution to Africa’s development.
An overarching and common gap is in institutional capacity. The majority of CSOs — even those with distinguished track records, reasonably strong funding bases and well-staffed secretariats — lack the fundamentals for institutional sustainability. Constraints affecting sustainability include poor recruitment, inadequate staffing, inability to retain staff, absence of career and succession planning, ineffective training, weak administrative systems, ineffective monitoring and evaluation, and poor uptake of technology. The growing international market for development and humanitarian expertise places a sizeable burden on modest-sized African CSOs that cannot compete with the UN, international NGOs and others—leading to a high staff turnover and systematic erosion of institutional memory.
In many TBOs, there exists a gulf between mandates and capacities to deliver, a problem that persists despite being highlighted by repeated donor evaluations. The AU, for example, has seen a multiplicity of initiatives to build the capacity of the Addis Ababa-based Commission. However none of these initiatives has been able to address institution building systemically. This failure, exacerbated by the dynamics of internal politics common to such institutions, means that the AU Commission’s ability to deliver remains well below par, especially in light of the expansive agenda laid out in the Constitutive Act. Bilateral donors, who provide the bulk of support to AROs, have failed to address this systemic concern, and have instead tended to privilege the advancement of their own agendas. In light of the fragile nature of African civil society, the patent lack of institution building in a large number of CSOs undermines their mission. This is an area in which private foundations—which view institutional strengthening as a key to sustainability and can bring different experiences to bear—can help make a difference.
A related concern is in the area of governance. Many CSOs have a tendency to focus on upward accountability—whereby they expend significant energy satisfying the requirements of boards, councils of management, and donors. More often than not, this is achieved at the expense of downward accountability—the responsibility AROs have to their stakeholders. At the same time CSOs need to ride up to the challenges of emerging issues. Indeed, and with particular reference to CSOs, the governance structures many regional organizations have put in place come across as either nominal or overly elaborate, working against transparency and accountability, and in extreme cases sparking contestation over power. All this affects the ability of the organizations in question to deliver on their work. Governance constitutes an important dimension of institutional sustainability, and more attention should be paid to this area.
A second gap concerns the relevance of programming. Many CSOs include long shopping lists of thematic areas as part of their work program. However, more often than not, impact tends to be registered in a subset of these areas. One CSO included in the survey in Section VII listed close to 10 themes as part of its program. However, and tellingly, a caveat on its website states that due to a lack of funding it has only been able to implement programs in two of these themes. This phenomenon is common to AROs and CSOs alike.
To some extent, the gap relates to how CSOs, think tanks and research institutes define their comparative and competitive advantages and set their program agendas. Some simply fail to undertake rigorous agenda-setting program development exercises to establish what they should be doing proactively and reactively. This is also often a function of weak institutional capacity. However, another driver is the fact that donor decisions on which themes to support have a herding effect among recipients, creating a supply orientation in an environment that requires that recipient organizations be largely demand-driven.
As one think tank featured in the survey noted with reference to health, while many donors are putting more and more funding into HIV/AIDS in Africa, other priority areas are receiving less support. One such area is maternal and child mortality, which together account for some 5.1 million of the estimated 8 million deaths caused in Africa each year by preventable, treatable, and manageable diseases and health conditions. Given that annual deaths from maternal mortality amount to almost double the number of annual HIV-related deaths, and that women are biologically more vulnerable to HIV, and that mother-to-child transmission of HIV is growing, support is needed for advocacy to influence policy on both issues.
Setting or changing policy norms at continental or sub-regional level is the stated aim of a number of advocacy networks or coalitions. However, a third gap of significance is the question of non-compliance—the failure within countries to implement norms and standards agreed at continental and sub-regional levels. There exists a vast chasm between enshrining progressive ideas into pan-African declarations, charters, or treaties, and ensuring that these policy provisions are implemented in country. This is in part a function of the nature of postcolonial Africa, involving a high transaction cost for any CSO or even TBO wishing to hold African leaders to account for what they have signed into law.
Fundamentally, it is also due to the nature of the transnational agenda-setting process itself, whose biggest flaw is that although member states sign and ratify these norms and standards, they are non-binding. As advocacy-focused CSOs have recognized, compliance involves citizen pressure, and it is this recognition that has spawned a host of rights-based continental initiatives, including some focused on gender, child rights, and landmines.
Nevertheless, advocacy-focused CSOs are only now beginning to grasp the reality that getting issues on the continental and sub-regional agenda constitutes the beginning, and not the end of the process. There is a growing recognition of the need for patient strategy to advance domestication, national implementation, and monitoring. However, while donors supporting advocacy are aware of its long-term and multidimensional nature, this is often not matched by the scale and scope of support needed. The result is that no campaign in Africa has as yet been able to successfully run the full gamut of advocacy.
