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Activisms in Africa: discourses on civil society and activism

On January 11th, 12th, and 13th 2017 Amaterra’s director David N. Berger collaborated with Andrzej Polus, the president of the Polish Centre for African Studies and an assistant professor at the Institute of International Studies at the University of Wroclaw, to host a panel and present their paper at the Activisms in Africa: Discourses on civil society and activism conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

The Panel:

Titled: “Exercises in Activism and Citizenship – Trajectories of Government – CSO’s Relations in SSA.”  Focused on citizenship and activism and drew upon an understanding of political and social forces that have shaped civil society and government interaction. It built from the supposition of an ideational structure of mutual suspicion and mistrust that has adversely affected activism to encourage discussion and consideration of this structure and its effects. The panel worked to analyze the evolution of CSOs’ role and position in Sub-Saharan Africa, through the examination of structures that promote development and activism.

The panelists were asked to attempt to outline a “map” of CSOs’ positions toward the governments in the entire region. Regional or country-orientated research proposals were also included as they provide vital references on the nature of CSO-government relations. 

In an effort to map CSOs’ role in activism, submissions that addressed historical, economic, cultural, political, policy-orientated, or even descriptive aspects of the evolution of CSO – government relations, were welcomed and vigorously discussed. Additionally, David and Andrzej welcomed proposals devoted to the evolution of the Sub-Saharan political landscape in times of economic decline as well as those related to relatively new aspects of CSO activism.

These included how mobile technologies, wider access to information, and new means of communication and organization encourage mutual transparency and strengthen the social contract between government and citizens.

Additional topics that addressed exogenous factors, including aid structures (Western vs. China and the emerging powers factor), political pressure, and economic pressure, were key focal points of discussion.

Activisms in Africa, The International Conference organized by Center for International Studies of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (CEI-IUL), took place at ISCTE-IUL on January 11-13 th 2017. Fotografia de Hugo Alexandre Cruz.

The Paper:

David and Andrzej also collaborated on a paper, which pulled on David’s experience with Amaterra and his time serving with the U.S. Peace Corps in Zambia between 2011 and 2014. Andrzej brought a wealth of experience and passion to the team with his focus on the political economy of hydrocarbon management and the constantly evolving political situation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Andrzej has conducted field research in Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. 

Together they wrote “Contention and Mutual suspicion: Civil Society in Zambian Politics.” At the conference, they were able to present research regarding contention and suspicion between civil society and government.

The principal aim of their research was to critically examine the relationship of local non-governmental organisations with Zambian governments under the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), and the Patriotic Front (PF).   Their major finding is that relations between the MMD and later the PF government, and advocacy NGOs were characterized by mutual distrust, and mutual accusations of a lack of transparency and legitimacy.

The NGOs were mainly employing a ‘name and shame’ strategy whilst engaging the government, which together with the government’s suspicious attitude towards NGOs created a specific ideational structure of mistrust and mutual suspicion. This dynamic has been extremely difficult to break, and is the dominant influence on government – NGOs relations. 

Activisms in Africa, The International Conference organized by Center for International Studies of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (CEI-IUL), took place at ISCTE-IUL on January 11-13 th 2017. Fotografia de Hugo Alexandre Cruz.

Camp E.L.I.T.E. 2013

2013 Zambia E.L.I.T.E. project

Be Strong. Be Equal. Be Elite – Empowering Leaders in Training and Education

In 2013 Amaterra has provided a $1000 micro-grant to support Camp E.L.I.T.E., a leadership and empowerment program designed for young men aged 14-18. The camp focuses on eighth grade students in Zambia. Two young men will be selected from their community and accompanied by a mentor to attend the week-long seminar. The camp is designed to encourage gender equality, equity, and life skills development. The program for boys will focus on Leadership, Gender Roles, Communication, Safer Sexual Practices, HIV/AIDS, Sports, Teamwork, and Life Skills. Upon completion, these young men will return to their community and work with their mentor to reach out and teach others in the community. This project is similar and parallels the “GLOW” project for young women.

During the ELITE camp, each of the boys will partner with a boy from another community, and will work with a LIFE (Linking Income with Food and Environment) Peace Corps Volunteer. These LIFE PCVs will work hand in hand with the boys to teach them and then assist them in learning how to plant fruit trees in the orchard at Mansa Secondary School. There will be a minimum of 15 groups, each planting a tree.

We will also be giving each boy one tree to take home and plant at their homes. They will be equipped with knowledge regarding Agroforestry and integrated conservation farming utilizing trees in their fields and gardens, and will be linked to three organizations in the Mansa Provincial capital that will provide them with access to trees and resources in the future.

Each Group of boys will also receive specialized, Zambia focused environmental education on the importance of trees. We’ve invited the DFO – Which is the District Forestry Officer – from the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture, under the Forestry Department, to lead a presentation on the importance of trees and the protection of the environment. This is specifically focused on preventing the Chitemene (slash and burn) model, and on encouraging natural resource management – working to combat the massive forest and brush consumption by the rural charcoal production industry. As this is a major income source in rural communities, this is particularly vital in conservation efforts.

Their final Agriculture focused sessions will dive into Integrated agriculture, agribusiness, and IGAs. We will have a presentation from highly successful local farmers who come from a village and rural background and poultry keepers on how to start up IGAs and what good business practices are. We will also talk a bit about cash crop agriculture and ask the boys to come up with a crop suitable for their area that could be grown to be sold at market, these crops will then be sourced (if seed is available) for their use to start a demo plot. As almost all participants are subsistence growers, this introduction to business skills and sustainable/eco positive crops is another essential part of the development cycle, both for income generation, and for land productivity.


Camp GLOW – Zambia 2013

2013 Zambia “GLOW” Project

Glow Camp staff

A $1000 grant from Amaterra has been provided to Peace Corps Volunteers (PVSs) for a program empowering young women in Zambia, Africa. The program focuses on 8th grade school students. Each Peace Corps Volunteer brought two young women and a mentor (one adult) from their communities, to participate in a week long empowerment camp. The camp focused on life skills, women’s rights, sexual health, nutrition, and leadership. Also the young women were taught about good food, the dangers of teenage pregnancy, communication, and good farming practices. Of special significance for the mission of Amaterra, each participant learned about home/kitchen gardens, composting, income generating agricultural activities focusing on sustainable practices, and food security.

Glow Camp participants

After the camp the two participants and their mentor returned to their community with the Peace Corps Volunteer, over the next six months the young women and PCV formed a GLOW (Girls Leading our World) club in their community and recruited young women in each zone to share the lessons they’ve learned and help support each other. The goal is that by the end of six months a minimum of 300 young women will have been trained and receive support from this program across the province. Six months after (within a year of their initial training) the groups will be asked to coordinate with their Peace Corps Volunteer and host Learning Exchanges with local schools and nearby communities, sharing their experiences, lessons, and successes/failures.

Those young women they select in the community will be asked to form their own GLOW groups which will support each other within their WARD. The groups are encouraged to be self-sustainable from the beginning with the PCV’s acting as  mentors, co-facilitators and supporters, not leading or dominating the programs activities.   Amaterra Board Director, David Berger is in Zambia and has worked to help set up this program. We have been informed that, without our grant, the program could not have become a reality: a perfect partnership for Amaterra.

The grant is being monitored by the Peace Corps volunteers with oversight by Peace Corps Administration with David providing additional monitoring and oversight on behalf of AMATERRA. See the video montage of the training, featuring the young women, their mentors, and the facilitating PCVs.

Thank you Director David Berger for arranging this one.