The United Nations Secretary General’s (UNSG) has taken a look at the progress made in articulating a Post 2015 development agenda and released a synthesis report- the Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming all Lives and protecting the Planet.
The report comes after close to four years of a multifaceted civil society campaign for a people centred Post 2015 development agenda; a poverty eradication agenda that engages people not only from their points of vulnerability but also recognises and harness their potentials.
If what I feel is a correct understanding of what the Secretary General is saying, then we– the civil society, have not been effective in placing people at the heart of the discussions. The general feel I get from reading the synthesis report is that the reports of the various consultations and negotiations that the Secretary General synthesised do not present citizens as active participants in the development process. For me, the ‘feel’ is that this process still treats people more as recipients of development than drivers of change.
My experience with the Post 2015 development framework has been one of struggling first for people’s participation to be recognised as essential and secondly for the member states to understand what participation actually means. Member states see participation as participation of the member states particularly in terms of the least developed countries (LDCs). Member States recognise the need of these states to be facilitated to participate in the determination of the content of the post 2015 development framework. Beyond that, there is the contested participation of the civil society in what is regarded as a members states processes. But what has been mostly out of the picture is the participation of the people who live in poverty. Wherever the two terms- people and participation are mentioned in the same breath, the space is occupied by the civil societies who are called upon to speak for the people. Over and above this anomaly, the greatest omission I have experienced is that of people’s participation in the development process; that is, people’s agency to act or active citizenship. This kind of participation has many routes of which volunteering either by community groups or individuals stand out. The strongest proposal by the secretary general is that this participation should be engrained in the texture of the framework: an inbuilt means of implementation.
Prior to my engagement in this process as the co-chair of Beyond 2015, I was part of a coalition of civil society organisations that carried out poverty hearings in four African countries. Teams of eminent persons (Clergy, Business, Media and Civil Society Luminaries) listened to people narrate their lived experiences with poverty. After listening to testimonials that were presented in dignity and honour, Arch Bishop Ndungane of the African Monitor, told me,
‘The greatest hope is in what the people are saying to us. They are not just seated waiting for charity. People did not ask for handouts, they are asking for an opportunity to eke out a decent livelihood for themselves.’
Beyond 2015 and the Institute of Development Studies were later to convene a research network of 18 organisations working with people who are in one way or the other suffering marginalisation to carry out participatory research: Participate. People excluded and marginalised were supported to frame and carry out participatory research amongst themselves using a variety or participatory methods. For me, as I interacted with these groups, the supremacy of people’s agency to act and make decisions in their lives was evidenced again and again throughout the process. Of course the participants of the studies faced impossible choices in their lives and generally development including MDGs did not reach them, yet this did not dampen their spirit to take charge of their lives. All they asked was – ‘work with us.’
In the words of GCAP Co Chair, Marta Benavides:
‘it is not for these people to accompany development but for development to accompany these people’.
But, it is not just disappointment that I have to cope with after reading the synthesis report; I also have some traces of anger in me. When the secretary general listed the consultations that have taken place, he only listed those that were organised and driven by the UN system. Mention of civil society was only in as far as they participated in these UN controlled spaces. Having been part of initiatives initiated by the people, my anger is understandable. It is not only the governments that are providing leadership; the people have provided leadership too. In fact, just as the UN system and the Member states invited the people into their spaces, the people also invited the UN and Member states into their spaces. Reports from these spaces were widely circulated within the UN. You can therefore imagine how I felt when I read the list of consultation- High Level Panel, UN Task Team, Business led process and the Open Working Group process and the sentences end with a full stop before any mention of the Participatory Research that Beyond 2015 and IDS conducted, the National Dialogues that GCAP, IFP, CAN and Beyond 2015 organised or the September 2014 climate march.
What about the Campaign for People’s Goals? Are they doing their thing far away from the UN for the member states to take note? What happened to the transformational shifts proposed by the Africa Working Group on Post 2015?