youth

 

  • ‘Civil society needs a compelling counter-narrative’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Lynnette Micheni from PAWA254, an organisation that fosters social accountability and active citizenship among young people, mainly through arts and media.

    1.Your organisation, PAWA254, defines itself as a movement of young, socially conscious artists and activists. How do you connect art and activism in your work?

    We use art, pop culture and media as an empowerment tool. We believe in artistic expression as a means for social change and the deepening of democracy, and we harness it to advocate for the rights and responsibilities of Kenyans, and against social and political vices, including corruption and abuse of power. As a result of our work, we have seen ‘artivists’ multiply, and a movement of active, freethinking youth emerge in our country.

    We work with a variety of arts and media, including photography, film, spoken word, poetry graffiti, cartoons, blogging and writivism, which has opened such great spaces for accountability in Kenya.

    Our programs are two pronged: some focus on the economic development of emerging creatives and activists and others on social accountability, all the while leveraging the arts, pop culture and media.

    The former entails developing the capacity of emerging artists and facilitating the integration of artistic expression for livelihoods development through the provision of a state-of-the-art co- working space consisting of creative suites, professional equipment, skills transfer and networking opportunities. PAWA convenes key annual events such as the PAWA Festival, an annual street festival that showcases East Africa’s visual and performing arts and disseminates the Kenya Photography Awards.

    Our social accountability programs entail using art and pop culture as a form of civic engagement through dance, poetry, graffiti, theatre, music, film and photography to spark civic participation by focusing attention on emerging social concerns in the country and to prompt action in the process. Key current interventions include Off-The-Record, a weekly space where participants can express their thoughts on issues affecting society strictly off the record, with no fear of censorship or repercussions; #JengaHustle, an initiative aimed at advancing policies regarding employment and decent jobs for youth; #EmergingVoices, an intergenerational leadership development project aimed at empowering emerging social justice organisers and #ARealManIs, a transformative masculinity project aimed at leveraging media in mobilising young men’s fight against gender-based violence.

    2. Does artivism, and activism in general, face any challenges in Kenya?

    Indeed. Civil society is currently fighting a battle for its legitimacy, and it’s not winning. From every podium, including national television, the government is pushing a narrative discrediting civil society. Last year, two prominent human rights civil society organisations (CSOs) were shut down over their alleged non-compliance with regulations, including tax and employment laws, and for operating without a licence. There have been attempts to de-register other organisations as well.

    The prevailing narrative is that activists and CSOs are donor-funded disrupters. The idea is also being disseminated that people do it for the money. If you mobilise, you are asked: ‘how much have you been paid?’ – like there is no other driver than money. Ideas or visions of change don’t count. They will say that critical civil society activists and organisations are ‘Soros people’ - implying they are being funded by the Open Society Foundations and are therefore puppets of foreign interests. It is very difficult to counter this narrative when it is constantly being propagated on national television.

    It is also a challenge that there is a growing apathy amongst young people who are very well aware of their constitutional rights, resulting in an overreliance on individual activists.

    3. What is being done in response to this?

    What needs to be done is put together and disseminate a compelling counter-narrative. We know this is difficult because the problem has deep roots. So, the first thing we need to do is understand why it is so easy for governments to target civil society, in Kenya and elsewhere.

    We first heard about ‘fake news’ a couple of years ago, and it was all happening far away, in the USA. But the trend has progressed very fast, and in the context of presidential elections last year we suffered an epidemic of fake news. It was all over social media, which is a major source of information for Kenyan citizens, and it distorted the political conversation, and maybe the outcomes of the elections as well. Young people, the group that most uses social media, were particularly misled by fake news stories aimed at stirring conflict and dividing civil society.

    The abundance of fake news can be very disconcerting for young people that have little experience with interpreting data and are ill-equipped to tell the difference between legitimate and fake information. How do you sustain online movements while avoiding the infiltration of narratives based on fake news? How do you manage to bring online movements offline and keep them going in a context in which the political discussion is distorted to such extent?

    Young people are also particularly vulnerable to empty electoral promises of jobs and other benefits. Lots of promises are made at election times but no policies are ever enacted to fulfil them afterward. And people keep believing every time. The problem is that we have a whole generation of people who form their opinions based on headlines, and also build their activism on the basis of headlines – and under the headlines, there is usually no real content.

    The government is aware that evidence-based activism is lacking, and they do have smart and better prepared people, so they sometimes invite civil society to the table and pair them with a government technician, even on live television. Civil society activists are not always in a position to prepare adequately to respond. So it is difficult to connect and sustain civil society struggles, and instead it is so easy for the government to co-opt civil society actors.

    This is why we work to empower people, and young people in particular, to seek facts, to interpret them and understand their implications, to make decisions based on them, and to use them to monitor the government, hold it accountable and ensure it responds to citizens’ needs. We believe that arts, pop culture and media remain a viable tool to engage with the youth and are keen to continue investing in them.

    Civic space in Kenya is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with PAWA254 through itswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@Pawa254 and@LynnetteMicheni on Twitter.

     

  • A quest to find our generation’s mission

    Based in Johannesburg since 2002, CIVICUS: World Alliance is commemorating Youth Day in South Africa by initiating a conversation to find this generation of young people’s mission and empower youth to organise, mobilise and take action throughout the world to better our communities. Forty-one years after the Soweto youth uprising that took place on 16 June, a group of creative and engaged members from the CIVICUS Youth Working Group took to the street of Johannesburg in a quest to find their generation’s mission. They recorded the diverse voices of young people living in Johannesburg in order to achieve this goal.

    Youth Day is a celebration to remember the ability of young people, through their voices, actions and power, to stand up and speak out for our collective rights and to create meaningful change for our present and future. Throughout the world, the youth population is increasing. This is particularly the case in developing countries where civic space – the fundamental space necessary to exercise the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly – is being unduly restricted. This is according to the CIVICUS Monitor, which highlights added challenges facing young people living in the global South. Often, they face systematic violations of their human rights through institutionalized inequality, lack of protection against discrimination, unjust and unfavourable work conditions, and few have access to an adequate standard of living with proper health services and education.

     

  • Apply: Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator

    • New programme to support youth tackling major social issues through data collection
    • Initiative will amplify activists’ work and hold leaders accountable
    • Selected activists will receive funding, technical assistance and networking support

    2019 is kicking off with an exciting, innovative, youth-led and multi-partner programme called the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator! The launch of the Accelerator is a direct response to the challenges young people face in accessing sufficient and appropriate resources to meaningfully engage in development decisions and activities that affect their communities.

    The Accelerator will support promising youth advocates who are using data in innovative ways to address Global Goals 1-6 -- local development challenges related to poverty, hunger, health and well-being, education, gender equality and water and sanitation. These youth-led initiatives should relate to:

    • Data sourcing & Accountability: Initiatives that gather community views and experiences and/or crowdsourced data related to the specific development issue you’re working on. For example: Float Beijing Citizen Generated Data Quality
    • Data translation & Storytelling: Initiatives and campaigns that translate existing development data into stories that showcase progress and encourage leaders across sectors to act. For example: Stories for Advocacy

    Chosen youth advocates will receive funding, technical and networking support, valued at up to US$30,000.

    Apply Now!

    Do you want to increase youth representation and influence in development decisions in your community? Do you want to generate and use data to improve accountability for local development?  Do you have a great idea, but need a little extra support to realise its full potential? 

    If this sounds like you, check the eligibility criteria and frequently asked questions, and apply before 31st October! 

    Still not sure if this is the right opportunity for you, contact the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator coordination team at

    Important Dates

    • Applications open: 26 September 2018
    • Applications close: 31 October 2018
    • Finalists announced: 30 November 2018
    • Virtual orientation (mandatory): December 2018
    • Workshop in Arusha, Tanzania (mandatory): 21-25 January 2019 

    If you are selected, you will also have the opportunity to engage in additional networking opportunities to increase the visibility of your initiative, build local and global solidarity and mobilise funds.

    See press release

     

  • BOLIVIA: ‘We empower young people so they can lead the climate movement’

    Rodrigo MeruviaFollowing a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Meruvia, general coordinator and researcher of the Gaia Pacha Foundation, a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to environmental protection and conservation. Based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Gaia Pacha undertakes research, extension and development initiatives on the basis of cooperation with other CSOs, universities, research centres, government agencies and private companies.

     

     

    What is the main environmental problem in the context where you work?

    The central issue is climate change, a planetary phenomenon that is having impacts at all levels, on populations and their productive and food systems, and that exceeds local and institutional capacities. Among other things, this phenomenon is reflected in an increase in the frequency and magnitude of climatic events and the depth of their impacts.

    We work with the aim of increasing the resilience of rural communities in the face of climate change, as well as building awareness among the urban population regarding the ways in which their consumption patterns affect the development prospects of many communities in rural areas. First of all we work to show how climate change impacts on areas of small family subsistence production and create mechanisms to help increase their resilience to climate change. We also work to empower young people both in rural communities and cities. We train them in technical issues as well as in matters of strategy and leadership, so that they can produce initiatives and generate alternatives on topics such as deforestation or greenhouse gas emission. We encourage them to generate projects applicable to their immediate surroundings and we foster networks and bridges with other civil society and academic organisations to support the implementation of their initiatives.