Linked to this is the absence of creative and effective systems to assess impact. There remains a problem with the way most AROs and CSOs conceptualize their performance objectives and targets, exacerbated by the privileging by some donors of quantitative output at the expense of indicators of qualitative outcome. One tendency is for bilateral donors to consider volume of funds disbursed as a measure of their success, paying insufficient attention to issues of absorptive capacity (see below) and the extent to which the recipients of funds are able to achieve lasting impact. Questions of how best to measure processes that yield medium- and long-term results, as opposed to quick wins, are being grappled with across the development system, and this is an area in which more work is needed—on both sides of the ARO-donor nexus.
Financing is another area in which AROs in particular continue to experience difficulties. AROs such as the AU and RECs all rely on assessed contributions from member states to cover their core program budgets. Inevitably, while a few member states are able to meet their commitments, many smaller and poorer nations remain consistently in arrears, leaving the secretariats of the respective AROs short of money and unable to fully implement their work programs. At the AU’s January 2007 summit, member states approved a budget of US$133 million for the AU Commission’s operations and programs. Of this amount, US$97 million is due from member states’ assessed contributions, and the remaining US$26 million from requests to external partners. On paper, this means the AU is dependent on donors for less than 20 percent of its budget. In practice, the percentage is likely to be higher, especially since annual budgets approved by member states have tended to be one-third of the amount requested by the AU Commission.
Innovative schemes have been introduced in a bid to address this problem, among them a community levy of 5 percent on all imports originating from outside ECOWAS and ECCAS countries. There is also a proposal under consideration at the AU to tax air travel. However, with member states using such taxes to fund domestic poverty reduction commitments, schemes of this nature have not been fully implemented. Inevitably, this leaves many AROs highly dependent on external donor funding, in the process eroding the principle of African ownership and often creating the kinds of distorted incentives that make effective program delivery difficult.
The most common problem cited by survey respondents of the CSO variety is the lack of core support, a deficit that forces them to use funds earmarked for use elsewhere, spreading scarce resources too thin to be able to deliver effectively on any single aspect of their work. Even where project funding makes up a significant proportion of budgets, there is a lack of consistency in which areas of work are supported, funds arrive in a less than timely manner, and dependence on funding for multiple projects registers a high transaction cost on CSOs, which end up being pulled in several directions simultaneously as they seek to satisfy different donors. This explains the apparent paradox, evident in some of the profiles, whereby CSOs with sizeable budgets and significant donor support cite challenges related to resource mobilization.
What emerges clearly is that AROs spend much of their time trying to make ends meet in the immediate and short term, in the process losing perspective on longer-term strategic goals, both institutional and programmatic. For their part, donors are not doing enough to promote strategic long-term visioning, whether among well-established AROs or those with potential to make a real impact. Doing so would also necessitate a commitment to providing sustained technical assistance as well as predictable, flexible support for up to 10 years.
Another important gap is in knowledge sharing and networking. Although policy-relevant research is expensive, a number of CSOs invest in gathering data and publishing findings in order to inform policy advocacy. Institutions of higher learning also generate research, while most CSOs generate a host of publications to disseminate the outcomes of their research. However, these strategies fall far short of the mark and rarely achieve their intended purpose. The wide array of dissemination media now available as use of the Internet spreads exponentially has not been effectively exploited, as evidenced by the weak or non-existent online presence of many AROs, and the poor response time to requests for information. Information is still viewed as a one-directional function comprising publishing and dissemination. As such, products are generated without sufficient attention to audience, leading to a waste of funds and less than optimal impact. Staffing in many AROs reflects this lack of prioritization.
By and large, knowledge-based CSOs in Africa have as yet failed to harness emerging approaches to communicate the results of policy-relevant research being pioneered by think tanks in the global North. Furthermore, many AROs have not yet been able to fully grasp the critical importance of sharing knowledge and interacting with each other, partners, and stakeholders to foster better or new collaboration, in the process creating new value. Coupled with less than optimal outreach, this poor appreciation means many AROs work in isolation. In many AROs, a culture of secrecy remains the order of the day. While some donors have recognized knowledge sharing as a major challenge among AROs, there remains scant support to address this in any meaningful way.
A host of opportunities to address some of the above gaps are discussed below.
One is the tremendous momentum around the new regionalism that has been built, and continues to grow, since the advent of NEPAD (2001) and the AU (2002). Regional and sub-regional institutions are growing in importance, signaled by an increase in donor interest and the seriousness being accorded to these institutions by developed countries. The Africa Partnership Forum (APF), which meets yearly to review and monitor progress in implementing the G8 Action Plan on both sides, is one of many signs of the new currency of regional approaches.
