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Putting into practice the new EU policy on civil society: The case of Madagascar

April 2015

Karroum, R., Fernagu-Bialais, S. 2015. Putting into practice the new EU policy on civil society: The case of Madagascar. GREAT Insights Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3. April/May 2015.

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With the implementation of the Dinika programme, the exchange with EU policymakers and the development of a road map have all helped create a climate of trust between CSOs and the EU.

After a lengthy dialogue process, the EU issued a landmark Communication (approved in September 2012) defining a new civil society policy. It expresses a clear EU commitment to responding to widely observed community/societal dynamics in partner countries. It recognises the key role that local civil society plays as a ‘governance actor’ and the need for different, more politically savvy EU engagement strategies based on three priorities: Strengthening efforts to promote an environment conducive to civil society organisations (CSOs) in partner countries; Promoting effective CSO participation in domestic policy processes as well as in the EU’s programming cycle and in international processes; and Empowering local CSOs to more effectively perform their role as development actors.

Heeding calls from civil society, the EU is now confronted with the challenge of implementing the new civil society policy in a wide set of country contexts, including hostile environments where governments seek to close space for autonomous civil society action. This will require fresh thinking on how to promote endogenous dynamics, particularly by: supporting grass-roots associations so that disenfranchised groups can access basic services; using an appropriate mix of funding modalities so as to best respond to the widest possible range of actors; and strengthening CSOs’ strategic, institutional and operational capacities, thereby enabling them to be accountable, knowledgeable and competent actors in the economic, political and social policy arena.


Experimenting new approaches to engage with civil society


How can local CSOs (as development and governance actors) be strengthened in a country like Madagascar where ongoing political turmoil has led to an erosion of state institutions at all levels and where an equally weak civil society had to largely take over basic services (such as education)? Donor agencies have for a long time contributed to this state of affairs by channelling funds to CSOs for service provision (in substitution of a defaulting state). Where does one start revitalising local civil society in such a context?

Confronted with this burning question, the EU Delegation (EUD) decided to first invest in a deeper understanding of civil society. In 2012, it mapped out all civil society actors on the ground and established a real dialogue based on a thorough understanding of the CSOs and the socio-economic context in which they operate.

This knowledge was then used to design an adequate civil society support programme called Dinika (meaning consultation or dialogue in Malagasy). In order to establish a true relationship of trust, the Dinika programme, once active, invited all civil society actors in Madagascar to become key players and to take ownership of the programme. Not limited solely to merely funding CSOs, the EU also seeks to use Dinika to strengthen civil society’s institutional presence through initiatives carried out by civil society itself, moving away from the service provider model. The programme adopts a flexible ‘learning-by-doing approach’ and is supported by a team of facilitators.

The next step was to structurally improve the dialogue with civil society. In 2014, the EU assumed a more strategic, country-level engagement with CSOs by establishing a ‘political dialogue’ with civil society actors through effective consultations (with the EU Ambassador, the directors of EEAS and DEVCO, EU Development Commissioner). These dialogue channels were used to elaborate the “civil society roadmap” for a strategic engagement with the civil society in Madagascar (the 2012 EU Communication obliges Delegations to define such a “roadmap” together with member states and other interested donors). Approved by the CSOs and validated by the EUD and member states as of July 2014, the road map reflects the true expectations of civil society translated into an action plan and an implementation timetable via more suitable modalities of support, defining the results to be achieved. The roadmap agreed upon four priorities for the next 5-10 years: (1) a more legitimate, viable civil society capable of assuming its role as a governance actor; (2) civil society will contribute to a more effective rule of law; (3) the co-creation of public services will be promoted; and (4) civil society will contribute to inclusive local economic development.


No shortage of implementation challenges


Yet adopting a different way of thinking about civil society is no easy matter. A number of actors are involved, including citizens, national and local authorities, technical and financial partners (TFPs), the private sector and civil society itself. Many habits have been formed, and change takes time. Challenges include adopting a new perspective about an actor undervalued in the past, confined by tools within a context of service delivery and substitution.

Recognising that the stakes are high and that the need for changing practices is considerable, the Delegation of the European Union (DEU) has decided to take up these challenges by allotting more resources to helping civil society becoming strong governance actors with legitimacy, credibility and capacity to make policy inputs or demand accountability. To this end, CSOs now need to organise themselves, consult with one another and work together.

Via the Dinika programme, the DEU’s priority from the outset has been to listen to civil society, initiating an alternative civil society funding mechanism in order to meet the needs of a wide range of formal and informal CSOs, and for capacity building, monitoring and evaluation, and, finally, a component focused on structuring CSO groups and their community approach. The funding mechanism for CSO initiatives favours direct awards over calls for proposals owing to greater suitability, guaranteeing greater access to local CSOs’ expectations.

Of critical importance is the strengthening of the framework of each CSO or group of CSOs, and passing on to them basic knowledge, thereby enabling them to take part in public debate on monitoring the development assistance budget, natural resources, human rights, social rights and other matters. Also of note are the emerging coalitions on the thorny issue of protecting forests mainly from rosewood trafficking and the involvement of CSOs in monitoring municipal budgets and producing alternative reports on human rights.

The Dinika programme is building a framework with CSOs from the ground up, supporting informal groups to small neighbourhood associations, and taking into account regional and local issues by working at the very heart of municipalities following a multi-actor strategy based on a territorial approach involving all stakeholders rather than a project-based approach. In this context, the mayors of the municipalities have received support in carrying out their Municipal Development Plan by targeting ordinary citizens in each fokontany (village or neighbourhood) by involving each association so that citizens are aware of their role in local governance, particularly in terms of public policy management. The approach emphasises the connection between the national and local levels based on integrated local development, placing the municipality at the centre of decision-making in order to avoid substitution and a top-down approach. CSO initiatives supported by the programme are part of municipal development plans, thus meeting the needs identified by citizens now able to monitor their implementation. By using agreements to ensure the delegated management of public buildings, CSOs are becoming true agents of change, fully assuming their role in local governance and contributing to the proper management of public property.

The implementation of the Dinika programme, at the heart of which civil society is embedded, the exchange with EU policymakers and the development of the road map have all helped create a climate of trust between CSOs and the EU. Indeed, CSOs no longer view the EU as a donor, but as a partner, thus confirming the EU’s commitment to pursue its new civil society policy.

Sophie Fernagu-Bialais photo

Rachid Karroum (not pictured) is chief technical assistant of the EU’s Dinika programme (providing support to civil society in Madagascar).

Sophie Fernagu-Bialais is responsible for monitoring and evaluation in the Dinika programme.

This article was translated by ECDPM from the original French version.


Photo: A group of women doing road repairs on the national highway in Madagascar – IamNotUnique, flickr.com

This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 4, Issue 3 (April/May 2015).

African institutionsAfrica-EU Dialogue on Governance for DevelopmentCivil societyDemocratisationMadagascar

External authors

Rachid Karroum

Sophie Fernagu-Bialais