Speech by Mr. Kumi Naidoo, Secretary general of CIVICUS
Geneva, 15 July 2002—World Civil Society Forum
Unofficial transcription based on video record – for your information
only. See also: Audio
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My dear brothers and sisters,
In the South African liberation movement when you were the speaker that
followed many other distinguished and eloquent speakers, you started by saying
"most of the points that I was going to make, have been already made". However,
he spoke for 2 hours, but I'll try to be brief and many of the points have, in
fact, been made.
Let me just focus on four points and the first one is the question and
challenge of definition, and the question of accountability which I am rest at
While on the positive side, we can say that, because the discourse on Civil
Society has gained such prominence and that many international leaders,
including certain national political leaders, these days, cannot give a major
policy speech without the term Civil Society rolling rapidly off the tongues of
the speeder for BOEING 747.
Does that mean that today we can rest assured that the notion that citizens
have a role to play in public life beyond simply costing a vote once every 4-5
Whether that has been established, still remains a question for us to
It is true that many political leaders have accepted the notion of Civil
Society having a role around the delivery of various social services to peoples
I would argue that we still have a major journey to travel before Civil
Society can say to itself, that our national political leaders as well as the
international political establishment have genuinely accepted that Civil
Society also has a role to play around the question of input into policy
On the one hand, we can say that Civil Society discourse has got so popular
that, in fact, today it has become all things to all people and it has also
Based in the United States for the last three and a half years, I was quite
horrified, when I first arrived, somebody suggested me that he Ku-Klux-Klan was
part of Civil Society. I asked how is the Ku-Klux-Klan part of the Civil
Society and they told me, it is non-profit, it is non-governmental, it is
membership based, it is reasonably internally democratic and it works
passionately on a voluntary basis to advance the interests of its members.
One of the challenges that Civil Society has to face today is the question
of the values that we propagate. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
provides us with a consensual set of values that we can lobby around. The
question is also about what is our value base. And this is the question that we
have to address in Conferences like this very important one that we are at.
Particularly, since increasingly, there are challenges that have been made on
the accountability and the questions of legitimacy of the non-profit sector.
The arguments sometimes go like this, it says: "Well, we in government are
elected by the citizens of the country", you folks in Civil Society are
well-meaning do-gooders who did not derive your legitimacy in the right to
speak other than the fact, out of the goodness of your heart, you organise and
take public positions.
This does raise a question for us. There's no question about it that civil
society has gained status, influence and power over the last 20 years. We have
to recognise that with increasing influence and status, also comes increasing
responsibility. That, much as we might have reservations about some of the
intentions behind those that raise the question of accountability, whether
those criticisms were they or not based on our own sense of ethics, we need to
be ensuring that we are able to perform with the highest levels of ethics,
standards and accountability, and to ensure that every cent that we raise in
the names of people living in poverty, is used in the ethical ways in which we
say we will.
We also need to recognise that some of the challenges around the legitimacy,
does not only come form national governments but also comes from within the
international system itself. At the World Economical Forum in January this
year, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Mike Moore, said,
at a breakfast session, that the WTO will only engage with Civil Society
Organisations that are transparent, accountable and elected by a defined
constituency. That would be a quite good thing if in fact that criteria was
applied to all the member governments of the WTO for starters, but that having
been left aside we need to recognise that the question of accountability and
public legitimacy is a very complicated one in the current world that we live
Firstly, let's understand that Civil Society and practically the non-profit
sector, has an accountability mechanism built into it. It is a simple one. It
is not sufficient, but it is a powerful one. It's a simple, logic of perform or
perish. Not one single non-profit organisation receives any source of funding
on an obligatory basis.
Whether the money comes from an individual, a government, a business, a
foundation. These are sources of funding that are honest on a completely
While, we do know of course, governments have the luxury that, even if they
are performing disastrously, they can still guarantee a resource flow from
taxation on an annual basis until they get voted out in the next election.
But let's also look then at the second question and that is the challenge of
democracy. Today, one of the problems we face is that even in countries with
long standing democratic traditions, political processes have become completely
inaccessible to the vast majority of citizens, in some countries, even those
that see themselves as exporters of democracies.
Today there are only three types of people that can run successfully for
national political office: the rich, the very rich and the extremely rich.
Political parties have become intensely undemocratic institutions even though
they are supposed to be the bedrock of functioning electoral democracies. To
get access and to participate effectively in political parties is becoming
increasingly an impossible task for the ordinary citizen.
Today, we see a lack of trust in the political leadership of many countries.
The declining numbers of voters should not simply be seen as "well the people
That might be so in some instances, but I think we have to address the real
issue that many people are making an inform judgment that unfortunately, voting
does not change anything and to recognise that we have to do so much more to
enrich our political cultures, to enrich our democratic institutions, is, as
has already been pointed out a challenge that both Civil Society and government
The other issue we face is a question of social exclusion.
