Building civil society leadership for land governance in Africa

Thursday, 2nd August 2018

Civil society leadership is worth strengthening, because it can act as a vital force for tenure security and a bastion of democracy

In May 2017, when the Economist asked, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala former Finance and Foreign Minister of Nigeria and World Bank Managing Director; now Board Member for the social media platform, Twitter about what is needed to ensure that Africa meets its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she cited civil society leadership in holding power accountable. Such arguments around the role of the civil society in driving change are not in short supply in the public sphere. What is often lacking is the highlight that behind the civil society success, there are people- leaders-whose vision, skills, passion and commitments keep power in check. People who need to renew their organisational brand, leadership style and capacity to influence change. Without strong leadership, civil society organisations cannot function properly.

A programme for civil society leaders in Africa

On mission to support grassroots organisations become better at protecting land rights in Africa, Maliasili and the International Land Coalition launched the Africa organisational leadership programme in May 2018. The programme brought together sixteen civil society leaders from eight ILC Africa member organisations in six countries to learn techniques of individual leadership, organisational leadership skills and stakeholders’ cooperation or systems change.

“The premise of this programme is that leadership starts with understanding yourself as an individual; your personality preferences, your own pattern of behaviour, your strengths and understanding the role of personal actions and relationships in leadership,” Fred Nelson, Executive Director of Maliasili explains. An approach, he believes is essential to build trust and achieve change. During the first week of the programme in Machakos, Kenya on May 14-18 2018, Fred’s team created conditions for participants to learn from each other about personal leadership and techniques of building trust within networks. These ideas would inspire Algresia Akwi-Ogojo, Executive Director of Uganda Land Alliance (ULA), who two weeks later used them to induct the new board of ULA.

Traversing a difficult moment that started in October 2016, ULA joined the programme. Not long ago, ULA attracted a lot of attention from donors, but as Algresia Ogojo explains; the previous management could not coordinate numerous workstations, staff and consequently unable to deliver on all its commitments. “ This created a lot of problems within the organisation,” she adds. At the programme, Algresia learnt about management, the role of the board, communication and fundraising. “ We equally received many tools and resources from the organisers, which can help us directly in our work, “she says. Know-how that makes Algresia upbeat about the future and her ability to drive through the turbulent moment.

Donor relations

If civil society leaders can get past stormy episodes, the challenge of funding and sustainability of their organisation remains. As Cathbert Tomitho, Executive Director at Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI/Haki Ardhi) and board member of Tanzania Land Alliance (TALA) explains, donor interests are shifting. “Funding is shifting from advocacy to service delivery and donors are looking into new areas and methods of funding, including funding governments who address community demands directly,” Cathbert says. For Patrick Mabude, Executive Director of the Transkei Land Service Organization (TRALSO), leaders must handle issues of relations with care. Improper management of relations with donors, governments and communities can plunge the organisation into chaos. TRALSO, for example, saw its funding plummeting after it lost the trust of its funders, community allies and government agencies.  Consequently, “we were having a great deal of uncertainty and incapacity to work with non-governmental organisations that are working in the field of local governance,” Patrick explains to other civil society leaders. At the programme, Patrick found new ways to manage such relationships and build trust, but that is not the only solution to the problem.

For Cara Scott, Portfolio Manager at Maliasili and co- facilitator for the programme, the answers could be where most civil society leaders neglect. Speaking to the civil society leaders about managing donor relations during the second week at Lake Elementaita, Nakuru-Kenya on July 9-13 2018, Cara said neglecting issues such as; saying thank you, telling donors early when there is a problem, showing you have the right team and delivering on promises is key to building trust and sustaining relationships.

Strategic communications leadership

Another area leaders could focus on would be building a brand and refining their “elevator pitch”. As Jessie Davie, Portfolio Director at Maliasili highlights, donors sometimes find it hard to get basic, simple information from their partners. Civil society organisations sometimes lock their key messaging in complicated language and mountains of text. Jessie facilitated sessions around communication and introduced civil society leaders to the idea of strategic and communication for change. Here she discussed how to use the power of communication to build strong networks that protect people’s land rights.

This network believes civil society leadership is worth strengthening. In a dangerous and increasingly authoritarian world, it can act as a vital force for tenure security and a bastion of democracy. “ILC is a network; a platform of organisations. If those organisations are weak, there cannot be a strong and impactful ILC network. That is why ILC has an obligation to strengthen the capacity of its members,” says Audace Kubwimana, Programme Manager and Acting Regional Coordinator of ILC Africa.

The civil society leaders are now sharing their knowledge with peers in their respective countries. On September 22-27 2018, the eight organisations will share their knowledge and experiences with all 262 members of the Coalition during the Global Land Forum in Bandung.