What is your perception of civil society in Congo?
It has always struggled to find its place. The creation of the first railroad unions in the 1960s was succeeded by twenty-three years of a single communist party, in which the pioneers in the youth movement revolution spearheaded public life. The short period of democracy-building in 1993-1994 was followed by five years of war, which brought associative life to a grinding halt. It was only starting in 1997 that progressive and fragile democratization, relayed by the slow decentralization initiated in 2003, opened up room for civil society to structure itself in Congo.
At GRET’s arrival in 2002, civil society organizations, lacking social anchorage, little present in the field, without professions or skills and unpracticed in collective elaboration or debate, were nonexistent in the country’s political, social and economic life.
How does GRET intervene in this context?
For eight years, we have been active in the settlements of Brazzaville via the Urban Milieu Microproject Program (PMRU) and then the Community and Associative Micro-Projects in Brazzaville program (MICAB). Our approach is based on five key elements:
- structure associations around a profession, social engineering;
- sign contracts with associations (who are partners, not implementing providers);
- generate and stimulate dialogue between associations and local public authorities;
- co-elaborate working tools and methods based on practice; and
- act in the field, analyze, document and elaborate on this foundation of values and a shared discourse.
In your opinion, what are the next challenges to be overcome?
The aim is to learn to stand. For the moment, we are at the learning-to-sit stage. In these methods, which must be approached over the long term through mutual learning and cultural change, we must now:
- build territorial management by connecting local governments and civil society (which the MICAB project has begun to do, unlike the PMRU project);
- improve the internal organization of associations and their capacity to interpret the stakes, formulate their own values, and produce legitimate discourse backed up by strategy and proposals;
- develop these field actors’ capacity to fuel the public debate on sectoral policies, recently opened by the government authorities at the request of international donors.