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Sierra Leone News: Step up advocacy

The heart of most civil society work to improve the lives of citizens, is advocacy. Advocacy looks at the bigger picture of why the world is the way it is and tries to find a better way of doing things. What is interesting and common about the world is that people are never happy about the status quo. Therefore, advocacy becomes a major tool for civil society work.
Advocacy deals with structures and systems. It interrogates policies and attitudes. What we have been doing under the guise of advocacy is wearing t-shirts and holding banners and talking against burning issues that threaten the peaceful coexistence of the human race. This really could be the end product of real advocacy, but may not be sustainable.
Take for example, election time. Everybody yearns for change and almost all parties have change element either in their names or in their motto or objectives.
All around us we have practices that perpetrate inequality and deny justice and human rights. This is what should be challenged and changed. Our Parliament should be doing a lot of advocacy on behalf of the people they represent through identifying laws that undermine good governance, democracy and human rights. Change will never come easily; citizens must be empowered to work for change.
If our teachers are asking for money for releasing results to pupils, let us use persuasion, dialog and reason to stop the practice. When this goes with legislation that’s enforced, it will be effective and sustainable.
You might want to ask why we have the laws but the laws are not enforced? Let us take the example of laws against littering the streets. This was reemphasized in 2004 or so but people still do… so much so that the new Mayor of Freetown recently announced the new fine of Le500,000.
The current Administration has created the Civic Education Commission headed by a communication and information guru and we hope this Commission will think outside the box and deliver efficiently and effectively. Until we address the root causes of problems, change will hardly be transformational and sustainable. It is like pouring water in a bucket with holes. In the rains, we now know that because the drainages are clogged and flooding takes place. So by keeping the drainages cleared, water flows freely and thus reduces the incidents of flooding.
One needs to dig deeper into things in order to find the root causes. Staying just at the top may not solve the problem once and for all. Tell me why are our drainages are clogged? They are clogged because with erosion along the hillsides, stones and mud find their way into the drainage.
Why does egression take place along the hills? Over the years and up til now people cut down trees and build houses. Also, there are no properly constructed roads going up the hills. Also, there are no garbage cans in the communities and most people throw their garbage into the gutters at night. We can go on and on.
If government cannot stop people from building up the hills, then good roads should be constructed up those hills to minimize dirt emptying down the main roads further down.
Advocacy works very well to bring about social accountability. It is important to know that all key stakeholders have to be involved in advocacy in order to bring about the necessary change. Although the word “stakeholders” is often loosely used, for me stakeholders are those who affect the issue and those who are affected by the issue. These two must have a common ground. For effective change to take place. You cannot dig water well in a village for people without discussion with them in the first place whether a well was their priority. Granted it is and the well is dug. You cannot put chlorine in it without first letting the people know the reason. Otherwise they will avoid drinking from that well. Of course, if you visit and drink only from bottled water, you complicate matters further.
Many NGOs and CSOs will tell you that they do advocacy but actually what they do is traditional promotion with banners and T-shirts. The area of digging deeper to discover the root causes is most times ignored. We have several examples of failed programs especially in the area of street trading in Freetown.
The laws of our land have clear identification of streets on which there should be no trading. Unfortunately, these are the streets where you fine the heaviest concentration of traders making it very difficult for pedestrians to move around. The traders flout the laws with arrogant impunity and will embarrass anyone daring them to push back. What has made it more difficult to remove the traders from the streets is the politicization of the issue. Politicians think they will lose votes by moving the traders from the streets and thus the traders see themselves as a very strong political factor especially when it comes to elections. How long do we have to carry on like this? No one knows!
A lot of advocacy is needed using different types; “advocacy for, advocacy with and advocacy by,” depending on the particular situation. What has been noticed over years of doing advocacy is that solutions to problems at community level are not necessarily found at the community level. They might need certain policies to be put in place before they could be addressed. Here policies have to be impacted first. The other type is “Advocacy With.” Here you partner with those affected by involving them in the programs and activities at every level possible. For the “Advocacy by”, it is done by those affected by the problem, organized, implemented and owned by the communities working together to solve the problem that affects them.
For our situation in Sierra Leone, I think it will be very efficacious that Commissions and Authorities work with advocacy groups in order to add value to their efforts especially for service delivery. They should create common ground between the supply and demand sides of service delivery. The elements of the communities’ voice and participation have to be seen as happening.
If we want to see a just world, we should always call for justice. We should always work for the dignity, rights and rights and all people. This way, governance will tend to be good and peace will be sustained. Policy advocacy needs to be stepped up given the backlog of statutory issues still hanging.
It is very critical that a thorough review of our laws and policies are done to avoid the repetition of ills in our society caused by bad laws that conspicuously continue to plague our justice system and make good governance difficult. Let us remember that justice is about relationships, relationships between people and their governments.
31/7/18
By Beny Sam
Tuesday August 01, 2018.

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