    For example, at the moment we are working with universities in Cochabamba on the subject of alternative transportation, with the aim of establishing bike paths between the various university campuses within the city, so that young people can use bicycles as an emission-free and safe means of transportation. With that aim in mind, mobile phone apps are being developed that will indicate the safest routes, and parking lots for bicycles are being established, among other things. Work is also being done to educate car drivers, in partnership with the university and in a joint initiative with the municipality and some private companies that are interested in this issue.

    Were there climate mobilisations in Bolivia during 2019?

    Yes, in September, when the global climate mobilisations were held, major Bolivian cities joined as well. In Cochabamba, we provide support to the youth movement, providing them with resources so that they can lead the climate movement. We provide them with logistical and institutional support, which is needed because there is still a lack of trust in young people in our cities. We propel them without becoming the spokespeople for the movement. We provide training on a variety of topics and transmit the fundamentals and basic concepts to them so that they can account for the reasons for their mobilisation rather than just go to a march armed with a single slogan. The idea is for them to become the disseminators of accurate information regarding both the causes and local effects of global climate change.

    With that aim we held several workshops targeted at young people. We trained about 100 young people directly, and indirectly we have reached around 1,400.

    Did climate mobilisations in Bolivia echo global demands, or did demands have specific local components?

    Demonstrations in Bolivia expressed demands related mainly to the forest fires that come hand in hand with the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Their main demand was the repeal of domestic laws that benefit agribusiness and neglect the protection of forests.

    Bolivian laws do not protect forests, but rather the opposite. In mid-2019, just a few months before 2019’s great forest fires, the government enacted decree 3973, which authorised clearance for agricultural activities in private and community lands in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz, and allowed controlled fires. In other words, the law gives free rein to any owner interested in expanding their production space, whether for livestock or agriculture. Unfortunately, this has been the position of the state so far, and in our experience whether there were leftist or right-wing governments in place has not made any difference. Beyond the party ideology of the incumbent government, there’s the interests of the agribusiness sector, which are much more permanent and broader, since they involve not only local actors but also transnational companies.

    We believe that the cause of the fires is primarily human in origin, since they are started to expand the agricultural frontier. This is how about five and a half million hectares have already been burned. To give an idea of​​the dimensions of the disaster: the area that has been burned in the lowlands of Bolivia is almost the same size as Guatemala. And not only the forest is lost, but also the entire habitat is degraded, the water sources of some communities disappear and the effects of this extend beyond Bolivia, as bioclimates and rainfall change.

    We understand that the phenomenon that affects us is part of a bigger problem, which this year had several expressions in the form of fires in the Brazilian Amazon, in African countries and in Australia. As there is insufficient rainfall due to climate change, forests are much more prone to burning. In addition to agricultural expansion policies, especially those aimed at growing soybeans – which in addition are genetically modified – this makes these places much more vulnerable. The consequences of this are suffered not only by the population living in the territories where these incidents occur, which is directly affected, but also by the general population.

    At the same time, we also put forward the issue of urban deforestation. In Cochabamba there are around 200 deaths per year due to respiratory problems. It is one of the cities with the most polluted air in Latin America, so this was also one of the specific demands of our mobilisations, as well as the fact that we adhere to the global call for definitive and effective action by governments.

    Have you had participated in international processes related to climate change?

    We have participated from the local level, training young people to take part in the international negotiation processes, mainly at the COP – Conference of the Signatory Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – series of meetings.

    We started by recruiting in various institutions that work with young people, and making a diagnosis to identify who were the ones who were ready and committed to addressing the issue of climate change, and then we made selections based on the issues we were working on. We gave workshops on topics ranging from the conceptual and technical approach to the issue of climate change, to the management of environmental projects, the characteristics of the negotiation process and strategies to participate, as well as workshops to improve people’s ability to express themselves adequately at these events. It was a long process, but it yielded very good results, because we already have leaders in the country’s nine departments who are trained to go participate in discussions and show the world the initiatives and projects that are being developed in Bolivia.

    Unfortunately, the last-minute change of the venue for COP 25 to Spain – because it could not take place in Santiago de Chile due to the context of protests and repression – deflated us, because we were well prepared and had a firm position that in the end we could not contribute to the event. This was the case not just for us in Bolivia, but more generally for Latin America, where something very big was being prepared to share in Chile. The change of location and the short notice with which it was decided created a big complication for us, financially and logistically. On top of this, for us in Bolivia the consequences of recent socio-political conflicts also were an obstacle that prevented us from implementing our strategy before COP 25.

    But we do not want to throw away the existing motivation and the accumulated work that we have done over approximately one and a half years, so we have continued to work to train young leaders. Our goal is to underpin the ability of young people to generate proposals and initiatives, both technically and politically, not only in their regions but also in international spaces.

    Do you think that the disappointing outcomes of COP 25 had something to do with the absence of many people who were ready to influence the agenda but could not participate?

    Yes, I think so. Without detracting from the work done by the countries and organisations that did participate, I think it ended up being a very improvised event, and if it had been held in Chile as planned, the results could have been a bit more significant and positive thanks to the presence and the participation of young people. For the first time, Bolivia was going to count on the participation of a group of young people recognised by the state, who were to carry out the mandate of a collective process developed in Bolivia’s nine departments through four or five prior forums.

    However, we are trying to have a constructive attitude in the face of this setback, and we are taking advantage of the extra time we have to get ready. We already have these young people who are in a position to formulate demands and proposals wherever it might be necessary to do so – be it in the UK, where COP 26 will be held, or in any other international event if the opportunity arises.

    Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Pacha Gaia Foundation through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@GaiaPacha on Twitter.

     

  • Case Study on the Power of Radical Collaboration: People Before Projects

    Conversation between Enhle Khumalo, CIVICUS Youth and Abigail Freeman, Alliance for Gender Justice Liberia in August 2020. 

    Transforming information into impactful formats 

    1. Who is Abigail?

    I am a 22-year-old social justice activist and founder of the Alliance for Gender Justice and Human Rights- a movement formed on the basis of advocating for women’s rights, promoting gender equality, and amplifying the voices of women and youth in  Liberia. I am also a Youth Action Lab participant.

    2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the communities you work with?

    We had just launched our movement prior to the pandemic. However, due to the preventing measures to spread the COVID-19 pandemic we could not go on with our planned activities which included the construction of a physical space for young women and victims of sexual violence to participate safely in the campaign for sexual violence prevention and gender justice. So in the spirit of people before projects, we decided to adapt our plans to fit in with the needs of people during the COVID-19 state of emergency in Liberia that started in March.

    3. How were you able to adapt your plans to accommodate the changing environment? 

    My team and I wanted to adapt our plans to address people's needs and not our assumptions of what they needed. So, my team and I decided to see how we can work with communities and  to learn how to better address this issue and direct our efforts to protect women and children.

    4. What was a major take-away from the work you were able to produce using this approach?

    Gender issues are extremely sensitive in Ganta, Liberia. For instance, during our time working there with fellow grassroots activists, we discovered a case where four rapists had familial ties to the judge that ordered their medical release due to COVID-19. First, I was able to reach out to people working on those issues in the town. Working together, we built a campaign to raise awareness about this and the community demonstrated an overwhelming amount of support by joining us in protests demonstrations and press conferences calling for the immediate arrest of the rapists and along the way we gained traction and got legal support from the Liberia Justice Association. This strategic alliance assisted our advocacy efforts by introducing a legal entity, which we are not qualified as. Now more people know our movement and we are recognized and referred to as a group that stands up for gender justice in a context where this is a sensitive topic. Thanks to this we are reaching more people than if we had stayed with the original project plan.

    5. What would you say to organisations/donors who are looking to support youth activists like yourself in these challenging times and post-Covid?

    Abigail interview 2Many women and children living in rural communities are vulnerable to violence. Creating a space that will allow women, girls and children to acquire education and skills training will be a radical approach in the fight against GBV. At the SheLeads Academy, women, children and teenage mothers will be given an opportunity to build their capacity through skills training programs, counseling and mentorship,health care and leadership development. This will serve as a means for reducing poverty and domestic violence. 

    Funding and logistical assistance is also important. It will help advocacy organisations to expand their networks and support the work we are doing in our communities.

    6. Any advice for other youth activists facing similar challenges?

    Young people have the power to change the world and as such, it is time we build a united front by bringing young people from diverse backgrounds to elevate our advocacy.

    Gender Justice, safety for women and children, women empowerment and girls education is everyone’s responsibility. 

    Collaboration is key. We managed to cut across many sectors and have had many people support the work we are doing.  Value the power of collaboration., Young people can cut through the noise and advocate for a fair and just society when they organise with and through their community.

     

  • CLIMATE CHANGE: Feminists have pushed for marginalised voices to be heard

    maria nailevuAs calls grow for climate action to be more responsive to frontline communities, CIVICUS spoke to Maria Nailevu, a feminist climate activist from Fiji, about how feminists have been fighting for more inclusive climate policies from the local to the global levels. Nailevu says that United Nations (UN) climate negotiations often claim technical expertise as a reason to exclude diverse voices, but fail to recognise the specific expertise of women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, sex workers, rural and remote communities and young people in responding to the climate crisis in inclusive ways.

    As a Fijian climate activist and a feminist, how inclusive of the needs of women, LGBTQI people and other excluded people have you found regional and national climate responses?

    There is still a lot of work needed in terms of inclusiveness within our national and regional climate responses. There are still many key consultation processes that continue to exclude diverse voices that matter – those of women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, sex workers, people from rural and remote communities and young people, among others. Also, disaster responses still need to be more inclusive to ensure that all people, regardless of their race, sexuality, or background, have fair access to disaster assistance. After Cyclone Winston in 2016, one of the gaps identified within our disaster risk reduction work was that many marginalised communities were left out from accessing government assistance because it was designed only for traditional family structures. Only men as heads of households received the assistance on behalf of their families, which excluded many people who were already living on or below the poverty line and left them on their own to recover at their own cost.

