Restoring a climate of trust between citizens and state officials
"Local Voices at the Crossroads" is a series of articles in which local actors of daily peace share their views on the fragilities and resilience of their societies in the face of conflict. Grassroots societies are at the crossroads between local realities and national peacebuilding policies and practices. The series therefore aims to accelerate action at the local level by strengthening the voices of civil society at the political level. "Local Voices at the Crossroads" is hosted by the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) and is the result of a collaboration with the Evidence Platform for Peace and Conflict Resolution (PeaceRep) at the University of Edinburgh.
In this last article of "Local Voices at the Crossroads", we focus on the work of the NGO Floraison, the organisation that is the Focal Point of CSPPS in Togo, and its efforts to restore trust to support collaboration between civil society and the Government in Togo. Association Floraison is represented by Mrs. Claire Regina Améyo Quenum, Coordinator of the organization. On behalf of CSPPS Country Team, Ms. Quenum shared her views as well as local initiatives – planned or already implemented – that promote dialogue among Togolese stakeholders as a means to achieve a peaceful, just and inclusive society.
The long-standing political crisis in Togo
Since 1990, when the country moved from a one-party to a multi-party regime, Togo has been in a political crisis characterized by a democratic deficit by the European Union that cut its aid to Togo from 1993 to 2008. The country remains affected by the manifestation of fragility with periods of violence and calm: gender-based and other violence as well as violence by security forces against civilians. In addition to this, the rising cost of living, corruption, unemployment and poverty in rural and urban areas are causes of fragility in the country. This political-economic crisis has resulted in a social and cultural crisis where trust and solidarity within communities and between people are a thing of the past. As a result, conflicts have emerged within and between communities as well as mistrust of state actors
Agriculture is the most important sector in Togo – as in many other African countries – prompting the country to invest in modern and sustainable farming methods in order to achieve a robust, inclusive and competitive economy by 2030. This objective faces a number of challenges, including inadequate consultation and participation of key stakeholders in the food policy-making process. This lack of inclusion is a problem in all aspects of public life in Togo, in particular since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic that has reduced civic space and made it more difficult for civil society to meaningfully engage with the government.
In this context, it becomes necessary to foster an environment of trust between citizens, State and non-State actors, in order to work for peace and achieve sustainable development. Floraison has implemented various programs and activities for this purpose, through which it aims to build bridges with the main stakeholders in the context of Togo.
Floraison in Action
Floraison was founded in 1997 by seven women with the primary aim of educating people to transform them into responsible citizens who contribute to the development of their communities. According to Floraison, education is the foundation of all development: human, social, economic, material and cultural. Its purpose is therefore to inform, train and educate people in order to achieve personal well-being and community development. Floraison works with grassroots communities in both urban and rural areas. It supports the formal and non-formal education of girls as well as that of women and community leaders in order to promote inclusive and participatory development.
Association Floraison offers awareness and support on a wide range of issues, including but not limited to the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights of communities particularly for women (e.g. the right to adequate food, the right to land, the right to education, the right to quality maternal health services), the fight against gender-based violence, food security and the inclusion and participation of citizens in peace and security actions.
Concretely, this translates into the realization of awareness-raising sessions in schools, the creation of information and training centers for girls and women, the sponsorship of schooling and training of young people, support for jobs in the informal economy, support for the creation of village development committees, the alliance with radio stations to strengthen awareness and information sharing on human rights, the formalization of a support unit for victims of violence, and the conduct of research on the right to food and citizen participation in public life.
For example, Floraison supports the manual activities of elementary and secondary school students. Conducted outside of class, these activities result in products that are then sold by students, allowing them to earn money to meet some of their needs. In addition to developing their creativity and skills, these activities help reduce the risk of depravity of morals and prostitution of young girls.
Community leaders support through their presence at Floraison's activities which helps to change the vision of the leadership of local populations and to restore confidence in the power of each individual.
Food System Policy Dialogue
Food security, in addition to the clear benefits of eliminating malnutrition and related diseases, is a key source of income and poverty reduction. It is also a means of reducing conflicts related to the management and development of natural resources. As such, food security is a crucial element in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16+ – peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
Floraison carried out a project on food policies and systems in Togo as part of the project initiated by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), of which it is a member through the African Network for the Right to Food in Togo (RAPDA-Togo). This AFSA project was carried out in 23 countries in Africa including Togo. Since 2011, AFSA has been working for food sovereignty in Africa. This project is AFSA's contribution to the development of a food policy in Africa to protect African knowledge in the food chain and ensure sustainable food systems.
