Who is the civil society?

That is a question that really concerned the district directors of the National Commission on Civic Education in Ghana. As part of the African Peer Review Process these district directors are supposed to set up district APRM supervisory committees comprising representatives of “the” civil society. The idea is that these committees will supervise the implementation of the local plan of action. They are supposed to keep track of whether a school or health center is really getting built, how the local communities feel about the process and blow the whistle if money starts leaking.

Sounds great. But “the civil society” is one of those catch all phrases that makes life easy for policy makers (“You have to involve the civil society!”) but hard for implementers, because if you go to the field, you will find a lot of people and groups active in their communities, but because “the” civil society basically includes everyone of them, it concept doesn’t tell you who you should involve.

Our colleague Douglas Waale in Ghana has started using Net-Map to help the district directors to make this term more concrete and find out who would be the ones who could drive the APRM to a success in their specific district. While we are still waiting for the final results, we already know that his interview partners were greatly relieved to find a way of structuring the decision making process. As the district director of the Jirapa District put it:

“It’s a very important tool, from the way we came out with the members. I was picturing how I was going to form this committee all alone, there was a big question mark as to who to choose, but through this method I have seen that certain groups are inevitable, looking at the coordination. The method has opened my mind and I would want to use it in my work”.

(I could write a lot about what the African Peer Review Mechanism Process is, but others have done that already. NEPAD’s up to date web-page about the process is an interesting starting point http://www.nepad.org/2005/files/aprm.php. For Ghana, a critical appraisal of the process so far was done by the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP) (367 KB).

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