|From grassroots to global: Building a civil society democracy network
News from the Field, 26 November 2007
Increasing the role of civil society in policy-making is a fundamental component of strengthening democracy globally.
The Fourth biennial Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies (CD), held in Bamako from 14 to 17 November 2007, has been the opportunity to give voice to the aspirations of international civil society regarding democracy promotion. Delegates from some seventy governments joined close to one hundred civil society representatives in debates on issues mainly related to democracy, development and poverty reduction. In various thematic panels, civil society representatives supported a number of initiatives for the consideration of governments including a “global strategic plan for democracy education” and an innovative “diplomat’s handbook” project aimed at helping diplomats from democracies to support democratic change in the countries of their assignment.
The central involvement of civil society in this global conference continues the trend, initiated at the Third Ministerial Conference held in Santiago (Chile) in 2005, to enhance the Community of Democracies as a global participatory process. Accordingly, civil society leaders decided to establish the International Steering committee (ISC), a civil society policy-making body for the Community of Democracies, composed of 21 NGOs representatives from all regions of the world. UNDEF assisted the host country of the Fourth Ministerial, Mali, by supporting an executive Secretariat composed of a coalition of Malian democracy and human rights oriented NGOs.
UNDEF has also supported a one-year initiative carried out by the Council for a Community of Democracies aimed at defining a collective democracy agenda to be included to the biennial Ministerial Community of Democracies Conferences while building five regional civil society support networks to refine that agenda and to oversee the implementation of that agenda following the Bamako Ministerial.
The first part of this project strategy was to enable civil society organizations, in the five regions (Africa, Asia, Middle East and North-Africa, Europe and the Americas) represented in the ISC of the CD to define a collective democracy agenda for the Bamako Conference. These roundtables enabled consultations for an active dialogue with the CD governments concerning the final declaration issued at the Bamako Conference. The reports contributed to a set of action-oriented recommendations within a report entitled “A civil society democracy agenda for 2007-2009” which was adopted in Bamako.
The network has already acted in a highly effective manner: during the Bamako roundtable, the ISC was linked to the African Democracy Forum, a group gathering 300 NGOs members from the continent. When the African Charter on Democracy, Governance and Elections was being reconsidered by the African Union after failing to win support the first time around, the African Democracy Forum successfully mobilized democracy supporters throughout the continent in favor of the adoption of the Charter.