As part of this project, Floraison conducted for six months (February – July 2021) the following activities: exchange meetings between key actors and stakeholders of the food system (producers, consumers, civil society organizations, decision-makers, state actors, development partners), a study on existing food policies related to food and the analysis of these policies. These activities provided an opportunity to begin thinking about ways to achieve appropriate and sustainable food policies and systems for the country.
The result was a report entitled "Dialogue on Food Policies and Systems for the Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in Togo" which was launched on 26 August 2021 in Lomé, Togo. This report shows the need to create a dialogue between actors and stakeholders in the food system in order to achieve appropriate food policies and sustainable food systems.
The report stresses that the need for adequate food is not systematically taken into account in national and local policies in Togo. Dialogue and participation of key stakeholders in the food system (civil society organisations, producer organisations, consumers and the private sector) in the food policy development and implementation process remain weak. In addition to the lack of a clear mechanism for consultation, monitoring and evaluation of food policies, communication on food policies and their implementation remains insufficient. Many stakeholders are not aware of the implementation of existing policies related to food and nutrition. This lack of information and awareness has been exacerbated by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly disrupted the food system and food security because of its impact on supply figures and access to basic food products.
The results established that although there are food policies in the country, actions are not always concerted. Creating a dialogue between the different stakeholders of the Togolese food system is an opportunity for actors and stakeholders to become aware of the need to communicate on food policies. The report recommends, inter alia, informing stakeholders and consumers about existing food policies and creating spaces for dialogue between stakeholders in the food system with the aim of adopting a coordinated and inclusive approach to developing, monitoring and evaluating food policies.
This project provides an opportunity not only to implement the recommendations of its report, but also an opportunity for stakeholders to participate in the process of policy development, monitoring and evaluation. It enables the strengthening of the inclusiveness and participation of different groups, the building of trust between citizens and government institutions, good governance and peacebuilding, among others.
2030 Agenda: a step forward?
Togo is on the list of countries that will conduct a voluntary national review (VNR) in 2022. The voluntary national review process provides an opportunity for countries to present the current status and results of the implementation of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the 2022 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), to be held from 5 to 15 July. This process provides a unique opportunity to receive feedback on the implementation of the SDGs and boost progress through sharing experiences, peer learning and mobilizing partnerships.
Floraison reported on the weakness of collaboration between civil society and the government. Civil society awareness of the SDG has decreased due to COVID-19. More than ever, there is a need for the government to consult and collaborate with civil society organizations as they can best talk about their states' commitment to the SDGs, the levels of implementation and the challenges they currently face in achieving them. The preparation of the VNR is a good opportunity for Floraison to work with other civil society organisations to restore the climate of trust between the government and civil society.
CSPPS is committed to ensuring the meaningful inclusion, participation and contribution of civil society during VNR processes by guiding its members on the local implementation of the SDGs based on the principles of the New Deal and advocating for inclusive governance. To do this, CSPPS is reaching out to its members whose countries will be reviewed, gathering feedback on the current state of the process and the degree of government collaboration with civil society, in order to better identify and design the type of support needed from the Platform. CSPPS has already supported local and regional workshops on capacity building and knowledge exchange, which are mentioned in its Report for the Future: Final Report Ready for Review.
More recently, Ms. Quenum participated in an online workshop, co-organized by CSPPS together with Namati, CIVICUS, GPPAC and TAP Network. Under the thematic title "SDG16+ In Action: National and Local Leadership", this unique workshop allowed participants to engage in conversations about local challenges faced and establish ways to better collaborate to advance SDG 16+. CSPPS is currently planning future online workshops of this type, after receiving positive feedback from participants and their interest in further collaboration.
These initiatives are just one example of the ongoing work of Floraison to restore a climate of trust between citizens and state officials, and promote the inclusion and participation of civil society in political dialogue and decision-making processes. The 2030 Agenda recognizes the need for peaceful, just and inclusive societies and therefore requires a transformation of governance based on trustworthy and accountable governments.