Transformative Potential of Civil Society Networks on Regional Governance in the SADC Region

The project aims at a greater understanding of how civil society networks can contribute to participatory regional governance on the African continent. Partnerships between regional organizations (ROs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) can help to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Project Lead:
Merran Hulse

Project Team:
Sven Grimm
Christine Hackenesch
Armin von Schiller

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Time frame:
2017 - 2018 / completed

Project description

ROs occupy a unique ‘bridging’ position between the global level and the national level, and are invaluable in translating and adapting global agendas into regionally appropriate agendas. But ROs are often hampered by a lack of institutional capacity, and in some cases, legitimacy. Partnerships with civil society can help to address this and build greater capacity for monitoring and evaluation of SDGs. RO-CSO engagement can also provide legitimating effects for ROs, while providing additional openings for CSO participation. Yet ROs often overlook the potential benefits of deeper forms of cooperation with civil society, and CSOs often find existing mechanisms for interacting with ROs inadequate. Finding ways to overcome these shortcomings and promote collaboration between ROs and CSOs in a mutually beneficial manner will be vital for implementing the SGD agenda, and can also help to counter the phenomenon of ‘shrinking space’ for CSOs at the national level.

We focus on the case of southern Africa and the dominant regional organization, the Southern African Development Organization (SADC), as SADC is known to be one of the major African ROs least open to civil society, throwing the difficulties for CSOs to participate meaningfully in regional governance into sharp relief. However, in a few sectors CSO networks have been quite successful. CSOs working on gender mainstreaming and women’s rights have been able to influence SADC policies and are involved in implementation and monitoring activities in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat. Therefore we propose to study this relatively successful example in the realm of gender equality, and to contrast it with the experience of CSO networks in a different sector in order to explore the socio-political and institutional-administrative factors that influence CSO engagement in regional governance. On a practical level, the SADC region is a relatively space environment for the LAG, and southern African capitals are relatively well connected by bus and airplane.

The project will investigate how accessible SADC is to CSOs across policy sectors, and the strategies used by CSOs to engage both with SADC and across borders with CSOs in neighbouring countries. The LAG is further expected to examine how state-society relations at the national level influences CSO engagement at the regional level.

Data will be collected via interviews with CSO actors across southern Africa, bureaucrats from national and regional institutions, academics, donors, and other relevant stakeholders. The LAG will initially be based in Pretoria, before moving to Gaborone in Botswana, with travel to other southern African capitals as required.

Participants Research Team I: SADC
Lisa Gürth, Economics
Helena Kavsek, Modern East Asian Studies
Verena Stauber, Global Studies
Daniel Wegner, Peace and Conflict Studies
Jan Weinreich, Politikwissenschaften