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Executive Summary

There has been a backlash against civil society and democracy as a result of the postcolonial state’s retention of excessive power, which in some cases has been used to silence opposing voices. The state has been known to use underhanded methods to reconquer the political arena and criminalize dissent, as if control of a country’s government was a birthright for the ruling elites, who have not properly reconciled themselves to the idea of popular or citizen control of government action.

The right to free assembly and popular participation is guaranteed under the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 15 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. National constitutions also guarantee the right to freedom of assembly and association. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Article 27(8) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other international documents and national constitutions, such as the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

In this report  (Civil and Political Society Relations Report  – CPS2R) the African Movement for Democracy (AMD) – a network of young activists working to consolidate democratic unity on the African continent, by rallying Political and Civil Society, youth groups and activists to respond to the crosscutting challenges facing democracy in Africa, examines case studies from 5 African countries, namely Cameroon, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Tanzania on three themes namely: freedom of assembly and expression, and the relations between civil and political societies. Using a set of 46 in-law and in-practice indicators, Lead researchers from the case study countries were able, through a mix of quantitative and qualitative participatory approaches including secondary literature review, interviews with key informants, news articles, journal publications and small focus group discussions; to assess the effectiveness of existing legal framework. It was evident from the research that the selected countries have adopted both emancipative and restrictive laws, on freedom of expression and Assembly (theme 1 & 2). An assessment of in-practice indicators revealed a significant gap between the existing law and practice, on average there was a proportion of 60% to 40% prevalence rate of in-practice restrictive and emancipative trends respectively against a proportion of 70% to 30% emancipative and restrictive laws respectively. However, the fact that these countries have also ratified international conventions guaranteeing these fundamental freedoms shows that the current problems go beyond policies and legal frameworks.

Findings on theme 3 which focused on CSO-State relations revealed that there is no prevalent trust between Governments and CSOs, as governments see CSOs as threat rather than partners. It is also evident that, to further strengthen cooperation, both government and civil society actors need to understand the institutional environment, structure, and processes and the political context within which their sectors operate. Civil and political societies should embrace the need to learn how they can cooperate to expand civic freedoms without undermining their respective unique strengths and to protect the independence and flexibility of civil society while asserting the formal, legal, political accountability, and representativeness of governments.

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