AU-ECOSOCC@20: Celebrating Two Decades of Amplifying Voices of African Citizenry

The Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), the civil society advisory organ of the African Union, has unveiled its year-long plans to commemorate its 20th anniversary of fostering citizens’ engagement within the work of the Union.

Established in July 2004, ECOSOCC is an advisory organ of the African Union whose membership is made up of diverse NGOs, social, cultural and professional groups from AU Member States and the African Diaspora. It is an avenue for non-state actors and marginalized communities to contribute to the AU’s decision-making processes.

The statutes establishing ECOSOCC were adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU during its third ordinary session in July 2004, while the ECOSOCC Interim General Assembly was launched in March 2005, with late Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai, elected as its interim president. Since then, ECOSOCC has continued to bridge the gap between the AU, Africa’s civil society and the African citizenry.

In his opening address at a recent media briefing in Accra, Ghana, to launch a series of year-long activities for ECOSOCC@20, Mr Khalid Boudali, the Presiding Officer for ECOSOCC, reflected on its achievements over the past two decades, highlighting the importance of partnership and dialogue in addressing Africa’s challenges. “This celebration marks a significant milestone in our collective journey, a journey that began two decades ago with a vision to integrate the voices of civil society into the African Union’s decision-making processes,” Mr Boudali said.

The ECOSOCC PO noted that over the past twenty years, the Council has been at the forefront of promoting Pan-African values and leading socio-economic and cultural development across Africa, rooted in the belief that civil society is pivotal to the continent’s progress. “As we embark on commemorating the 20th years of ECOSOCC, we make an earnest request to the media to work closely with ECOSOCC and by extension the AU at large to convene positive messages about how we need to move forward to transform our continent.”

Mr Boudali further noted that ECOSOCC’s journey underscores the importance of partnership, dialogue, and collaboration. “It is through our united efforts that we can continue to break new ground and address the challenges that face our continent. Today’s agenda is designed not only to look back at what we have achieved but also to forge ahead with renewed vigor and commitment. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to each one of you for being part of this journey.” 

Reflecting on ECOSOCC’s in the last 20 years, Mr. William Carew, Head of ECOSOCC Secretariat, recalled the organization’s transition from the AU-Civil Society Provisional Working Group (AUCSPWG) to the now fully established ECOSOCC during the Third Ordinary Session of the AU’s Assembly. He reemphasized the Council’s commitment to putting the African citizenry at the center of the AU’s continental development agenda.

Mr Carew said, amongst others, the objectives of the anniversary celebrations would be to serve as an opportunity to reflect on progress made by ECOSOCC and subsequently chart a way forward toward making ECOSOCC a more inclusive platform for civil society. 2024, he said, will mark the beginning of the roll-out of the much-awaited ECOSOCC national chapters in AU Member States as well as the increased importance of ECOSOCC with the adoption of the AU Harmonized Accreditation Mechanism for CSOs and National Chapter Framework.

“The [20th anniversary] commemoration also marks an era of unprecedented progress in the life cycle of ECOSOCC. By the 1st quarter of 2024, significant progress would have been made in reviewing ECOSOCC’s legal instruments, which once adopted will clearly signify a rebirth of the organ as a fully equipped entity to meet the expectations of both the African Union and the African Citizenry.”

While speaking on the planned ECOSOCC@20 anniversary activities, Mr Kyeretwie Osei, the Head of Programs at the ECOSOCC Secretariat, outlined the key objectives of the commemorative activities, namely enhanced integration of civil society in African Union initiatives; increased collaboration and engagement with the African Diaspora; as well as the advancement of democratic practices and good governance.

“The ECOSOCC 2024 activities are streamlined towards the #ECOSOCC20 theme, including consultations on the AU Theme of the Year 2024: [Educate an African fit for the 21st Century’]; Celebration of AU Days and roll-out of the National Chapters; the Africa Dialogue on the Summit of the Future (SOFT24); EU Support Programme for the Implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (EU APSA IV) activities as well as the submission of the ‘ECOSOCC Beyond 20 Call to Action’ to the AU Executive Council.”

Richard Ssewakiryanga, a former Presiding Officer of ECOSOCC, lauded the Council’s resilience and ability to remain relevant over the past two decades, describing ECOSOCC as a unique AU organ dedicated to the African citizenry. He therefore urged stakeholders to cherish the diversity of ECOSOCC’s membership and promote constructive engagement between the states and civil society organizations, asserting that the soon-to-be unveiled national chapters would be essential in fostering more inclusion and diversity within ECOSOCC. 

“We should also address the issue of the shrinking space for civil society by promoting clarity about the roles that civil society plays within the governance architecture across Africa. As we celebrate 20 years of ECOSOCC, let’s continue to build this organ and work towards a governance process that works for all of us. As we look ahead, let us reaffirm our commitment to strengthening ECOSOCC and advancing its mission. Africa remains an ongoing experiment in building a future that works for all its citizens,” he noted. 

Mr Ssewakiryanga said through collective action and engagement, members of the ECOSOCC family can ensure the Council remains a crucial platform for civil society engagement with governments across Africa. “Let us celebrate this milestone with pride and determination, knowing that our work is far from over. I eagerly anticipate our gathering in Accra this July, where we can come together once again to chart the course for ECOSOCC’s future.” 

As ECOSOCC celebrates its 20th anniversary, the realization of its mandate as the voice of African citizens remains a work in progress. Yet, the roll-out of its national chapters across AU Member States is a right step in the right direction. The founding of a full-fledged ECOSOCC Secretariat in Lusaka, Zambia (2019) was another crucial milestone in its trajectory which solidified its independence as an autonomous entity within the AU. The next 20 years offer a fresh opportunity for ECOSOCC to strengthen its position as the leading citizens’ voice in Africa.

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