    Additionally, evacuation centres are not safe for women, girls and LGBTQI people. There have been reports of many human rights violations that arose during the evacuation period. We have also documented cases of LGBTQI people who were willing to risk their lives in temporary shelters because of fear of violence and discrimination at evacuation centres.

    The 2017 climate change Conference of Parties (COP 23) hosted by Fiji emphasised the need for dialogue through the distinct Fijian process oftalanoa – a form of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. What do you think decision-makers can learn from talanoa in terms of listening to diverse perspectives?

    I was fortunate to be part of the Talanoa Dialogue in 2017, when I was with DIVA for Equality representing the voices of lesbian, bisexual and transmasculine (LBT) women as well as women from rural, maritime and urban poor communities. As a grassroots feminist, climate activist and a woman holding diverse identities, I personally felt that it was a wonderfully designed platform because of the opportunity it provided for diverse voices to have a direct say in the process. I think decision-makers should create and support more inclusive and safe spaces that encourage the expression of diverse perspectives and shift away from tokenism and the focus on technical capacities.

    Do you think the voices of diverse groups, and particularly of young people, have been heard in climate decision-making in Fiji?

    Having the voice of young people heard has been a continuous challenge. However, in my feminist and climate justice work I feel that there are now spaces slowly opening up for young people and other marginalised voices. This has happened as a result of the continuous push by the feminist movement, and especially by DIVA for Equality, which has been doing great work in connecting direct voices that matter with key spaces.

    I also personally feel that if youth spaces are shrinking, young people have the potential to shift that around by being radical and starting to implement actions rather than staying frustrated at decision-makers and our failing system. Young people can easily organise and act through community activities – such as planting trees, doing clean-up campaigns and conducting awareness drives – so that true work and commitment become visible, which can capture the attention of our leaders and reflect on existing processes.

    Greta Thunberg is a great example of the younger generation having enough and speaking up to our failing system. Look at her now: she not only has the attention of our leaders, but also got international attention. The beauty behind this revolution is that it all started with Greta taking a day off school in 2018 to go sit and outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on global warming. It was just her, on her own, holding up a sign that said, ‘School strike for climate’.

    From your experience, do regional and global climate talks offer meaningful opportunities for the participation of frontline communities? If not, how do you think these processes could be improved?

    I find UN climate-related spaces complicated, and I’m sure it’s the same for any feminist and climate activist from the global south. This happens for a few reasons.

    First, gender balance in government delegations has always been a challenge in COP spaces. There are times you need to speak to your national and regional government delegations and it’s difficult for women when almost the entire teams are male. Another related challenge is that delegation members themselves are not familiar with gender and human rights issues and their interlinking impacts on climate change. This becomes a barrier to our work and efforts to influence our national and regional positions.

    Second, there are almost no spaces and proper support systems for women from the global south to have a direct influence in the process. For COP 23, DIVA for Equality organised side events for the first time. We brought in women from the Pacific and elsewhere in the global south to speak about challenges and strategies. This was a breakthrough, as it created a stronger network of women working on similar issues. We also hosted a side caucus so that we could all find ways to support each other during the intense two-week process, which was helpful for women who were participating for the first time and feeling completely lost and consumed in the process.

    Third, technical aspects tend to be prioritised over the importance of diverse knowledge. There seems to be a prevailing narrative that when you are from the global south or from a marginalised community, you are nothing but a victim. This shifts the attention away from the creation of spaces for grassroots women and marginalised groups to have a direct voice, sharing their realities and their strategies in a way that decision-makers can hear and learn from. There are so many spaces for technical capacity-building but so few that recognise and focus on the types of expertise that diverse communities also bring. There are feminist and women-led initiatives and indigenous and traditional knowledge that should be prioritised and integrated within our key climate responses.

    Finally, there is a permanent tension between global north and global south politics. It is always a challenge for feminists from the global north and global south to convene and work together. I have been engaging in all COP events through the Women and Gender Constituency and it’s tough work when there are women from such different backgrounds. There still needs to be a recognition that our contexts are different and climate change impacts differently on us, and there needs to be more practice around power negotiations and a clear understanding of the different positions and politics in the room.

    How are people in Fiji mobilising for a more just and inclusive response to the climate crisis?

    I will speak on this based on my previous work with DIVA for Equality, which is a radical and feminist organisation in Fiji that works on an intersectional and interlinkage approach within a strong universal human rights framework.

    One of the ways in which DIVA addresses inclusive responses is by creating inclusive and safe spaces for all people. Every year, DIVA hosts national conventions for LBT women, feminist bootcamps and an event called the Fiji Women Defending Commons, which convenes rural, maritime and urban poor women who are already doing work on climate, gender and sustainable development.

    These key spaces that DIVA creates bring in excluded communities to come together to learn, share, strategise and work towards building a stronger social movement that connects communities that are doing great work with little support, contributing towards the resilience of their communities. These convenings produce useful outcomes, including outcome documents and demands that are co-produced by participants and shared with all relevant stakeholders, including the government, so they hear directly from people and can act on it.

    DIVA is modeling a great set of work which I hope others, and especially our national and regional bodies, can follow to ensure that all people are included in climate responses if they truly believe in the 'leave no one behind' statement.

    What do you think about the recent climate strikes around the world and the UN response to them?

    There is a unique and powerful aspect of this climate strike, perhaps because it evolved from Greta Thunberg, who I find special because of her diverse identities: she is young girl with autism and she is from an global north country but stood up and spoke out not only for herself but for millions of people, including us in Fiji and the Pacific, who are angry at our failing system and structures and scared of our uncertain future because of leaders who are prioritising thriving economies at the expense of community livelihoods and our environment.

    I find this year's climate strike really impactful and strong. I think it's a sign that people are now aware of the realities of climate impacts; they now understand the facts and the science that are shared by climate scientists on the status of the planet and our entire ecosystems. People cannot stand by and watch our planet be destroyed and our entire human race wiped out.

    I hope the UN sees the seriousness in the key messages shared through the climate strikes and also strongly recognises that we are now in a time of climate crisis, as we can see in the various disasters striking across the globe. This requires a radical shift if we truly want to save humankind, our planet and all living species.

    What are your hopes for COP 25, to be held in Chile in December 2019?

    I hope there will be more support for diverse representation, including within government delegations. I hope global north countries and corporations will commit to their responsibilities through climate finance to address loss and damage for the global south, stop coal production and markets and invest more in renewable energy and gender-just solutions. I hope the objectives within the Gender Action Plan are implemented, monitored and achieved. And I hope the priority of protecting the ocean and marine life will be scaled up, especially around the global issue of plastic reliance and pollution. This will have a direct impact on food security for us and future generations.

    Civic space in Fiji is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘Young people experience a feeling of wanting to change everything’

    CIVICUS speaks about the protests that began in Colombia in April 2021, triggered by proposed tax increases, with a young social and human rights activist who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons. The interviewee belongs to a network of youth organisations and young activists that promotes solidarity, organisation and the struggle of excluded groups and that works in the capital, Bogotá, and in the city of Medellín.

    What were the causes of the protests, and what are protesters’ demands?

    The tax reform was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it added to a host of problems. In the assemblies in which we participated, hundreds of demands, and demands of all kinds, were collected, from filling holes in neighbourhood streets to overthrowing the government led by President Iván Duque and seeking justice for the so-called ‘false positives’, that is, cases of civilians killed by the military and presented as casualties of the armed conflict. What young people are experiencing is a feeling of wanting to change everything, of not wanting to continue living as before.

    But despite the diversity of demands, there are some that unite young people from the lower classes the most. I think that, in economic matters, young people from the lower classes are demanding employment and opportunities to get ahead, and in political matters these young people, particularly those who were on the protest frontlines, are demanding dignity, to not be humiliated anymore. Nothing unites these young people more than their deep hatred of the police, as the main representative of the outrages and humiliations they experience on a daily basis. They feel like outcasts with no economic future, with no hope of getting a job beyond the daily grind to survive, rejected by society and persecuted like criminals by the police just because they are young and poor.

    Students – also young people but more intellectual, some from the middle class – were also a significant force in the protests, but tended to emphasise demands against political repression and human rights violations, the issue of the ‘false positives’, the assassinations of social leaders and the criminalisation of protest.

    How do these protests differ from those of previous years, and are there any lines of continuity with them?

    Basically, motives are the same as those of the 2019 and 2020 protests. In the 2019 protests, the crisis of unemployment and hunger weighed more heavily, while in the 2020 protests, the issue of repression, not wanting to continue to be humiliated and killed, became more important. Those that broke out in April 2021 combined the motives of the two previous waves, because not only had neither of the two problems been tackled at the root, but not even palliatives had been offered; on the contrary, the economic crisis worsened and political repression continued.

    Perhaps one difference is that the latest protests have received greater international attention, which reflects the strength with which the Colombian people took to the streets. The protest had broad legitimacy among social groups that do not usually mobilise. The economic and political crisis and suffocation was such that groups such as medium-size and even large business owners supported the protests. The massive character of the protests also forced everyone, from artists to congresspeople, to take sides.

