'We write to express our grave disappointment that the African Union Summit currently taking place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, unlike previous summits, does not include a parallel civil society gathering for foreign and domestic groups.'
H.E. Dr. Jean Ping,
Chairperson, African Union Commission
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
June 23, 2011
We write to express our grave disappointment that the African Union Summit currently taking place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, unlike previous summits, does not include a parallel civil society gathering for foreign and domestic groups.
Civil society organisations submitted applications to the government of Equatorial Guinea for authorisation to hold a number of civil society events and training seminars in advance of the summit in Malabo. The government of Equatorial Guinea failed to respond to the requests, effectively preventing these civil society activities from taking place.
The lack of pre-summit civil society activities at the 17th African Union Summit in Malabo marks an unfortunate break from established practice and the values of the African Union, and is inconsistent with recent statements on the part of the current African Union chairman, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Historically, under the auspices of the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate of the African Union Commission (CIDO), the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC), and the Centre for Citizens’ Participation in the African Union, civil society organisations have participated in pre-summit activities designed to share information and to strengthen their capacity to address common challenges.
The lack of civil society events at this summer’s summit stands in stark contrast to the preamble to the African Union’s Constitutive Act, which emphasises ‘the need to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society…in order to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our peoples,’ as well as the African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation, which stresses the importance of ‘the full and effective participation of the people in charting their development policies, programmes and processes and contributing to their realisation.’
The paucity of civil society participation prior to the summit is particularly notable given the current chairman’s promises and obligations to uphold the values of the African Union. In his January 30, 2011 inaugural speech, Teodoro Obiang Nguema stressed that Africa must assume a leading role in the ‘promotion of democracy and good governance.’ As the chairman of the African Union, Mr. Obiang is obligated to advance the objectives of the African Union, including the promotion of democratic principles, popular participation, and the sharing of information and knowledge.
At a time when citizens across Africa are expressing their desire for a more active role in choosing their destinies, we find it deeply troubling that the government of Equatorial Guinea, led by the current African Union chairman, would stand in the way of robust civil society participation in pre-summit activities in Equatorial Guinea. The failure of Equatoguinean government authorities to authorise the civil society events comes at the precise moment that both Africans and the international community are focused on Equatorial Guinea as it hosts the African Union Summit. The fact that the Equatoguinean government is unwilling to permit civil society participation, even at this time of increased global attention, raises serious questions about whether it will allow local civil society groups to operate unimpeded in the future, when the global spotlight is focused
In fact, the government’s denial of parallel civil society events at the summit is just the latest in a systematic effort by Equatoguinean government authorities to curtail civil society activity inside the country. As documented in a detailed report published by EG Justice in March 2011, the government uses a variety of tactics to monitor, intimidate, and obfuscate the activities of domestic civil society organisations. In addition, the government’s frequent negative rhetoric against international civil society organisations further highlights its disregard for and misunderstanding of the role of civil society.
We therefore respectfully ask you, on behalf of the people of Equatorial Guinea and all Africans who support civic participation, to urge the African Union chairman and his government to immediately start taking verifiable and measurable steps to allow the active and independent participation of local and international civil society organisations inside the country.
Thank you for your consideration.
Senior Vice President for Social
Research and Policy, Calvert Group
Chairman of the Board, EG Justice