17th Kronti ne Akwamu Lectures: Panelists discuss the Evolution of the Civic Space in Modern African Democracy

“Coups are growing in the sub-region because of the failure of democracy to deliver services to the people,”

Concerns about the shrinking of the civic space in the West African sub-region was the focus of discussion at the 17th annual Kronti ne Akwamu memorial lectures organized in Accra by the Center for Democratic Development Ghana (CDD-Ghana).

Speaking on the topic “The Evolution of the Civic Space in Modern African Democracy” the Director of the Nigeria based CDD-West Africa, Idayat Hassan, blamed it on the failure of democracy to properly serve the citizens of ECOWAS.

The Civic space is created by a set of universally accepted rules, which allow people to organise, participate and communicate with each other freely and without hindrance, and in doing so, influence the political and social structures around them, this she noted has been going through some difficulties in recent times.

She said this has contributed to the unfortunate decline of democracy in the sub-region.

“Coups are growing in the sub-region because of the failure of democracy to deliver services to the people,” she added.

“There are external and internal factors affecting the civic space and there are Freedom of Information laws in almost all 15 West African countries, which is positive for civic society and anti-corruption efforts,” she noted, adding that “In almost all 15 West African countries, we have Freedom of Information laws and that is positive for civic society and anti-corruption efforts.

“There are external and internal factors affecting the civic space. Some of the external factors include unconstitutional change of mandates, rise of non-state actors and Internet shutdown.”

“12 countries in the sub-region have shut down Internet services, meaning that the voices of the people have been shut down”.

According to Idayat Hassan, many countries in the ECOWAS bloc are moving towards the unbridled “digital authoritarianism” which is practiced in China.

These countries, she said, are buying electronic machines from China to enable them to spy on critical voices of the governments in power.

“Many countries are moving towards the Chinese model of digital authoritarianism. WhatsApp, which used to be safe, is now being tapped.”

While expressing the fears over the dangers of social media, she noted that social media channels are being used to spread fake news and its related cousins leading to misinformation and disinformation, among others.

Another issue of concern was the growing number of contested elections and insecurity in the Sub-region.

To the civil actors, Madam Hassan stated that governing and opposition parties co-opting civil society organisations to promote their activities in the sub-region.

As funding to the civil society community is dwindling, she advised the civil society actors to be careful where they get their funds from.

“When it comes to funding, civil society must be careful where we get our funds from. We must scrutinise and account for every money received.”

Minister for National Security, Albert Kan-Dapaah, who was among the patrons of the event, in a brief remark urged members of the civil society organisations not to leave the governance of the various countries to the politicians alone.

“We should work together for the benefits of our people”.

Chairman of the event, Professor Kwame Karikari noted that political communicators/serial callers run down on any discerning voices which does not augur well for exchange of ideas in the sub-region.

CDD-Ghana’s ‘Kronti ne Akwamu’ Lecture Series is an annual public lecture on democracy and governance. It seeks to bridge the gap between ideas, research, and analysis on one hand, and pro-democracy and good governance advocacy on the other.

Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan; the late Justice V.C.R.A.C. Crabbe; Dr Jendayi Fraizer, Professor Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, and Bernard Avle are among notable personalities that have delivered the lectures in the past.

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