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Action on poverty and Sudanese Civil society


Beyond Invited Spaces: Collective Action on Poverty
Issues in the New Sudan Now!

By John Pangech

Oct 16, 2005 — The devastation of decades of marginalisation, mismanagements, military rules, money laundering,
corruption, patronages, denial of civil society
organisation participation in country affairs,
conflict and wars in the Sudan has led the country
into deep Sea of poverty and misery. While each of the
mechanism discussed in CPA and enshrine into the New
National Interim Constitution purport to open space
for bringing new voices and discourses into policy
process, the extent to which they do so depends on the
degree to which they are used by or intersect with,
other spaces and actors. Especially in the country
which there has been little previous formal focus on
poverty policies, or in which there has been little
previous democratic space in state-based arenas, civil
society actors have not found other ways in which to
engage for themselves on poverty policies, or to make
demands from below on poverty-related issues.

In this paper, one shall explore briefly some of the ways in which civil society actors, especially those working
closely with or advocating for poor people have to
articulate alternative views on poverty, beyond the
spaces in which they are invited to participate by the
Sudan New Interim Constitution. These include a brief
examination of the role of advocacy group’s
community-based organisations and a broader social
movement has to under take on poverty related issues
in the Sudan.

Understanding such activities in the Sudan context
must inevitably be mediated by the corporate nature of
the multi-democratic Sudan. At best, in corporate
political systems, new political spaces for making
claims on the state can emerge from within the
boundaries of the systems. Therefore, in the Sudan
case, given the removal of restrictions on the
creation and occupation of autonomous action spaces
and the extent to which the structures of the states
intersect with those of civil society actors, the
articulation of alternative agendas has to take place
through the medium of new alliances and coalitions,
often with NGOs at their centre, which have to act
both to open new spaces and occupy existing ones at
the interface with the state. Hence, alliances and
networks must be given a priority. All must be to a
different degrees framed their activities in terms of
increasing the rights of poor to engage in the policy
process around poverty issues.

Taking the above into consideration, discussions of
civil society actors in the contemporary Sudan must
largely focus on state and NGOs. The trajectory of
their changing role must also be linked to the
evolution of mainstream discourses; a proliferation of
project-based and operational service delivery state
and NGOs. To this end, it is necessary that, all
Sudanese civil society actors and NGOs begin to turn
their agendas towards policy advocacy not least in
response to the consultation focus of the government’s
poverty reduction strategies. At best, this required
developing new capacities and methodologies for
action, as civil societies and NGOs they have to
spread their focus from one space in the policy
process to another.

Sociologically speaking, the Sudanese civil societies
and NGOs must act as an advocacy and lobbying
coalition of Sudanese NGOs with the mission of
advocating for accountability and effective use of
national resources for the benefit of all the people
of Sudan. Any negotiation of country’s affairs between
the government and donors must be with the input from
civil society.

Visibly, the advocacy activities must take place not
only in the multiplicity of the spaces which have
opened around the participation agenda in current
Sudan politics, but must be at the level of
participatory monitoring of states and local
government budgets. Therefore, the pursuit of an
advocacy agenda must means that in each of these
arenas, civil society actors is re-inventing existing
spaces to focus action within them on service delivery
and poverty reduction. In addition, therefore, the
Sudanese civil society actors have to construct an
alliance with the government in the international and
continental arenas. At best, they must take advantage
of the CPA and the New National Interim Constitution
partnership spaces offered to frame an explicitly
rights-based agenda in a range of state arenas.

As the country just emerging from historically
military regimes, the Sudanese civil society actors
have to play a stronger role around human rights and
democracy issues. Further, their networks have to also
focus on issues such as the environment, rural
development and micro-finance.

Principally speaking, the current regional Sudanese
civil society actors and NGOs must have connection
with national civil society actors and NGOs or
advocacy campaigns and rights-based to closely monitor
the government of national unity, South Sudan regional
government and State governments operation and

Politically, previous regimes have undermined
self-help development activities, based on the
rationale that civil society actors were it parallel
opponents. Such efforts represent non-invitation
participation which did denied options for the
articulation of voice or the use of citizen knowledge
in defining poverty eradication policy. The regimes
largely failed to address basic problems, because of
it distrust and lack of confidence in ability and
willingness of citizen’s participation. This
historical relationship is far removed from the
current model of partnerships between government and
civil society actors advocated by CPA and the New
National Interim Constitution. In this connection
therefore, civil society actors are an important entry
point to understanding the dynamics and development of
alternative narratives and agendas of poverty, poverty
reduction and participation. As such, the intersection
between civil society actors and government has to be
an important space for discursive engagement and
action. The core of engagement with the government
must be on the fair revenue allocations.

In sum, therefore, poverty reduction activities must
demonstrates the broad range of spaces that shape and
influence the policy process. The empirical discussion
highlights importance of looking away from policy
statements that attributed particular roles to
particular actors, to try and understand the networks
and alliances that underpin the agency of different
actors to articulate alternative narratives of poverty
and to act to reduce it.

* John Pangech is a Sudanese currently a freelance researcher in the field of business ethics and development in Pretoria South Africa.

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