    There were Colombians abroad who protested in their respective countries, speaking up about what their relatives back home were telling them. Some may think that this increased international attention was due to the repression, but I tend to believe that what magnified the message was the size of the middle-class groups that mobilised. Repression has been very present in previous cycles as well as in the face of protests by groups of peasants. I think what was decisive in this case was the diversity of social strata that supported the protest.

    How has the government reacted to the protests?

    Generally speaking, it reacted first by violently repressing them, then by delegitimising them by using the media to attack some groups, and in particular young people, and finally by trying to divide them in order to demobilise some social groups and isolate young people from the lower classes. For the latter, the government engaged in several negotiations with a self-proclaimed National Strike Committee, and also carried out negotiations at the local level to try to contain or calm down some social groups.

    Particularly at the local level, even in localities with so-called centrist and independent governments, the government set up dialogue roundtables that do not solve anything, where demands are listened to but nothing specific is offered in response to those demands. Many local governments washed their hands of the repression, blaming it on the central government alone, but they did everything in their power to demobilise the protests, sending representatives to calm down protesters and promising people that if they stopped protesting they would listen to their demands, something they had not done during the whole previous year.

    Violence by some groups seems to have become a problem. How did activists and civil society organisations deal with this?

    Violence has often been a spontaneous reaction to repression. Confronting the young person who is throwing a rock with judgement and scolding serves no purpose except to radicalise them further and earn their distrust. In order to change this violence, we must begin by understanding it and distinguishing it from the violence that comes from the state, rather than putting them on the same level. This is not to say that violence is desirable; indeed, it diverts the initiative of many young people. But getting between them and the Immediate Response Command (Comando de Atención Inmediata) – the police unit that operates in urban perimeters – to try and stop them ends up having more of a reverse psychological effect than a deterrence or educational one.

    In my experience, civil society organisations that do not reach out to these young people and offer them alternative spaces for politicisation and awareness-raising end up isolating them and losing the ability to influence them. Our organisation has dealt with this through the strategy of avoiding negative judgement and, instead, approaching them with understanding and trying to create alternative spaces for political participation and the organisation of young people.

    What roles has your organisation played in the protests?

    Our organisation played an active role: we organised the participation in the protests of young people and families in the neighbourhoods where we carry out community work and promoted a solidarity campaign with protesters to collect economic support and other resources, such as first aid, support through community kitchens and human rights advocacy, to help various protest points in the cities of Bogotá and Medellín.

    In Bogotá, we provided support to find information on missing persons and participated in solidarity campaigns with people who had been injured. In Medellín we established community kitchens and repaired roofs and other damage caused by protests in neighbourhoods close to the major protest hotspots in the city. Finally, throughout the protests we developed awareness-raising activities and promoted the involvement of young protesters in more lasting processes of social and community building.

    What impacts do you think this cycle of protests and repression will have on the upcoming elections?

    In my opinion, the protests increased the political capital of the former mayor of Bogotá and former presidential candidate for the left, Gustavo Petro. The government did not give any real response to protesters’ demands and people are still looking for alternatives, and – although our organisation has no interest in campaigning for him or intention to do so – I think Petro is the only available option. In the next elections I would expect a higher rate of youth participation, and I would not be surprised at all if Petro wins.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • COP26: ‘False solutions are brandished to divert our attention from those responsible’

    In the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Lia Mai Torres, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) – Philippines, a civil society organisation (CSO) that helps Filipino communities address environmental challenges. Founded in 1989 through an initiative of organisations representing fisherfolk, farmers, Indigenous peoples, women, people living in urban poverty and professional sectors, CEC focuses on environmental research, education, advocacy and campaigning. It is also part of the secretariat of the Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED), a coalition of organisations working in solidarity to protect the environment and its defenders.

    Lia Mai Torres

    What’s the key environmental issue in your country that you’re working on?

    The main environmental issue that the Philippines is currently facing is the proliferation of environmentally destructive projects and programmes. This situation persisted or even worsened under the pandemic.

    Just recently, the current administration lifted a moratorium on mining, based on claims that it will help the economy recover, after it was hard hit by the poor pandemic response. This will usher in around 100 mining agreements in different parts of the country. This was opposed by many communities due to the negative impacts of existing mining operations. An example is in the village of Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, in the northern part of the Philippines, where a mining agreement with the Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold was renewed for another 25 years. The Bugkalot and Tuwali Indigenous communities are already suffering from a lack of water supply due to the mining operations and they fear that this will worsen with the continuing operations.

    Infrastructure projects are also a priority of the government, which claims that they will also help the economy. However, there are projects that are foreign funded under onerous loans that will worsen the situation of residents. An example of this is the China-funded Kaliwa Dam in Rizal province, in the southern part of Luzon island. It will encroach on the Dumagat Indigenous people’s ancestral domain, including sacred sites, as well as a protected area.

    Another example are the monocrop plantations that can be found mostly in the provinces of Mindanao. Ancestral domains of the Lumad Indigenous people have been converted into banana and pineapple plantations. Some residents report illnesses from the synthetic chemicals used in the plantations and many are being displaced from their farmlands.

    These are a few examples of priority projects that are pushed by the government to bring so-called development. However, it is obvious that these do not genuinely improve the situation of local communities, most of which are already experiencing poverty. In addition, the natural resources of the country are mostly not exploited to the benefit of its citizens, since the products extracted are destined for export. Only very few local and international corporations benefit from them. Natural resources are used for profit and not for national development.

    Have you faced backlash for the work you do?

    CEC works with local communities, since we believe that environmental struggles cannot be won without the united efforts of the people who are experiencing environmental impact. The real power comes from the organisations on the ground. CSOs like ours and other sectors should support their efforts, connecting local struggles to build a strong environmental movement at the national and international levels.

    Because of our support to local communities, we have faced reprisals. In 2007, Lafayette Mining Ltd, an Australian mining company, filed a libel case against CEC’s then-executive director for exposing the impacts of the company’s operations. In 2019 and 2021, our organisation was targeted through red-tagging, a practice by which the government declares individuals and organisations as terrorists or communists, in retaliation for our humanitarian missions following a typhoon and during the pandemic. 

    We also received information of a threat of a police raid in our office for providing sanctuary to Lumad Indigenous children who were forced out of their communities due to militarisation, threats and harassment. Our peaceful protest actions are often violently dispersed by the police and private security forces, and a member of our staff was arrested in 2019.

    Behind all these attacks are state security forces alongside the private security forces of corporations. The police and military have seemingly become part of the corporations’ security forces, using repressive measure to ensure that their operations run smoothly.

    How do you connect with the broader international climate movement?

    As many countries, especially from the global south, are experiencing similar environmental problems, we recognise the need to connect with organisations in other countries. In 2015, CEC was among the conveners of the International People’s Conference on Mining, in which environmental defenders were able to learn from each other’s experiences and coordinate local campaigns.

    CEC also helped establish APNED, a solidarity campaign network that provides mutual support to campaigns, raises issues at the international level, advocates for greater protection to defenders, conducts capacity-building activities and facilitates services. We believe that it is important to have solidarity among defenders to help strengthen local movements as well as the international struggle for our environmental rights.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26 to make progress on your issue, and how useful generally do you find such international processes?

    Even before the pandemic, there were concerns regarding the inclusion of frontline or grassroots environmental defenders in international processes such as the climate talks. Lack of inclusivity became more evident under the pandemic, as many CSOs have found it difficult to attend due to additional requirements and expenses. In addition, only accredited organisations can attend formal events, and these are only very few with accreditation. Further, governments’ reports are usually far from reality. The worsening climate crisis is proof that governments are not doing enough.

    Despite this, we will still participate in the formal and side events of COP26, aiming to bring attention to how many developed countries and big corporations are worsening the climate crisis through resource grabbing and the exploitation of the natural resources of poor countries, exacerbating existing poverty, and how false solutions are brandished to divert our attention from their responsibility and lack of accountability. We also want to highlight the importance of environmental defenders in protecting our environment and upholding our environmental rights, and therefore the need to ensure that they do not suffer more politically motivated human rights violations that hinder them from doing their important work.

    What one change would you like to see that would help address the climate crisis?

    We hope that the profit-oriented capitalist framework will be changed in the Philippines. This would ensure resource conflicts will be addressed, environmental protection for ecological balance upheld, genuine climate adaptation programmes established and due attention given to vulnerable groups. This also includes holding countries and corporations that contribute to the climate crisis accountable and providing support for poor countries to adapt.

    Civic space in the Philippines is rated ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CEC_Phils on Twitter. 

     

  • COP26: ‘In response to pressure from below, COP26 should develop interventions for just climate action’

    In the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Caroline Owashaba, team leader at Action for Youth Development Uganda and volunteer coordinator of the Girls Not Brides Uganda Alliance.

    Caroline Owashaba

    What is the key environmental issue in your country that you are working on?

    A key issue in Uganda is the use of large quantities of single-use plastic bags, which have extreme environmental effects. Plastic bags take many years to decompose; they release toxic substances into the soil and, if burned, into the air; they block drains and may cause flooding; and they kill animals that eat them confusing them for food or that get entangled in them.

    A measure to ban the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags was passed back in 2018, but manufacturers lobbied hard to get more time before the ban went into effect, and as a result its enforcement has been slow and largely ineffective. So earlier in 2021, the government decided to enforce new measures to that effect, alongside a bigger package of environmental measures. 

    While the government works to enforce the ban on single-use plastic bags, we are working on an initiative to produce alternative, eco-friendly and biodegradable materials. This is quite urgent, because right now, if the ban on plastic bags was actually enforced, the supply of biodegradable packaging options would by no means be enough.

