Reflections on Inclusion




Civil Society

Q&A with Elizabeth Maloba and Patrick Mpedzisi

Elizabeth was a member of the Elected Advisory Council of GDL until November 2019. She coordinated the activities of the curriculum and methodology groups and supported the implementation of the 2019 curriculum by co-facilitating some of the processes. She is a freelance facilitator, speaker and entrepreneur with 20 years’ experience in addressing complex challenges. Her passion is fostering the development of lasting, mutually beneficial relationships that contribute to global sustainable development.

Patrick was a member of the methodology group and supported the implementation of the 2019 curriculum by designing and co-facilitating some of the sessions. He is an organisational development consultant with 19 years’ experience in working on regional processes in the nonprofit sector in Africa. In addition, he helps institutions to develop strategies and sustainability approaches and improve their general effectiveness and impact.

In Your Experience, when has Inclusion played a Decisive Role in Negotiation and/or Policy Initiatives?

Elizabeth: The old man looked me in the eye and said, “You came here in your large SUVs and awed us into silence. We will wait for you to get back into them and drive away, and then we will resume our battle.” That was a humbling moment for me on that mission to address conflict arising out of land governance challenges among pastoral communities in the northern Kenya. A few years later, working on a similar process in Ethiopia, the words came in handy. For years, pastoralists in Ethiopia’s lowlands relied on strong customary land tenure systems to survive. Historically, legislation failed to clearly define communal rights to rangelands and the specific roles for the communities and the government to administer and manage these resources. The negative impact of this impasse included devastated livelihoods as a result of rangeland degradation and shrinking herds. Several years’ of work funded by multiple development partners led to the communities’ arguments being accepted and legislation being passed which provided the legal basis for registering and certifying community landholdings and enabling customary institutions to function as Community Land Governance Entities (CLGEs). Ethiopia is now the case study for customary land governance that facilitates protection of rangelands in the IGAD region.

Patrick: Inclusion for me has two levels which are not always the same but can often seem the same. The first is inclusion based on a target group which presupposes that bringing in different target groups or stakeholders will result in different perspectives and consequently better policies or negotiations. The second level is where you actually include different perspectives. Initially this may seem obvious, and many policy-makers and multi-stakeholder processes focus particularly on the first level. To give a specific example, the World Summit on Sustainable Development process of 2002 included four preparatory conferences, and I joined the fourth leg in Bali. I was invited to add to the youth voices, and one of the striking realities was that the youth thematic group consisted of young people working for civil society and young people seconded by government. The group mainly included and was dominated by young people seconded by government, who were clearly following their government priority areas. So instead of the process allowing for different perspectives, it had different stakeholders but similar perspectives. This experience has remained with me all these years and also influences my facilitation approach, as I always seek to have different perspectives and not merely different stakeholders. Working largely in the non-profit sector, I have also witnessed the power of development funding to “sponsor”, deliberately or inadvertently, certain narratives. If people realise that a particular narrative will result in them securing development resources, they will often support such a narrative as their own. The obvious problem is how to determine whether a voice is compromised or inauthentic, but it is clear when there is only one narrative or when one narrative is unusually dominant. For me, therefore, inclusion must seek to go beyond consultation of different stakeholders and also feature different narratives.

What about Inclusion in the Context of Collaboration with African Countries – Is Inclusion a Part of AU-EU Collaboration?

Elizabeth: Both the European Union and the African Union have formal decision-making mechanisms, and many decisions taken within each of the Unions require co-decisions between these mechanisms. The AU or EU Commission may want to propose a directive or a regulation. To do this they both have to present their case strongly to the Council, after which they have to convince member states that their proposal is the right way forward. In both contexts this raises issues of dominant states and marginalised states. Within the AU sometimes the divide comes down to language – French and English. The concept of inclusion in this case translates into taking into account the interests of different member states, and of local government authorities and civil society organisations recognised as key stakeholders in these processes. The intercontinental collaboration between AU and EU is the result of this complex process playing out within each of the continents. The development of common policy within this framework is very much an exercise in inclusion. To be successful, policy-makers need to ensure that the positions of the stakeholders are taken into consideration, that where there are large differences of opinion common ground is sought, and that policy decisions result in the common good of the populations they represent – in this case Europeans and Africans.

