A consortium of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) has said it is saddened by efforts to stifle and constrain the civil space in the southern African region.
In a joint statement, Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD), Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR), Non-governmental Gender Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), Chapter One Foundation (COF), Alliance for Community Action (ACA), Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) and Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) said they have witnessed the promulgation of laws aimed at restricting the work of NGOs.
On the occasion of commemorating the 2023 World NGO Day, the NGOs Consortium Chairperson Grace Sinkamba said they are the voice of the voiceless, the most vulnerable in society and compliment Government service provision in various sectors such as social welfare, education and health.
Ms. Sinkamba said NGOs have since appealed to the Governments in the Southern African region and the world at large to ensure that NGOs are allowed to operate freely without any hindrances.
“We the undersigned Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) join the rest of the world, and indeed fellow civil society Organisations in Zambia, in commemorating this year’s World NGO Day which falls annually on the 27th of February. NGOs continue to play an important role in the development of the country. Apart from the fact that NGOs are the voice of the voiceless, the most vulnerable in society, they also compliment Government service provision in various sectors such as social welfare, education, and health among others. As such, NGOs have been advocating for various policy and legal reforms to ensure improved living standards of the citizens, especially the most vulnerable. In young democracies such as Zambia, NGOs play an important role in providing essential, credible, checks and balances on the Government. NGOs further champion and advocate for the protection of the citizen’s human rights,” she stated.
“The role of NGOs and civil society in general in national development can therefore not be overemphasized. As the world and indeed the Zambian civil society commemorate this very important day that recognises the tremendous work of NGOs. However, we are sad to note that there have been efforts to stifle and constrain the civil space in the region. Specifically, we have witnessed the promulgation of laws aimed at restricting the work of NGOs. A case in mind is Zambia’s NGO Act No. 16 of 2009. The NGO Act, which remains on the statute books, is a huge challenge to the NGO sector and negates the democratic credentials of the country. We have observed similarly that in Zimbabwe, the administration in that country has put in place a law aimed at stifling the work of NGOs. The Private Voluntary Organizations Amendment law will have a negative effect on the operation of the NGOs in Zimbabwe. Similar legislation is also being promulgated in other parts of the SADC region,” Ms. Sinkamba added.
Meanwhile, the NGOs say they recognise the efforts by the Zambian Government to repeal the NGO Act but are saddened with the slow pace of the process.
“As advocates for good governance and democratization we therefore find these laws retrogressive and an assault to the freedoms of association and expression of citizens in the region. As we commemorate this very important day, we appeal to the Governments in the region and indeed the world at large to ensure that NGOs are allowed to operate freely without any encumbrances. We demand the repeal of all repressive laws that negatively affect the operations of NGOs across the Southern African Development Community (SADC),” Ms Sinkamba added.
“While recognizing the efforts by the Zambian Government to repeal the NGO Act, we are saddened with the slow pace of the process. There is a need to expedite the repeal process so that NGOs continue to play their role effectively. With the foregone, it will therefore be impossible to pretend that all is well with the sector. As a protest to the slow pace and in solidarity with other NGOs in the region, we the undersigned have therefore resolved not to participate in the events that have been lined up for the commemoration of this year’s NGO Day. This decision has been taken so as not to legitimize and perpetuate the illegalities of the NGO Act. It is common knowledge that as CSOs in Zambia we rejected the NGO Act and all the attendant organs. We will therefore not be party to any of the activities that are organized by organs created by the NGO Act. Our members are accordingly advised not to take part in any of the planned activities and the national commemoration planned for February 27th,” she concluded.
World NGO Day is an international calendar day observed annually on the 27th of February with the aim to inspire people to become more actively involved within NGOs and to encourage a greater symbiosis between NGOs and both the public and private sector.