    Action for Youth Development Uganda (ACOYDE) is implementing a project named CHACHA (Children for Alternative Change), which uses banana fibre to produce a variety of useful items, such as door and table mats, pillows, interior decorative items and, of course, bags. The waste generated from the banana fibre extraction and the manufacture of these items is recycled to produce high-quality charcoal briquettes that are used as a heat source by young people and women involved in the project in both their homes and workplaces, reducing consumption of fuel while increasing their household income. 

    The whole community takes part in the production process, because they are the major suppliers of banana stems. And the project enables young people, and especially young women, to earn a living for their families. There are possibilities for its expansion, as the emergence of eco-hotels has created an increased demand for eco-friendly products 

    How do you engage with the broader international climate movement?

    We have engaged with the international movement through regional climate change exchanges such as Africa Climate Change Week and as part of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network. We also follow the discussions of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group on adaptation, mitigation and financing.

    It has also worked the other way around: ACOYDE has supported efforts to domesticate the international climate framework and fed into the National Climate Change Bill, which was passed in April 2021. The new bill gave the force of law to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, to which Uganda is a signatory. We then worked to localise the bill. It is key for it to be effectively implemented at a local level because it will help us overcome the climate change injustices in our communities.

    We also connect with the broader climate movement from a gender perspective. I am personally interested in the intersections between gender and climate change. In previous COPs, I was able to contribute to the Gender Action Plan (GAP) that has guided and influenced issues of women and youth in UNFCCC negotiation processes. I participated in GAP progress discussions on gender balance, coherence, gender-responsive implementation, monitoring, and reporting. I have also been active in the Uganda National Gender Working Group and other national climate change processes to ensure the domestication of global standards of gender and financing consistent with the Paris Agreement, including by reporting on the implementation of the GAP provisions in Uganda.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26?

    COP26 should offer spaces to take gender issues to the global level and provide further opportunities for discussion. It should increase women’s participation, undertake gender mainstreaming and ensure GAPs are implemented. It should help amplify the voices of women in climate change negotiations. Women are doing much of the heavy lifting at the grassroots level, but they get too little in return, not just because too little goes to their pockets but also because they continue to be underrepresented and therefore their voices go unheard.

    International forums such as COP26 should provide spaces for grassroots participation and, in response to those pressures from below, COP26 should develop strong interventions for just climate action that are respectful of human rights, including Indigenous people’s rights and the promotion of gender equality. 

    Civic space inUgandais rated as ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Action for Youth Development Uganda through itswebsite andFacebook page.

     

  • COP26: ‘My hope lies in the people coming together to demand justice’

    Mitzi Jonelle TanIn the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a young climate justice activist based in Metro Manila, Philippines, who organises with Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and is active in Fridays for Future International.

    What’s the key climate issue in your community?

    The Philippines is plagued by several impacts from climate change, from droughts that are getting longer and warmer to typhoons that are getting more frequent and more intense. Aside from these climate impacts – that we have not been able to adapt to and leave us with no support when it comes to dealing with the loss and damages – we also face numerous environmentally destructive projects, often undertaken by foreign multinational companies, that our government is allowing and even encouraging.

    Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, the Fridays for Future of the Philippines, advocates for climate justice and to make sure that voices of people from the most affected communities are heard, amplified and given space. I first became an activist in 2017 after working with Indigenous leaders of the Philippines, which made me understand that they only way to achieve a more just and greener society is through collective action leading to system change.

    Have you faced backlash for the work you do?

    Yes, just like anyone who speaks up against injustice and inaction, our government through its paid trolls red-tags and terror-tags activists – it basically calls us terrorists for demanding accountability and pushing for change. There is a fear that comes along with being a climate activist in the Philippines, which has been characterised as the most dangerous country in Asia for environmental defenders and activists for eight years in a row. It’s not just the fear of the climate impacts, it’s also the fear of police and state forces coming to get us and making us disappear. 

    How do you engage with the broader international climate movement?

    I organise a lot with the international community, especially through Fridays for Future – MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas), one of the global south groups of Fridays for Future. We do it by having conversations, learning from each other and creating strategies together, all while having fun. It’s important for the global youth movement to connect with one another, unite and show solidarity in order to truly address the global issue of the climate crisis.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26 to make progress on your issue, and how useful generally do you find such international processes?

    My hope doesn’t lie with the so-called leaders and politicians who have continued business as usual for decades for the profit of the few, usually for the global north. My hope lies in the people: activists and civil society coming together to demand justice and to really expose how this profit-oriented system that brought us to this crisis is not the one that we need to bring us out of it. I think COP26 is a crucial moment and this international process has to be useful because we’ve already had 24 too many. These problems should have been solved at the very first COP, and one way or another we have to make sure that this COP is useful and brings meaningful change, not just more empty promises.

    What one change would you like to see – in the world or in your community – to help address the climate crisis?

    The one change I ask for is a big one: system change. We need to change our system from one that prioritises the overexploitation of the global south and marginalised peoples for the profit of the global north and the privileged few. The way we view development, it shouldn’t be based on GDP and everlasting growth, but rather on the quality of people’s lives. This is doable – but only if we address the climate crisis and all the other socio-economic injustices at its roots.

    Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated as ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines through itswebsite or Facebook page, and follow @mitzijonelle onTwitter andInstagram. 

     

  • DISINFORMATION: ‘The fact that profit drives content creation on the internet is dangerous to democracy’

    CIVICUS speaks with Rory Daniels about the 2019 elections in the UK and the dangers that disinformation poses to democracy.Rory is a student, activist and writer intent on promoting the voices of those left behind by governments and globalisation. In the 2017 general election, he stood as a 19-year-old parliamentarycandidate for the Liberal Democrats in the constituency of Llanelli. Since September 2019, he has been a member of Amnesty International's firstGlobal Youth Task Force.

    rory daniels

    What role would you say disinformation has played in the recent elections in the UK?

    As a candidate myself during the 2017 UK general election, I saw first-hand the role disinformation played throughout the campaign. Prominent newspapers often printed misleading headlines, biased websites attacked real journalists uncovering the truth and advertisements created by political parties lacked sources for statistics, featured heavily edited video footage and virtually never presented balanced arguments.

    Then the 2019 general election saw all this take place again, plus more. There were doctored videos, highly misleading websites and even signs of foreign interference. A doctored video came from the Conservative Party, which later admitted to editing a clip of a speech given by Labour MP Sir Keir Starmer. The video they released made it look like he had struggled to answer a question about exiting the European Union, while in fact he had answered the question. The same party then changed the name of one of its Twitter accounts to ‘FactcheckUK’. Twitter responded by warning the Conservatives that this effectively constituted an act of deception, as the account was not impartial as users may have been led to believe. Clearly not satisfied with deceiving videos and social media accounts, the Conservatives then bought ads on Google that appeared as the top result for anybody seeking the Labour Party’s manifesto. These criticised the proposals in a heavily biased fashion.

    The Labour Party also succumbed to disinformation. For example, their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, cited documents suggesting that the Conservatives would sell off large parts of the National Health Service to the USA in a post-Brexit trade agreement. It later transpired, however, that these documents were linked to a Russian disinformation campaign.

    Which platforms do you think are the most vulnerable to disinformation?

    It’s hard to say which platforms are more vulnerable to disinformation than others. In November 2019, I attended the World Forum for Democracy at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. The whole event revolved around the question of whether democracy is ‘in danger’ in the information age. It didn’t take long for me to see that vulnerabilities exist on any platform that possesses many users and is constrained by little regulation.

    In addition, with disinformation it’s often more about the content than the platform. For example, I remember reading a recent analysis conducted by BuzzFeed which found that during the final months of the 2016 US election campaign, fabricated news stories reached a greater online audience than actual news stories.

    What are the impacts of disinformation on democratic freedoms?

    All democracies depend upon facts, truth and scrutiny. Voters need reliable information in order to vote rationally – that is, to have good reason to vote for a certain politician or policy instead of others – to challenge their own worldview or preconceptions, and ultimately to hold power to account.

    In an age of disinformation, facts become indistinguishable from fiction, truth becomes impossible to discern among all the lies and scrutiny gets entangled in ideological polarisation. Where once there was the traditional media to keep the populace informed, now there is the internet – an unregulated mess of opinions, corporations and agendas.

    On the internet, the business model is simple: more clicks equal more revenue. This means that often, websites will only seek facts and the truth if they bring greater profits. If not, they may decide to prey on fear, stereotypes, insecurity, hatred and division. Authors know that readers achieve greater levels of satisfaction when they read opinions that confirm their worldview, rather than challenge it. This leads to greater polarisation, as empirical evidence is disregarded in favour of the ‘facts’ that confirm readers’ previously held views.

    We’ve already seen that if this occurs in a democracy, politics suffers. Voters develop apathy, because as they become overwhelmed by confusion and conflicting viewpoints, they switch off from political developments, while ‘establishment’ candidates lose out to populists who pedal quick solutions to complex problems. In short, rational, informed debate all but dies.

    What are the forces behind disinformation?

    Disinformation can be created by anybody at any time. State actors may intervene in foreign elections to tip the scales in their favour, while domestic activists may sow news stories that build support for far-right or populist actors. In other words, the ‘information war’ is fought from all sides.

    Since the creation of the internet, we’ve also seen what some people call the ‘democratisation of disinformation’ unfold. This means that anybody, whether in place A or with budget B, can create and share intentionally misleading content with ease. As a result, what only a few years ago was seen as a tool that was largely positive for democracy – the 2010 ‘Arab Spring’ came to be known as the ‘Facebook Revolution’ – is today perhaps its greatest threat.

