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Civil society could make joint responses a reality

Help needed: Civil society often supports government in alleviating social ills
Historically, civil society action has been key and central to crisis responses and post-crisis recovery.

Whether it is the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Ebola, or the global financial crisis, civil society groups have been there, advocating for civil rights, advancing the cause for indigenous and marginalised groups, or demanding action on gender-based violence and inclusive economic and social policies.

Key response institutions must acknowledge the value add CSOs bring to the overall national response.

As the world is still grappling with the impact of the coronavirus, the recent UN General Assembly coincided with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

The ongoing annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are a perfect primer for thinking more on how we can redefine post-crisis recovery. What stands out is that cooperation and collaborations at local, national and global levels are now more critical than ever.

Civil society and broader inclusive participation as called for by Pillar 4 of Botswana’s Vision 2036 and Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals are indispensable. 

So in essence, civil society must be, and must be seen to be, a partner and ally to governments, the business community and multilateral institutions.

With the growing threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the country’s development and growth prospects, responses will be compelled to be collaborative, inclusive and sustainable to build resilient systems and institutions to withstand future shocks. 

But the mere existence of collaborative responses is not enough.

We must ensure that that we tap into and learn from the diverse experiences of civil society work to build capacity to respond with evidence-informed solutions.

This is why the knowledge, experience and lessons learnt by civil society must be incorporated into national responses and planning.

The impact of the pandemic is deepening poverty and systemic inequalities, particularly for women, youth and marginalised groups. The resulting insecurity threatens to return the country to unsustainable paths.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for contextually

grounded dialogue and action to inform appropriate responses to this global pandemic. This means structures that have the ear of decision makers, like the COVID-19 Presidential Taskforce must listen and engage.

CSOs are strategically placed to be long-term partners in shaping the post-pandemic recovery.

They are on the ground, they have the expertise, the network and the national reach that has enabled government and multilateral partners to deliver wide-ranging action on public health for decades.

Although the government has been proactive in leading national responses, its limitations have been complemented by civil society and development partner collaborations. Botswana’s civil society has been deeply entrenched into community structures across the country.

This presents a unique advantage, in that, not only do they have a willing partner, but a well-positioned one with the necessary reach and presence in far to reach places.

During COVID-19, CSOs have bravely remained on the frontlines, ensuring delivery of essential services. Like everyone else, they have also not been immune to the effects of the pandemic.

Many times they have struggled to replenish their coffers, and carry on with their planned programmes. CSO funding is critical in catalysing transformational programmes that cut across key government and multilateral development agendas.

Government, the business community and development partners must find more effective ways of working with civil society during and after the pandemic, to play a bigger role in technical decision-making, including in multilateral institutions like the UN, the World Bank etc. Luckily, the fate of government and its mandate of service provision are closely tied to that of a strong civil society.

There is a stronger and more compelling argument for supporting and engaging civil society to not only complement the role of the state, but also to hold them accountable.

*Bakang Ntshingane is a political analyst with interests in politics, foreign and trade policy

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