By Joyce van Genderen-Naar

On 10 and 11 December 2009 the 3rd ACP Civil Society Forum was held at the ACP House in Brussels. Representatives from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Civil Society came together to discuss how to move forward after many years of silence and inactivity. In 1997 the Forum was established by ACP Civil Society organizations from the ACP regions in Entebbe, Uganda with the aim to provide a platform for civil society actors in the ACP countries, where they could articulate views and concerns, share information and facilitate dialogue with official ACP-EU institutions in order to support and strengthen the participation of ACP Civil Society in the ACP-EU development cooperation. The follow up was an impressive and unique Conference on the Participation of Civil Society in the implementation of the Cotonou Agreement, organised in July 2001 by the Belgian EU Presidency and the ACP Secretariat in Brussels. For almost a week, from July 2nd – 7th 2001, more than 150 representatives of ACP civil society came together in Brussels to discuss their role in the ACP-EC cooperation and the ACP-EC-Agreement, signed by the EC and the ACP countries a year before in Cotonou on 23 June 2000.

This first ACP Civil Society Forum adopted a Plan of Action.
However, between 2001 and 2006 there was no follow up and no implementation. Only in 2006 the 2nd ACP Civil Society Forum was organised. During a 4-day meeting in April 2006 at the ACP Secretariat in Brussels a Declaration and Plan of Action was adopted, and never implemented during the years to follow.

The participants of the 3rd ACP Civil Society Forum, a two day meeting in Brussels, organised in December 2009, three years later after the second one, concluded that the remaining 10 years should not be wasted, being aware that the Cotonou Agreement will expire in 2020. They decided to create a network for the exchange and sharing of information and dialogue through internet and any other appropriate media, connecting Civil Society organizations and their focal points in 79 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. They agreed upon a coordinator for each of the six ACP regions: four in Africa, one in the Caribbean and one in the Pacific. According to the ACP rotation system the Caribbean chaired the 3rd ACP Civil Society Forum and appointed Mr. Lawman Lynch (Jamaica). In 2006 the Chair of the 2nd ACP Civil Society Forum came from Africa (Cote d’Ivoire) and the next Chair will be from the Pacific.

ACP Secretary-General, Sir John Kaputin, at the opening of the 3rd ACP Civil Society Meeting in Brussels, urged the participants to make the most of this all-ACP platform of stock-taking, policy dialogue and planning. He said that a high priority for Civil Society at the national, regional and all-ACP levels, is the aspiration to be involved in the consultation in the Programming, Implementation of National and Regional Indicative Programmes and all-ACP Programmes, consultation in the Mid-Term Review process of the Country Strategy Papers and the National and Regional Indicative Programmes; consultation in the review of the Cotonou Agreement (which is taking place now); the negotiation and Follow- Up of the Economic Partnership Agreements and the impact of the current Financial Crisis.

He encouraged the participants to exchange views evaluating the types of consultations that target the existing wide range of Non-State Actor Organisations, and to discuss and agree amongst themselves on the most appropriate working mechanisms for future cooperation at the national, regional and all-ACP levels.

As said before the participants of the 3rd ACP Civil Society Forum agreed upon a virtual network as the most appropriate working mechanisms for future cooperation at the national, regional and all-ACP levels. Through internet discussions they will deal with the questions raised by the ACP Secretary General Sir John Kaputin, such as: How satisfied are we with our Governments approach to active policy dialogue with the wide range of Civil Society actors? Has significant progress been made, since our last all-ACP discourse, to greater include Civil Society in the consultation processes on Capacity Building needs? Have Civil Society Capacity Building requirement been addressed to facilitate greater involvement in the policy dialogue on issues highlighted in the thematic areas discussed at the last meeting? Are Civil Society stakeholders present at the negotiating table on Economic Partnership Agreements?

Mrs. Dominique DELICOUR of the EuropeAid cooperation office (AIDCO) of the European Commission made a presentation on the participation of ACP Civil Society in the 9th and 10th European Development Fund (EDF). She gave an overview of the ACP programmes adopted, approved and the budget foreseen (191,6 million Euro for the 10th EDF). She said that there is a strong appeal and push for better and more involvement and engagement of Civil Society and that it is important for Civil Society to seize this momentum and to participate in the regional seminar, planned by AIDCO.F1 in Mali, Africa, in 2010 in the framework of structured dialogue. She also informed the participants about the EC study on Civil Society participation and urged them to read this. The study is available on the site:

All ACP participants stressed the complexity and bureaucratic procedures of the EC procedures, the problems they experience in dealing with the European Commission, the National and Regional Authorizing Officers. They asked why the EC sees capacity building as the solution of all ACP problems. They even suggested that the EC in its turn needs capacity building too in order to deal with the ACP countries and their population. They made an urgent appeal upon the EC to involve ACP experts, ACP Universities and ACP research institutions for the design, implementation and monitoring of studies, research and capacity building programmes in the ACP countries. The practice followed by the EC to send EU consultants to the ACP countries has not resulted in capacity building nor exchange and transfer of knowledge, in contrary the many reports they wrote are not used and are a waste of time and money.

The second presentation was made by Dr. Stephanie Diakité, International Expert, on the Evidence Based Knowledge Sharing (EBKS) as a tool for Civil Society to influence ACP-EU policy. Once again the ACP participants of the Forum noted that there is enough expertise and experience in ACP countries and that nothing new was placed on the table.

Brussels, December 14, 2009
Joyce van Genderen-Naar, Lawyer/journalist

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