    What is being done to combat disinformation, and what have the successes and challenges been so far?

    A few months ago, I spoke at UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy (MIL) conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. I did so because I believe that education can play an enormous role in addressing disinformation, and I also wanted to share some lessons I had learned from my 2017 parliamentary campaign. The conference was no doubt held in Sweden due to the country’s incredible push for MIL education in recent years, and after meeting many Swedish activists throughout the week, I can only applaud the valuable work they are doing in the field.

    I’m also looking to address some of the negative consequences of disinformation. For example, as a member of the Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, I’m part of a team of young activists planning a ‘Unity Day’ celebration to take place in London on 19 May 2020. Crucially, in a time of increasing division and hatred, this will see politicians, thought-leaders, community organisations and others come together to champion values and ideas that unite us. I urge you to visit the Unity Day website if you’re interested in pledging to take an action, no matter how big or small, that celebrates unity and combats division.

    Of course, trying to inform the debate about disinformation has not been easy. Still today, MIL education is woefully underprovided, sensible media regulations are too often labelled as censorship or attacks on free speech and social media platforms continue to constitute dangerous echo chambers.

    What more is needed to combat disinformation?

    Many of the causes of disinformation are structural by nature, and therefore I believe that many solutions must be too. We must finally recognise that the profit incentive driving content creation on the internet is dangerous to democracy and ultimately unsustainable, while tabloids that spew out sensationalist clickbait should be heavily regulated and severely fined if caught breaking the rules.

    In addition, I’m of the opinion that media and information literacy is by far the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy to countering disinformation and restoring our trust in democracy. MIL education should be offered far beyond schools, also targeting older generations who are less likely to identify disinformation and more likely to share it in the first place. Ultimately, readers must know how to spot and avoid disinformation, or else all the regulations and structural changes in the world will not solve the problem at hand.

    Civic space in the UK is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Rory throughLinkedIn if you’re interested in the regulation of big tech companies, London Global Shapers’ Unity Day or his work more generally.

     

  • European Youth Event 2018: from reflection to action

    By Elena Ceban, Center for Intercultural Dialogue

    European Youth EventImagine a space where over 8000 young people would come together to discuss, debate, share their opinions on political, social and cultural issues and have a dialogue with policy makers on how the life of young people can be improved. This space is the European Youth Event, a festival held every two years that celebrates youth participation in one of the most beautiful ways possible. It brings together youth from all over Europe and beyond for a 2-day marathon of discussions, sessions, workshops, musical/theatre/circus performances, rap battles, games and simulations, all with the purpose of bridging the gap between youth and policy-makers, and collecting fresh and innovative ideas on how to improve the life of Europeans in all aspects, whether economic, social and labor-related, environmental protection or political participation. The event is held inside and next to the European Parliament, which means that for 2 days the whole space around the European Parliament turns into a vibrant hub of energy, laughter, good vibes, music and positivity.

    This year´s edition of the EYE revolved around the motto: "The plan is to fan this spark into a flame" (Hamilton, My Shot), and covered the following topics: keeping up with the digital revolution, calling for a fair share, working out for a stronger Europe, staying alive in turbulent times and protecting our planet.

    It was amazing that so many young people could benefit from the opportunity of sharing the same space with decision-makers and learning more about how their ideas can shape the future of Europe. What was even more incredible was that the programme was shaped by the young people themselves! In a complex procedure that starts way before the event, youth organisations and youth groups are invited to apply with an idea for a workshop or activity that covers one of the topics mentioned above. This feature creates an amazing diversity of methodologies used for the proposed activities, and the participants get the chance to meet and learn about the work of multiple national and international youth organisations from Europe.

     

  • Five CIVICUS members join the Youth Action Team

    Meet the new YAT

    This April, five new members joined the CIVICUS Youth Action Team (YAT). They were elected by CIVICUS youth voting members and will serve a renewable 18-month term until September 2020. Their role will be to mainstream youth and youth issues into CIVICUS’ programmes and activities and to champion youth engagement and civic space.

     

  • GHANA: ‘Work in the corner of your community has a potential to cause change at the top’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Perk Pomeyie, a climate organiser, environmental advocate and artivist affiliated with the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM), a youth-led environmental group that advocates and campaigns for a sustainable environment and a just world for the current and future generations. GYEM seeks to build an inter-generational network to find solutions to environmental challenges and confront the climate crisis. It focuses on bottom-up solutions and encourages the co-production of knowledge through participatory approaches.

    Perk has recently been selected to take part inCIVICUS’s Youth Action Lab, a pilot co-creation initiative that works on year-long projects with grassroots youth activists based in the global south to support their movements and help them become more resilient and sustainable by building solidarity and networks, strengthening capacities, engaging with policy processes and facilitating resources to support their movement.

    Perk Pomeyie

     

    Can you tell us more about the work that you do?

    My work is part of the broader work of GYEM, a leading youth-led grassroots movement in Ghana. GYEM works by organising and coordinating young people from different backgrounds and empowering them with the tools, techniques and technology to run disruptive campaigns on environmental issues. GYEM addresses key ecological challenges such as poor waste management, various forms of pollution, deforestation and the impacts of climate change in different communities and regions of Ghana. It specialises in running high-impact training for non-violent direct action (NVDA) campaigns, which target state actors and decision-makers from both the government and business sectors.

    GYEM is composed of a youth-led Steering Group that mobilises logistics creatively, forging partnerships with other grassroots activists and community-based organisations to influence environmental change from the bottom up. It employs digital organising via social media and other NVDA tactics to deliver campaigns that challenge the status quo and offer both transformational and incremental community-led solutions that bring together scientific and Indigenous knowledge systems. GYEM also hosts the largest annual youth-led environmental summit in Ghana, Power Shift, which brings together grassroots activists from across the country to share ideas and collaborate on campaigns in various parts of Ghana.

    We do much of our work in collaboration with several other organisations, including Rocha Ghana, an environmental civil society organisation (CSO) focusing on practical conservation interventions in important ecological habitats and improving the ability of target communities to adapt to current trends in climate change; the Green Africa Youth Organisation, a youth-led gender-balanced advocacy group that focuses on environmental sustainability and community development; 350 Ghana, a leading environmental grassroots CSO affiliated to 350.org, aimed at mobilising and empowering young people in partnership with key stakeholders to champion the need to reduce our carbon emissions and promote renewable energy systems; and WaterAid Ghana, a CSO focused on providing people with clean water, decent toilets and sanitation.

    I am based in Accra, Ghana’s capital, but I work with diverse communities in different locations depending on the environmental challenge being addressed. Some of these include low-income groups who reside in informal settlements and are disproportionately affected by the impacts of plastic pollution and flooding. Another group I work with are frontline communities who face the impacts of climate change, such as drought, water stress and food insecurity. I also work in high schools and university campuses with student volunteers, aged between 12 and 25, who are passionate about the environment and require training and capacity to take action. Finally, I engage with CSOs working on various Sustainable Development Goals nationwide. Most of these are youth groups with leaders and members between 18 and 35 years old, working on initiatives and projects in areas such as conservation, plastic recycling, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and climate mitigation and adaptation.

    What have been the biggest successes you have achieved?

    We have had several high-profile victories. In 2016, the government backtracked on a project, proposed in 2013, to build a coal-powered plant in a community called Ekumfi Aboano. The plant was going to pose health and environmental risks to the people there, and especially to children and women. We designed campaign messages, organised the community for NVDA and marched repeatedly. As a result, the government engaged GYEM in a discussion and halted the coal plant project in 2016.

    Secondly, in 2016, WaterAid Ghana approached GYEM in search of support to create awareness of WASH-based climate adaptation interventions. They wanted young people to design a campaign to draw the government’s attention to WASH issues in local communities and informal settlements, and tackle them as part of adapting to climate change. I contributed with my design work and communication strategies to a year-long campaign that reached more than 10,000 young people. This resulted in the National WASH Forum, which brought together local communities and political actors to work jointly towards the goal of addressing WASH problems as part of climate adaptation strategies.

    In 2018, I worked with other activists in an urban poor settlement in an area called Pokuase, to raise awareness about a water source in the community that was being threatened by road construction and other building work. This water source was vital because it served the community during the dry season. For the first time, attention was drawn to the impact of human activities on the river.

    Did you take part in the global climate mobilisations in 2019?

    Yes, in late 2019 I championed the first #FridaysforFuture and #SchoolClimateStrike campaigns in the northern region of Ghana. I organised and coordinated strikes in Damongo and Tamale. I designed creative graphics and campaign materials, which attracted more than 200 schoolchildren and young people to these global campaigns. This was important because it was the first time that children and young people in that part of Ghana came out in large numbers to raise their voice on the impacts of climate change and demand urgent action from their leaders. Northern Ghana is currently experiencing the worst impact of climate change in the form of droughts and food insecurity.

    Ours was one of the many #FridaysforFuture events that were held in Ghana. I think we’ve been successful in mobilising because we’ve used innovative approaches. Personally, I’ve used my skills in design thinking and graphic design and my expertise in non-violent communication and direct action. I communicate to reach my target on various social media platforms, while also mobilising communities for action on the ground with context-relevant messages to address specific environmental challenges.

