Peter Eigen: Civic engagement and African development

Peter Eigen

Picture credit: Transparency International

Peter Eigen is a widely acclaimed expert on international civil society initiatives. Having founded Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation promoting transparency and accountability in international development, in 1993, he has since served as a member of Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel and established the International Civil Society Centre in Berlin in 2007.

In October 2019, Dr Eigen will be appearing at the Rhodes Forum as a panellist discussing ‘new partnerships for Africa’. The DOC posed a few questions to him in advance of the Forum.

Dialogue of Civilisations Research Institute: You established the International Civil Society Centre in Berlin more than ten years ago and the centre has since established a reputation for helping ICSOs navigate change. What do you think will be the biggest trends shaping changes in ISCO action over the next ten years?

Peter Eigen: ISCOs have become powerful advocates for better governance – globally and locally – and can complement legitimate national governments in re-establishing the primacy of social control over the globalised market. Authoritarian governments feel threatened through this advocacy and go out of their way to restrict it, often through legislation and harsh policies, sometimes through harassment, imprisonment and assassination of activists. Therefore, a way has to be found to protect the space of ICSOs.

ISCOs can complement legitimate national governments in re-establishing the primacy of social control over the globalised market

DOC: What kinds of civic engagement do you think will make the most innovative impact in the next decade?

PE: Multi-stakeholder arrangements in difficult areas of governance like policies on climate, human rights, and the environment. ICSOs will have to reach out to national governments – including intergovernmental organisations – and business to develop ‘antagonistic cooperation’ between these three actors for global impact.

DOC: You served alongside Kofi Annan on the Africa Progress Panel for several years and your 2017 progress report pointed to opportunities and challenges in achieving the SDGs. The DOC will focus attention on African governance and sustainability at its Rhodes Forum later this year. How relevant do you think development aid and cooperation will be for future economic growth and good governance in Africa?

PE: The friends of Africa have to listen to African concepts of development rather than design their own concepts, reflecting the poorly disguised own interests driving their ‘aid and cooperation’, such as interests in controlling refugees and other migrants travelling to their countries, controlling the supply of natural resources, and protecting investors and suppliers against political interference.

The friends of Africa have to listen to African concepts of development rather than design their own concepts

Kofi Annan and the Africa Progress Panel tried to find a balance between these interests in promoting the Millennium Development Goals; the successor organisation, the Africa Progress Group (chaired by former President Obasanjo, co-chaired by myself) is now trying to continue this balancing act for the Sustainable Development Goals. The ‘aid and cooperation’ by the friends of Africa will be more relevant than ever in the face of global warming and population growth in Africa.

 

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