Energized by these developments, and with a view to advancing the agenda or pushing for alternatives, CSOs have begun to organize continentally. While indigenous CSO capacity remains weak, particularly at continental level—and although this process is currently being led by international NGOs that are much better resourced and employ skilled Africans to lead their campaigns—a significant window of opportunity exists for more systematic and deeper engagement by African CSOs.
Their teething problems notwithstanding, the AU’s ECOSOCC, Pan-African Parliament, and Peace and Security Council are among recently created organs that hold the potential to serve as important deliberative spaces for the construction of a people-centered African Union. Similar opportunities exist in the sub-regions. NEPAD’s system of national civil society focal points may be less well conceptualized and developed, but it nevertheless remains important as a means of ensuring citizen buy-in to and participation in the Partnership’s implementation.
Of more immediate promise is the emerging continental framework for the environment and sustainable development (highlighted in the previous section of this report). NEPAD’s Environmental Action Plan (EAP), a far-reaching blueprint for sustainable development in Africa, demonstrates the value added of regional policy processes. The EAP is one recent example of the large number of regional or sub-regional norms, standards, and policies yet to be fully implemented. These include the AU Constitutive Act, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, REC protocols and treaties on security and development, the Declaration on Democracy, Governance & Elections, environmental conventions on water, biodiversity, biosafety and climate change, and global targets such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). CSO coalitions and networks are already making it their business to breathe life into some of these and ensure their implementation. There are opportunities to do much more in this area.
The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) was instrumental in developing the NEPAD EAP. Ministerial gatherings offer important strategic spaces for governments to strategize transnationally with a view to developing common frameworks. CSOs have recognized this opportunity and started to target these meetings with campaigning. In April 2007, the African Public Health Rights Alliance (APHRA, p. 120) took its ‘15% Now!’ campaign to the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, in the process successfully influencing the main outcomes. Opportune as these might be, the proliferation of sectoral ministerial gatherings—finance ministers are convened three times a year by different AROs, for example—call for a major exercise of rationalizing and streamlining.
The growing interest among donors in supporting regional programs is a relatively new phenomenon, one that continues to be dwarfed by the volumes of aid disbursed at country level, mainly by bilateral and multilateral donors. However, with the advent of support arrangements such as the EU’s AU Peace Facility and bilateral programs of support to the AU and RECs, donors are recognizing investing in regional programs as a strategy to leverage the impact of country funding. U.S. foundations have pioneered regional funding for CSOs, for instance providing long-standing support to the field of population, such as the Centre for African Family Studies (CAFS, p. 288) and African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC, p. 286), and human rights, such as the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and People’s Rights (p. 132).
A major opportunity presents itself for donors to ‘grow’ the field by establishing a working division of labor to ensure that effective AROs or those with potential receive adequate support. There is also a chance that donors can transcend traditional boundaries (foundation-bilateral-multilateral-private sector) and establish innovative joint arrangements. With new donors asserting themselves in Africa, among them China, coherence and consistency among donors is clearly needed.
The emergence of African philanthropy presents another important opportunity for AROs to gain critical support for their work. The field is small but growing. TrustAfrica, established in June 2006 and based in Dakar, Senegal, is the first foundation of its kind, consciously promoting regional approaches in peace and security, regional integration, citizenship and identity, and trade and private sector investment. The Africa Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)—established in 1991 by the World Bank, UNDP, and AfDB and based in Harare, Zimbabwe—provides management and institutional support to a number of regional and sub-regional organizations, including research institutes. The Southern Africa Trust, based in Midrand, South Africa, is a leading proponent of integrated regional approaches to addressing common development problems, and grants to organizations as well as processes, primarily but not exclusively in the SADC sub-region.
Finally, and in light of the gap in knowledge sharing highlighted earlier, opportunities exist to strengthen linkages among AROs to promote mutual learning, foster stronger collaboration, and enhance overall impact. To an extent, this is already happening; issue-based continental coalitions led by international NGOs have dramatically improved the strategic sharing of knowledge around opportunities to influence the AU agenda. These coalitions have also commissioned research, the results of which have been harnessed by sophisticated advocacy campaigns. Initiatives such as the African Virtual University are exploiting the increasing accessibility of information and communication technologies (ICTs) throughout Africa to link geographically dispersed communities and promote learning. The time is ripe to build good practices such as these towards fostering a culture of knowledge sharing, learning, and networking among AROs.
- I. Executive Summary
- II. Introduction
- III. Thematic Overview
- IV. Donor Support to AROs and CSOs
- V. Gaps and Opportunities
- VI. Conclusions and Recommendations