    Before that, in March 2019, I helped bring together hundreds of grassroots activists from Ghana and activists from the International Youth Climate Movement from other parts of Africa, to campaign for climate justice and urgent climate action, during the United Nations (UN) Africa Climate Week. I think this has been so far the most important achievement of my work as an activist. This high-profile conference was hosted in Accra and was attended by African governments, international organisations and business leaders. During this week, I coordinated an NVDA training session for hundreds of young people, while leading a mass rally of about 300 activists to the summit venue to deliver a strong message to heads of governments, businesses and stakeholders of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to act on the climate emergency.

    I consider this as an important achievement because as a grassroots activist in Ghana, this was the first time I gained a strong personal conviction that my work in the little corner of my community has a potential to cause change at the top, if supported with the right tools, capacity and resources.

    What support do activists like you need from international actors, including international civil society?

    Personally, my work is self-financed. I use some income from my part-time self-employment as a graphic designer to support my activism. I design marketing materials for individuals and campaign banners for CSOs and get paid for it. I use a percentage of this to fund my work. Sometimes, family and friends also donate to support my work if I make a request. I have also financed my work through crowdfunding to help coordinate and implement projects and high-profile campaigns. So one area in which activists like me need support is in generating sustainable resources.

    We also need more opportunities to connect and network with other activists from the global south who may share similar solutions to particular challenges in their respective contexts, to interact with multiple actors and to learn to navigate complex policy processes in the areas in which we work.

    Civic space in Ghana is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement through itsFacebook page andblog, and follow@gyemgh on Twitter.

     

  • Ivana Savić shares her thoughts on Youth participation in the Post-2015 Agenda

    Ivana SavicIvana Savic is a Policy Officer at Change Mob and Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development Studies. She serves as a board member to the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) at CIVICUS. Prior to these roles, she served as Junior Advisor at the Gender Equality Department to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia. Since 2009 she served as the representative for the Child Rights Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, which was an Organizing Partner for the Major Group on Children and Youth at the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil last year.

    How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework assisted in the development of youth organizations, capacities and livelihoods since its inception in 2000?
    MDGs have been important in advancing the livelihoods and capacities of young people, but also mobilizing young people to be involved in the implementation and progress reporting of the MDGs. However, Beyond 2015 goals should have at least one goal committed to youth and one committed to human development governance, particularly issues pertaining participation in decision making.

    What are some of the key issues facing youth throughout the world today, which should be prioritised in a Post-2015 Agenda?
    People all over the world, especially young people, are faced with increasing environmental degradation, human rights violations and economic crises and those issues should be prioritised in the Post-2015 Agenda. A clean, safe, healthy, adequate and sustainable environment is a prerequisite for life, survival and development. It also bares consequences for the fulfilment of human rights. Unfortunately, however, the environment is not an indefinite resource and its degradation negatively influences human health and life as well as the future and the lives of future generations. Furthermore, human rights, especially rights such as right to life, survival and development, right to adequate standard of living, right to health, right to work and social security, freedom from violence; and also the right to participation should be emphasised in the post MDGs agenda. It would be better to say that protection, fulfilment and advancement of human rights should be a foundation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. After all, development goals could be perceived as efforts made toward fulfilling the vision of a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

     

  • Reflections on resource mobilisation realities for youth movements and organisations

    By Alex Farrow

    Alex FarrowYouth movements and organisations are always at the forefront of campaigning for human rights and social change. Whether Brexit in the UK, abortion in Ireland, anti-gun laws in the USA, LGBT rights in Russia, democracy in Armenia, or climate change in Fiji, young people risk their safety – and their lives – in the pursuit of change.

    But changing the world costs money. #MarchForOurLives is up against the NRA - an organisation with an annual budget of $250 million. Having the resources is not just about cash in the bank; it is the time and capacity to plan and deliver, having staff and volunteers with the right knowledge and needed skills, and the ability to respond to changes in external environment (something that is getting worse).

    Too often this is a luxury that only large, formal NGOs can afford. If you are in a small and less formal youth organisation, global research found, you will face the ‘most acute’ challenges. This is due to a lack of internal expertise and capacity to fundraise, the stringent requirements of some funders and donors, and the restrictions (and outright suppression) from governments on civic space.

    So how can we all help?

    If you’re an established NGO:

    1. Offer your space and resources – youth organisations often only need a desk, a printer and somewhere to store their things. Could your organisation help by giving space, resources or facilitates? Being generous and collaborative with other organisations – especially newly formed or youth-led groups – is a way of giving back to the movement.
    2. Be flexible with your funding – if you’re a funder, change your model. Some funders still only give funding to formal, accredited organisations. If you’re a Syrian human rights organisation, government accreditation puts you on a hit list, not a funding list. Funders like FRIDA - the young feminist fund - give to informal movements, have limited reporting requirements and focus on relationship building. Be more like FRIDA.

       

    3. Stories from the youth climate movement in the Global South

      By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

      In early 2020, as millions went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the environment experienced temporary relief from the impacts of human activity. As skies cleared and birds and animals claimed city spaces, it became apparent that the young people who had mobilized for the climate across the world in 2019 were right: Much environmental damage is the result of human action, and as such, can also be reversed through human initiative.

      The experience of 2020 has made clear that whether the threat is climate change or a pandemic, humanity won’t survive its challenges unless people act collectively on the basis of scientific consensus.

      Read on Yes Magazine

       

    4. The CIVICUS Youth Action Team welcomes new members

      Five new members recently joined the CIVICUSYouth Action Team (YAT). They will serve a renewable 14-month term until December 2020. Their role will be to mainstream youth issues into the CIVICUS alliance, to champion youth engagement in civil society and to stand in solidarity with young activists facing civic space restrictions.

      New membersAlan Jarandilla Núñez (Bolivia) andMartín Iván Tinoco (Mexico) will be representing the Americas.Jelena Mitrović (Serbia) andDragana Jovanovska (North Macedonia) will be representing Europe andNatasha Chaudhary (India) joins in as a representative for Asia. 

      They will be working alongside current YAT members Wiem Chamsi (MENA), Justin Francis Bionat (Asia), Joshua Alade and Daniel Nwaeze (Africa). 

      Former YAT members Ana Pranjic and Amanda Segnini finished their terms in August, and Anastasia Hengestu’s resignation happened in the same month. We thank them deeply for their great contribution to youth inclusion in the CIVICUS alliance and we wish them the best in their upcoming endeavours. 

      A word from the brand new Youth Action Team:

      "Our main goal in the coming months will be to ensure that youth Youth are meaningfully engaged in all of the alliance’s structures and strategies. We will achieve this by promoting the creation of spaces for the leadership and participation of young people in civil society through everyday practices and systems. Our work will prioritise the participation of youth from marginalised communities. We hope for the Youth Action Team to constitute a benchmark for other organisations who want to improve youth engagement through similar models. 

      "We are currently working on developing our objectives, and many questions are still open. For instance, we are trying to establish how we can best ensure we are accountable to members. We are also working in an approach to stand in solidarity with young people facing civic space restrictions, and there are many other issues we are currently trying to decide upon. If you have ideas or suggestions around these or other questions, please contact us directly by sending an email toyat2020 [at] googlegroups.com. We will also be active in the CIVICUS Youth United! Facebook group so don’t hesitate to open up a conversation there. We welcome your input and we are excited to take on this key mandate. We look forward to meaningful collaboration in the coming months.

      More about the five new YAT members:

      Alan1

      Alan Jarandilla Núñez

      Alan is a lawyer and passionate human rights defender from Bolivia. He serves as the Director of Policy and Advocacy of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning, and is the Founder of Change the System (CTS), a Bolivian youth-led organization working towards sustainable development, human rights and youth participation, from a systemic change perspective.

       

      He is a vocal advocate for human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and meaningful youth engagement in decision making. He believes that an intersectional and holistic approach to global issues is fundamental for addressing the issues that are central to his work. He has followed and led advocacy strategies in different international processes.

       

      Dragana

      Dragana Jovanovska

      Dragana is a Management Board member at the Center for Intercultural Dialogue (CID), a youth-led organisation in North Macedonia working with young people from different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds in a post-conflict society. As part of her role, she is running an open youth centre, MultiKulti (MultiКулти), in the city of Kumanovo, where she works on her fields of expertise, including intercultural dialogue, human rights and youth participation by using integrated education. She also works as an educator on these themes with youth and adults at a local, national and international level.

      Jelena

      Jelena Mitrović 

      Jelena has been an activist and volunteer since the age of 14. She has gained experience in different organisations, participating locally in the Becej Youth Association and nationally as a Governing Board Member of the National Youth Council of Serbia. She currently serves at Group COME OUT in the city of Novi Sad as a dedicated and certified youth worker with LGBT+ youth, and she is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Her priority is to advocate for equal opportunities for all, and ensuring that youth voices are not only heard, but also listened to and accepted in decision making processes.

      Martin

      Martín Iván Tinoco

      Martín is a young changemaker driven by a passion for human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and youth participation in public policy in Mexico. He has been involved in civil society since the age of 15, having participated in local, regional and international processes related to the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. Martín currently serves as the Director of Fractal Effect, an organization that seeks to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of youth into decision making spaces. He is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and Local Management at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

      Natasha

      Natasha Chaudhary

      Natasha is the Co-Director at Haiyya, a grassroots campaign consulting organisation based in India. She oversees larger organizational scaling and growth strategy and works on fundraising. She is a trainer, coach and strategy consultant having worked across different programs, including sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, women's voting rights, the youth climate movement, resourcing and incubation models and many more. She deeply cares about gender, health and caste issues with a focus on intersectional leadership and designing interventions that shift away from traditional service delivery models. She holds a Masters degree in Development Studies from the University of Sydney, where she advocated for and worked in the implementation of a sexual harassment policy as the Women’s Officer.

