THE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL COUNCIL (ECOSOCC)
The Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) is an advisory Organ of the Union established under Article 5 of the Constitutive Act and designed to give Civil Society Organisations a voice within the AU Institutions and decision-making processes. It has its own Statutes and Rules of Procedure. The composition of the ECOSOCC is complex because it consists of non-state actors and Civil Society Organisations from a wide range of sectors, including labour, business, professional groups, service providers and policy think-tanks including the African Diaspora. The objectives of the Organ, as stipulated in Articles 1 and 2 of its Statutes, fall into three categories: (a) promoting dialogue and partnership between African governments and their peoples’ and among the African people themselves; (b) participation in programmes and activities of the AU, including promoting the overall principles and objectives of the Union; and (c) building the capacity of African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
Execution of Statutory Functions and Audit Findings
With respect to structure, ECOSOCC has, on a transitory basis, four main bodies: (a) a 150-member General Assembly, which is the highest decision and policy-making body of the Organ; (b) a 15-member Standing Committee with representatives from the 5 regions of Africa as a body responsible for the coordination of the work of the Organ; (c) ten Sectoral Cluster Committees for feeding opinion and inputs into the policies and programs of the Union. These Committees are Peace and Security; Political Affairs; Infrastructure and Energy; Social Affairs and Health; Human Resources, Science and Technology; Trade and Industry; Rural Economy and Agriculture; Economic Affairs; Women and Gender; and Cross Cutting Programmes; and (d) a 5-person Credentials Committee for determining the eligibility of CSO representatives to contest elections or participate in the processes of the Organ. Also, a 5-person Bureau of the General Assembly is established under Article 3(12) of the Rules of the Organ.
The Organ is still in the process of being established in its final form. In order to ensure the speedy launching of a substantive ECOSOCC General Assembly, a decision of the Executive Council directed the Commission to convene a General Civil Society Conference, which was to serve as the Interim General Assembly of ECOSOCC pending the election and setting up of the General Assembly. Its sole mandate, which it subsequently delegated to its Interim Standing Committee, is to ensure that elections for membership of ECOSOCC are finalized as soon as possible so that the General Assembly of ECOSOCC can become fully operational as soon as possible.
According to Article 3, the composition of the General Assembly is as follows: CSOs, including but not limited to Social groups, such as those representing women, children, the youth, the elderly and people with disability and special needs; Professional groups such as associations of artists, engineers, health practitioners, social workers, media, teachers, sport associations, legal professionals, social scientists, academia, business organisations, national chambers of commerce, workers, employers, industry and agriculture as well as other private sector interest groups; Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and voluntary organisations; Cultural organisations; as well as social and professional groups in the African Diaspora. The only session of the Interim General Assembly that was convened was that of March 2005 in Addis Ababa. The first meeting of the Interim Standing Committee took place in Nairobi in April 2005 to put in place a plan of action. Instead of concentrating its efforts on the electoral process that was to lead to the permanent ECOSOCC, the Nairobi meeting proceeded to organise Sectoral Cluster Committees as stated in Article 11 of the Statutes. This confusion slowed down the whole process for over a year. The mandate of the Interim General Assembly was supposed to end in March 2007. It was only after an extension to December 2007, granted by the Executive Council, that the Interim Standing Committee was able to return to its proper mandate. The Cairo Interim Standing Committee of February 2007 put in place the electoral process while the September 2007 Yaounde meeting set out a calendar for the elections.
The agreed criteria for contesting elections were that candidates should:
Have objectives and principles that are consistent with the principles and objectives of the Union as set out in Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitutive Act;
Be registered in a Member State of the Union; and/or,
Be national, regional, continental or African Diaspora CSO, without restriction to undertake regional or international activities;
Meet the general conditions of eligibility for the granting of Observer Status to non-governmental organisations; and,
Provide annual audit statements by an independent auditing company.
At the time of this review, applications had been received and short-listed for the elections which were to be held between October and December 2007. The first election for Continental CSOs was held on 31 October 2007, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The eligibility requirements also guaranteed that the CSOs that qualified exhibited profiles that can be said to be those described by the Statutes.
The Panel has noted the recent sustained effort of ECOSOCC to emerge as a forum for Civil Society to interface with the AU. CIDO should continue to serve as a secretariat of ECOSOCC, raising money for the new Organ from AU sources, supplying information about AU debates and providing other support. (Table 9). In this regard, it is essential to note the various CSOs Pre-Summit fora that have now become a recurring item on the Commission’s agenda. These fora which are held in the lead up to Summits, are designed in a manner that their outcomes will feed into Summit deliberations. The Panel is of the opinion that under the Rules of Procedure of the Commission, CIDO should continue to be the secretariat for the ECOSOCC and that it be strengthened as ECOSOCC becomes more operational.
The criteria for eligibility will also need to be re-examined. Many CSOs and CBOs, regardless of their successful impact in their respective areas, sometimes do not fully meet the conditions for eligibility. Consequently, they are heavily dependent on organisations and institutions from the North and cannot, therefore, meet the conditions for participation under the Statutes of the ECOSOCC.
A practical and more complete evaluation of the ECOSOCC can only be made after the substantive General Assembly is launched in January 2008. After its first year in operation, one can realistically examine the adequacy of the Organ’s process and spread of representation, the functioning of the Sectoral Clusters and the impact of their input on the work of the Commission.
Table 9:AU-CSO pre-summit fora and other Consultations
Validation of the framework document on African Union Volunteer Corps
Meeting of ECOSOCC Credentials Committee
To finalise short-listing of candidates for ECOSOCC elections
3rd ECOSOCC Interim Standing Committee Meeting
Review preparations for ECOSOCC elections.
Reliable and regular information between CSOs and the Commission is a pre-condition for building trust and the possibility of collaboration and joint actions. It is clear that greater synergy could be achieved by pro-actively inviting non-state actors to jointly advocate for the realisation and implementation of AU positions globally and common standards continentally. The experience of non-state actors on a range of issues for example, health and HIV/AIDS, Darfur, women’s rights, post conflict reconstruction and the African Court of Justice provide a formula for informing, accelerating ratification, monitoring and popularisation of AU decisions within Member States.
The Panel recommends that:
A register should be opened at the Commission for the registration of CSOs and professional associations based on criteria laid down in the ECOSOCC Statutes. This list must be updated from time to time and serve as the database for the organisation of ECOSOCC processes;
ECOSOCC should be fully and effectively operationalised without further delay;
CIDO, as the competent department within the Commission as prescribed by the Statutes, should continue to be the Secretariat of the ECOSOCC and provide it with the necessary expertise and logistical support to permit it exercise its prerogatives and fulfil its mission; in this regard CIDO should be strengthened adequately to cope with this responsibility;
ECOSOCC Cluster Committees should make regular inputs into the different Organs of the AU;
The Statutes of ECOSOCC should be reviewed after the forthcoming elections with respect to the eligibility of CSOs and the Organisation of elections;
Member States should provide enabling financial support for deserving Civil Society Organisations to assist them to become less reliant on external partners. By so doing, this will enable them to become eligible to join ECOSOCC;
The ECOSOCC should fully organise the pre-Summit fora with CIDO with the latter serving as its secretariat;
The ECOSOCC report should be submitted to the Council for onward transmission to the Assembly;