Patrick: The African Union is an interesting creature in terms of its conceptualisation and manifestation. This is because it borrows elements of EU structuring and philosophy and elements of the UN system and, believe it or not, also has influences from the US. However, the key underlying philosophy is based on pan-African ideals. So to highlight how this all combines to create an interesting mix: the AU-ECOSOC follows the model of the UN and, together with the Pan-African Parliament (strongly linked to the EU but very different in terms of powers) are meant to provide for increased citizen voices in the AU. The idea of including citizens’ voices in the African Union decision-making processes in any collaboration is therefore central to the pan-African notions behind the AU, which seek not only African unity but the participation of all Africans in their development. This is highlighted through the Charter on Popular Participation adopted in 1990 as a testimony to the renewed determination of the OAU to endeavour to place African citizens at the centre of development and decision-making. With this in mind, the notion of inclusion from an African Union perspective differs in terms of the spirit (also encapsulated in the constitutive charter) and the practice of its many structures. The challenge has always been that, since structurally Africa is different from Europe with regard to the way nation states are set up, the assumption that African governments represent the diverse views and interests of their citizenry needs to be subjected to greater scrutiny. No sooner had the AU been constituted than various governments began to develop national policies designed to regulate and in some cases stifle civil society voices. Regardless of the pros and cons, this illustrated very early in the AU’s existence that there are differences between the perspectives and narratives of the governing and the governed in Africa, as is no doubt also the case in Europe. That is why the concept of inclusion in terms of AU-EU collaboration needs to go deeper than the two mega-institutions and must not be limited to the spaces they occupy.

Is Inclusion different across Cultural Divides?

Elizabeth: There are differences of style across cultural divides. These differences exist at continental level – Europe vis-à-vis Africa; at national level – Mediterranean states vis-à-vis northern states, West African states vis-à-vis East African states; and at sub-national level – tribes in Kenya, French speakers vis-à-vis English speakers in Cameroon, etc. They also exist in cross-sectoral contexts – private sector vis-à-vis public sector vis-à-vis civil society. In this sense inclusion is uncomfortable. It requires representatives from one group to find a way to reach a consensus with representatives from a different group who may not hold the same values as they do. Parties that have a long tradition of working with each other across such divides find that it gets easier to forge these links over time. In situations where the relationships are relatively new, the process needs more investment of both time and other resources.

Patrick: There are definitely different norms and styles for achieving at inclusion. A central part of inclusion is ensuring that stakeholders are comfortable enough to be honest and share their views in the way they see fit. For instance, diplomats and twitter influencers use totally different styles of communication. But when it comes to cultural differences this can go as far as simple greetings and what they mean. Varying styles of etiquette can affect less tangible issues such as trust and respect, which are still crucial in ensuring not only the inclusion of different stakeholders but also the inclusion of different narratives. Public diplomacy, as it is known today, resembles the styles of communication established within European states during the ‘renaissance’ era. However this does not mean that African states did not have practices akin to diplomacy. Early tales of the colonialists identify a number of situations where the early colonialists established diplomatic ties with various kingdoms including the Rozvi Empire in what is now Zimbabwe, Queen Nzinga’s ambassadorial role from what is now known as Angola to the Portuguese, and many others. What might be even more interesting is how diplomacy functioned within African formations. Was it based on ethnic, community or even familial patterns? If this had not been disturbed by colonialisation, I suspect diplomacy might display significant differences in terms of how it is practiced within the African context.

Is Inclusion a Buzzword, a Matter of Inspiration, Improvisation, Rhetoric, or the Result of a longer Process of Trust-Building?

Elizabeth: I am convinced that inclusion has to be genuine. Inclusion that is designed to tick a box, to serve as a gimmick or to pay lip service to a concept is doomed to failure because people intuitively know when they are being had. If you put on a show you may get lip service, if you make yourself impressive you may succeed, but as the old man told me, eventually the big SUVs will pull away, and then we will have to deal with the matters in hand. Gender, race and ethnicity are at the forefront of diversity and inclusion efforts in the foreign policy space. Yet questions remain on what this really translates to. Bringing people from diverse backgrounds and groups to the table while seeking to retain control of the conversation and ensure that the dialogue does not change is tokenism. Inclusion requires a willingness to be uncomfortable, to lose control, to let the new dynamics determine the content of the dialogue. This can only thrive in a context where there is trust. Trust does not mean being soft or not being firm in your position. Trust requires you to consistently, honestly try to find the way forward; to invest in open and transparent dialogue and to explore formats that make it possible to transform the power dynamics at work so as to enable meaningful contribution from all stakeholders.

Patrick: Inclusion becomes a buzzword when it is merely a substitute for tokenism. This means it must go even beyond the notion of different perspectives and narratives and ensure that those who have provided the specified spaces actively listen and engage with others. Failure to do this will result in relationships based on mistrust, which limits the possibilities of new partnerships for development. If we are to make progress on the SDGs, we must strive for to have meaningful inclusion that seeks to arrive at the best possible policies and negotiations as well as to restore or develop trust (in areas where it was never there in the first place).


About the authors:

Elizabeth Maloba works in cross-sectoral, trans-professional, multi-stakeholder settings, providing support in problem solving and decision making processes and facilitating learning and the exchange of ideas. 

Patrick Mpedzisi is an organizational development consultant working in the NGO sector in Africa with a focus on building NGOs’ capacities to be more effective in their sustainability and resource mobilization.

Published on December 12, 2019.

Photo credit: Robin Filmz

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