Quite often when Civil Society, ourselves are guilty, when we talk about
social exclusion, we talk about it as if social exclusion affects the minority
of people on the planet.
But let's think about, today: who are socially excluded? When we talk about
young people in social societies, about women in many social societies, about
all the persons, about indigenous peoples, about cultural, religious, ethnic
and racial minorities, talking about people living with HIV, Aids and
disabilities, we find that in fact we are not talking of minority of mankind,
we are talking about the majority.
So it does raise the question of a real crisis of democracy.
Democracy has to serve the majority of the people on the planet and unless
we can ensure that the scandalous situation that women, after so many years of
activism by the Women's movement, still less than 10 % occupy leadership
positions in government, business and in Civil Society Organisations. Unless we
can reverse that statistic drastically, we are not getting anywhere. Unless we
recognise that young people, for example, are not simply the leaders of
tomorrow, but in Africa, where I come from, with the designation of HIV, AIDS,
today young people demographically are not simply the leaders of tomorrow, but
the leaders of today, as well, because they have a crucial role to play in
securing the social fabrics in our different society.
The third point I want to quickly make, is that of globalisation which has
Let me jus add few things to it.
One is the real Civil Society activism that we have seen, has often been
called anti-globalisation movement.
Firstly I would like to say that anti-globalisation movement is probably the
most globalized movement of all.
Secondly, that it is really, if we think deeply of the discourses that are
there, it's about social, it's a movement for greater social and economic
justice. What people are concerned about, it's not only that globalisation is
unstoppable process, but globalisation has come with growing inequality in
every single country, the gap between rich and poor is growing at a disastrous
rate, between the rich and the poor countries, that gap is growing at an
equally disastrous rate and if the current trends continue, the challenge is
that we are sitting here in this hall all today, 20 to 30 years from now, we'll
look like a Sunday morning pick-nick.
The other issue is that, we also need to recognise that globalisation is
much beyond economic globalisation and one of the challenges for us is also
dealing with the question of what we might call the mono-collateralisation of
the world. That, in fact, many cultures of the world are under threat.
My last and final comment that I want to make is one of the challenges we
face at global meetings like this, with Civil Societies trying to come
together, is the challenge of what we might call the curtailment of
international Civic mobility.
What I'm talking about here, is that one of the things that globalisation
was supposed to bring was an unhindered movement of goods, capital,
technologies and so on. But we have never lived in a moment of world history
where the movement of people from poor countries to rich countries, has been as
restricted as it is right now.
In my job I am an African travelling on an African passport where I have to
travel to many countries. If I have to write an autobiography at the end of my
time at Civics it will be called "Visas, Bloody Visas".
An irony, historical irony, just listening to my sister form the indigenous
people's movement is, it would be very interesting if the indigenous peoples of
the Americas, New Zeeland, Australia and the people of Africa were able to
discover visas, many many centuries ago and effectively implemented, how
different the world we would look today.
But it is a question, quite often we say simply September 11th.
Of course September 11th has made it worse, but we have to
recognise that this poses a major challenge for us because the equity that we
need to build in Global Civil Society, will already facing the challenge of
resources and so on, As Walter Fust very brilliantly put it earlier. But added
to that is just an inability for people to be able to get access.
So I want to say, to round them up, that there are three levels in which
Civil Society engages with the UN system and International Community and we
need to just separate that and recognise that all three are important.
Firstly, increasingly, many Civil Society Organizations are engaged at a
micro-programming-delivery level that many good relationships exist between
UNDP; UNICEF and so on, and Civil Society Organisations. Much more needs to be
done on that level to see how we can do it more professionally and we will
recognise some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Civil Society
This middle level where Civil Society are engaging in the global policy
making processes around various world conferences, is far form a perfect
exercise but we have to engage with it, to try to ensure that we try to get the
best short outcomes in the short term, and also to ensure that we change the
very structures of way that engagement happens. But is also a macro level and
that is the very governance of these international institutions. The UN itself
was formed at a point in 1945 at the end of the 2nd World War, when
the world was a completely different place.
It was driven by the victims of the 2nd World War, those who had
nuclear power and so on.
Most of the world was in colonial bondage if we can try to just remember the
moment of 1945. Today we live in a world that is vastly changed that was
appropriate in1945 but totally inappropriate today.
Why should certain nations have the VETO power at the UN when in fact they
have relatively small population sizes. Should not if democracy is a major
determinant of governance of global institutions that we should give more
weight to countries, that have a greater population size not simply those who
have greatest military and economic power.
So let me live you with the thought that these are 3 levels that we need to
intervene and if I can live you with the words of the indigenous people of New
Zeeland, when the Maoris were asked: "What is the most important thing in the
world?" and they answered "It is people, it is people, it is people."