       

       

    5. Through Arts and Imagination: 2018 Youth Day Celebration - in search of silenced voices

      Youth Arts Contest Seeks Out Silenced Voices to Reimagine Democracy

      Johannesburg, 18 April 2018 - What kind of country would South Africa be today if young people had not first raised their voices and taken action more than three decades ago?

      And today, how can the many silenced voices of youth be heard, to express a vision for the kind of democracy they desire?

      ‘Through Arts and Imagination’ is a newly launched contest seeking bold and original creative arts - music, poetry, art, media – that present youth perspectives on “re-imagining democracy.” To celebrate Youth Day on 16 June, the Youth Working Group of CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, in partnership with Emerging Leaders in Internet Governance (ELIG) and Woke Project have kicked off the contest in search of silenced voices.

      “In a world in which our democracy and fundamental freedoms are under increasing threat, a world where the voices of young people are silenced and marginalised, we believe that it is up to this generation to re-imagine the democracy we want to live in,” said Elisa Novoa, of the CIVICUS Youth Working Group.

      “And what better way to give voice to that mission, and draw out the best that youth have to offer than through a creative arts contest,” Novoa said.

      The contest will culminate in a creative symposium of young voices held in 16 June, under the theme “Re-imagining Democracy: in search of silenced voices.”

      Youth are crucial to development, change and growth. And the arts have always played a critical role in the struggle for freedom, human rights and democracy.  This symposium will engage the voices of young people through the creative arts - to speak your truth and share your vision for the world they want to live and grow in. Youth voices and the contributions of young people towards social change are vital.

      About the Contest

      Are you:

      Creative, original and eager to share your unique perspective on how we can re-imagine our democracy today?
      Living to the beat of your own drum, in a world where your voice is misunderstood?
      Then, this is your chance to share your vision and be heard.
      For too long we have lived in silence and fear of being judged.
      The creative arts - music, poetry, art, media - reach across all language barriers to connect with millions of people.

      Share your written, visual or multimedia arts, to be judged in the following categories:

      Art Categories

      • Written arts: poems, short stories, essays (500 words max.)
      • Visual arts: drawings, cartoons, paintings
      • Multimedia arts: short films (2min max), songs

      Awards

      1. The top 15 artists selected will be awarded an all-expenses-paid one-day workshop on storytelling and digital security, run by CIVICUS, in Johannesburg, on Friday 15 June 2018.
      2. The top 2 symposium participants selected in each art category also will win a cash prize - with 50% of the prize money going to the artist personally and the other 50% going to an organisation of their choice, as a donation. The 1st and 2nd place winners will also be awarded fee-waived voting membership to CIVICUS (after following the regular voting membership registration procedure).

      •             1st place prize: R6,000

      •             2nd place prize: R3,600

      1. The best three (3) submissions (the first place winners of each category) will be published in the online 2018 State of Civil Society Report.

      Participants Eligibility

      Authors must:

      • Be 30 or under by 16 June 2018

      • Be based in South Africa

      • Meet the deadline (30th April 2018)

      • Submit one application per person

      • Submit Original content

      • Submit in any of the 11 South African official languages

      Please submit your application by filling in this form: https://civicus.org/index.php/youth-day-symposium
      The deadline for submissions is 30th April 2018.

      For any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

       

    6. UGANDA: ‘No candidate can possibly win the election without young people’s votes’

      CIVICUS speaks with Mohammed Ndifuna, Executive Director of Justice Access Point-Uganda (JAP). Established in 2018, JAP aims to kickstart, reignite and invigorate justice efforts in the context of Uganda’s stalled transitional justice process, its challenges implementing recommendations from its first and second United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews and the backlash by African states against the International Criminal Court.

      Mohammed is an experienced and impassioned human rights defender and peacebuilder with over 15 years of activism in human rights and atrocity prevention at the grassroots, national and international levels. He was awarded the 2014 European Union Human Rights Award for Uganda, has served on the Steering Committee of The Coalition for the Criminal Court (2007-2018) and the Advisory Board of the Human Rights House Network in Oslo (2007-2012), and currently serves on the Management Committee of The Uganda National Committee of Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

       Mohammed Ndifuna

      What is the state of civic space in Uganda ahead of the much-anticipated 2021 elections?

      Civic space in Uganda may be characterised as harassed, stifled and starved. It would seem like civil society has been on a slippery slope of sorts, with things turning from bad to worse. For instance, civil society organisations (CSOs) have witnessed a wave of brazen attacks against their physical space in the form of office break-ins and broad-daylight workplace raids. In the meantime, there seems to be no let-up in the waves of attacks against CSOs, and especially against those involved in human rights and accountability advocacy. Over the past few years, an array of legislation and administrative measures has been unleashed against CSOs and others, including the Public Order Management Act (2012) and the NGO Act (2016).

      Ahead of the general and presidential elections, which will be held on 14 January 2021, the Minister of Internal Affairs has ordered all CSOs to go through a mandatory validation and verification process before they are allowed to operate. Many CSOs have not been able to go through it: by 19 October 2020, only 2,257 CSOs had successfully completed the verification and validation exercise, including just a few that do mainstream advocacy work on governance.

      Ugandan CSOs are largely donor-dependent and had already been struggling with shrinking financial resources, severely affecting the scope of their work. This situation became compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown that was imposed in response, all of which impaired CSO efforts to mobilise resources. Therefore, these three forces – harassment, restrictions and limited access to funding – have combined to weaken CSOs, pushing most of them into self-preservation mode.

      The stakes for the 2021 elections seem to be higher than in previous years. What has changed?

      The situation started to change in July 2019, when Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, announced his bid to run for president as the candidate of the opposition National Unity Platform. Bobi Wine is a singer and actor who is also an activist and a politician. As a leader of the People Power, Our Power movement, he was elected to parliament in 2017.

      Bobi’s appeal among young people is enormous, and let’s keep in mind that more than 75 per cent of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30. This makes young people a significant group to be wowed. No candidate can possibly win the Ugandan election without having the biggest chunk of young people’s votes. In the upcoming presidential race, it is Bobi Wine who appears most able to galvanise young people behind his candidature. Although not an experienced politician, Bobi is a charismatic firebrand who has been able to attract not just young people but also many politicians from traditional political parties into his mass movement.

      Bobi Wine, long known as the ‘Ghetto President’, has taken advantage of his appeal as a popular music star to belt out political songs to mobilise people, and his roots in the ghetto also guarantee him an appeal in urban areas. It is believed that he has motivated many young people to register to vote, so voter apathy among young people may turn out to be lower in comparison to past elections.

      Given the ongoing cut-throat fight for young people’s votes, it is no surprise that the security apparatus has been unleashed against young people in an apparent attempt to stem the pressure they are exerting. Political activists linked to People Power have been harassed and, in some instances, killed. People Power’s political leaders have been intermittently arrested and arraigned in courts or allegedly kidnapped and tortured in safe houses. In an apparent attempt to make in-roads into the ranks of urban young people, President Yoweri Museveni has appointed three senior presidential advisors from the ghetto. This raises the spectre of ghetto gangster groups and violence playing a role in the upcoming presidential elections.

      Restrictions on the freedom of expression and internet use have been reported in previous elections. Are we likely to see a similar trend now?

      We are already seeing it. Restrictions on the freedoms of expression and information are a valid concern not just because of hindsight, but also given recent developments. For instance, on 7 September 2020 the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a public notice stating that anyone wishing to publish information online needs to apply for and obtain a licence from the UCC before 5 October 2020. This will mostly affect online users, such as bloggers, who are paid for published content. Obviously, this is meant to stifle young people’s political activities online. And it is also particularly concerning because, as public gatherings are restricted due to COVID-19 prevention measures, online media will be the only method of campaigning that is allowed ahead of the 2021 elections.

      There is also increasing electronic surveillance, and the possibility of a shutdown of social media platforms on the eve of the elections may not be too remote.

      How has the COVID-pandemic affected civil society and its ability to respond to civic space restrictions?

      The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response have exacerbated the already precarious state in which the CSOs find themselves. For instance, civil society capacity to organise public assemblies and peaceful demonstrations in support of fundamental rights and freedoms or to protest against their violation has been restricted by the manner in which COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been enforced. This has resulted in the commission of blatant violations and onslaughts against civic space. For instance, on 17 October 2020, the Uganda Police Force and the Local Defense Units jointly raided thanksgiving prayers being held in Mityana district and wantonly tear gassed the congregation, which included children, women, men, older people and religious leaders, for allegedly flouting COVID-19 SOPs.

      As the enforcement of COVID-19 SOPs gets intertwined with election pressure, it is feared that the clampdown on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association will be aggravated. Regrettably, CSOs already find themselves restricted.

      How can international civil society help Ugandan civil society?

      The situation in which Ugandan civil society finds itself is such that it requires the urgent support and response of the international community. There is a need to turn the eyes towards what is happening in Uganda and to speak up to amplify the voices of a local civil society that is increasingly being stifled. More specifically, Ugandan CSOs could be supported so they can better respond to blatant violations of freedoms, mitigate the risks that their work entails and enhance their resilience in the current context.

      Civic space inUganda is rated repressedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
      Get in touch with Justice Access Point through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@JusticessP on Twitter.

       

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