The former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama has described the role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) as storehouses for alternative ideas and research data for good governance.
According to him, CSOs’ contribution to nation-building has shifted from an aggressive way of confrontation to more constructive and civil consultation.
He made this statement on November 22, 2022, during an engagement with CSOs with John Mahama on the theme ‘The Ghana We Want,’ to discuss how CSOs want to see Ghana.
The former President said one key advantage of this departure is the relevance with new capacities of research and data analysis “thereby servicing as storehouses for alternative ideas.”
Mr Mahama said in modern democracies, CSOs are active participants in promoting socio-economic change and good governance.
“Experiences have taught us that intolerance government always tends to be repressive and recent events unfolding in our country offer ample evidence to support this observation,” he stated.
He said repression takes away the ability of civil society groups to function effectively because there is an attack on the freedom and the machinery in which they operate.
He added that all over the world, the relevance of CSOs is to be able to hold both government and the market in check and prevents abuse of human rights that as a part of its moral duty, civil society duty movements have played watchdog roles in ensuring that government stay within the environment of governance and markets operates without exploitation on the ordinary people.
Achieving this, two prominent characters have been instrumental that is having an adequate platform to operate as legitimate partners of socioeconomic development and play the watchdog role.
He said the history of CSOs in Ghana dates back to the structural adjustments reforms that started in the 1980s supervised a policy that roll back state intervention, especially in social services which created a vacuum.
Mr Mahama said CSOs emerged through service provision and advocacy and were mainly referred to as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Community-based Organizations (CBOs).
“These organisations emerged in the civil society space with funding mostly from external sources and served as partners in building our nation and at that time it was uncommon to hear government officials calls on these groups to help in resolving problems in society.”
The desire to return the country to a stable government after many years of the military rule thus allowed civil society organisations to spearhead the democratic rule put the Christian council, the Catholic bishops conference, the Muslim Council and many others
“Even then and now, persons in authority have questioned the mandate on who have appointed CSOs spokesperson in society,” he stated.
He said in some time in the past, major CSOs in a form of professional groups have mobilised under the umbrella name Association of Recognized Professional bodies in engaging the government and this was considered useful in enhancing the role of CSOs in the deliberations that ensue.
“Today similar groups have emerged under the name Citizen Coalition of which many of you are part and it a welcome development and will be useful for CSOs in the country to harmonised varied perspectives and present unified position on issues of national concern”
He said unlike in the past CSOs represented interest groups but today their spine is across groups with various backgrounds whose aim is to ensure good governance and better lives for the people.
One key observation of this change is that CSOs have changed their approach of now engaging in research and other knowledge-sharing ideas that tend to improve lives
“We in the NDC hold the view that civil engagement positively shapes policy process by helping to inject fresh breath into policy delivery, ideas and perspectives,” Mr Mahama stated.
“It is my hope this engagement will bring about discussion, confrontations, consultation and conversations that will provide useful feedbacks to shape our policy preferences and positions that we collectively roll out the plan to build the Ghana that we want.
He said the engagement will build meaningful cooperation between the NDC party and CSOs in a long time relationship grounded in the mutual benefits and experiences as we pursue the Ghana that we want.
“I’m here to listen to the perspectives of you CSOs on the challenges and possible solutions on governance deficits and economic mismanagement confronting Ghana.”