Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem challenges the Nobel Laureate:

It was not unexpected that this column of last week on
the orchestrated election of the Nobel Laureate,
Wangari Mathai, as the President of the AU's Economic,
Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) generated so
much private and public responses especially on the
Internet.  It is both an indication of the growing
seriousness attached to African initiatives and
African institutions but also yet another prove of the
global village that the world has become in the age of
interactive multi media  and New Information
Technology. I have always been open about my
enthusiasm for the Internet even as I support many of
the anti globalisation causes! The E-mail is one of
the most democratising aspects of globalisation.
Without it the anti Globalisation struggles could not
have been globalised!

The responses are varied but can be broken down into
two broad categories. Those that are in the realm of
to be expected’ and those that are more nuance and
proactive. The intriguing thing is that both aspects
were often cohabiting in the many of the responses. So
lets deal with what should be more familiar. One,
why are you attacking Mama Wangari?’  Or we thought
she is one of you’.  My position is not about Wangari
or any of her Bureau members as individuals (many of
them are well-known to me)  but a defence of a
fundamental principle of separation of state roles and
civil society roles and obligations. Nobody will argue
with a Trade Union organisation that replaces its
General-Secretary when he or she becomes a Minister or
a Member of Parliament. If a Minister is similarly
elected as head of Trade Union the government will
expect the person to leave . Wangari is in the same
situation at the moment and she can still  make a
choice since her appointing authorities have failed in
their duty to know the difference between the two
Two, I did not seek to denounce Wangari as a leader
who originated from civil society and is still
critically important to that constituency but she has
had a change of Jobs and we should not blur the lines.
It is important for Civil Society to have allies in
government but government should not swallow it up. It
is rank opportunism to think those lines do not matter
simply because the current beneficiary is someone we
respect and value. We risk devaluing that respect by
throwing her and she, allowing herself to be thrown
into that invidious position. As one of my respondents
pointed out she would have risen more in principled
public estimation if she had done one of two
honourable things open to her: refuse the post because
of her government position or resign from government
due to her commitment to the new post. By doing
neither she has diminished herself and her standing.
The next time she rises to speak about leaders who
concentrate powers in themselves and their lackeys she
should not be surprised if she is received with
several tonnes of salt in some quarters!

The more nuance responses are many and most of them
share my concerns but  give different mitigating
circumstances. One, there is a pragmatist group that
argued that this is a done deal’ and we just have to
see what we can do with it. In politics this is what
will happen but raising the issues now ensure that we
may guide against similar mistakes in the future.
Though Civil Society is part of governance it cannot
and should not substitute for government. Therefore it
must avoid any action that confuses both theatre of
struggle. Two, some argue that what happened was legal
and within the rules. Let me just stretch their
limited imagination to remember that slavery,
colonialism and apartheid just like One Party
dictatorship and even Military regimes were codified
in Laws of the day. Did that make them acceptable?
Three, one person even suggested that it was
backbiting’ to speak out after the event. Does this
mean that we should only speak about an event only
during the act itself or when we are physically
present? If this dubious standard is applied to all
public discourse we shall not have anything to discuss
since most of the issues, decisions and life changing
policies that affect us are taken outside of our
purview and many, even outside of Africa. Does that
mean that we have no rights to complain and should
just bear our victimhood as a fait accompli? There is
no statute of liberty on justice and none should be
imposed on accountability.
Four, others argue that Mathai was the best choice
because the other options being pushed by AU
bureaucrats presented worse case scenario. This is
begging the issue. The AU could not have put guns to
the heads of those present (even though they paid
their bills) if a few people had voiced their
opposition openly in the assembly instead of largely
grumbling and agonising privately. Maybe the AU would
have seen sense and taken them more seriously. The
fact that Wangari was anointed in absentia,
unanimously’, meant that some of those present (who
had strong reservations) did not, or were unable to
follow the logic of their own convictions. I
appreciate the fact that some of those present did not
have speaking rights. Many others were even attending
the forum for the first time and were on a learning
curve that was too steep! They were required to make
decisions about  what they did not know. That
ignorance strengthened AU bureaucratic manouvres.
Five, another person even suggested that the newly
crowned Madame la Presidente had no time to waste’
stating that she been given a great job to do and
implying she is so busy that she should not be
diverted by these debates. It smacks of a Bus Driver,
so focused on reaching its final destination that it
does not bother to stop at the Bus Stations on the
way.   I can only say that even a good thing can be
done in a very wrong way. And this is one of them.
That kind of language coming from people who are
supposed to be defenders of Civil Society exposes the
lack of willingness by our leaders both in Civil and
political society to be accountable to the people they
serve. Once elected’ they become Richard Hargard's
SHE, who must be obeyed’.  Is civil society not
supposed to have more democratic credentials than
The whole process further exposes the orchestrated
confusion between NGO and Civil Society. While NGOs
may be part of Civil Society they are not The’ Civil
Society. Unfortunately because of Donor - driven
agendas and Mercenary activism, NGOs in Africa are now
passing for Civil Society hence the new distinction of
CSOs and CBOs! The former is dominated by Middle Class
counter elite claiming to speak for the constituencies
 more ably represented by the latter. However the more
successful NGOs become the more integrated they become
into national and international and multi lateral
structures of power. They move from advocacy into
incorporation and cooptation.  There is nothing wrong
in people moving from civil to political society and
vice versa or similar journey in the Private sector.
However the actors in the various sector must be clear
about the lines even when osmosis is desirable.
A few years ago very few activists wanted to have
anything to do with African governments let alone
African multi lateral institutions. But now
regionalism, Pan Africanism, African Initiatives,
African Solutions, etc are in danger of becoming too
respectable. Donors and NGOs are now falling over
themselves to ‘build capacity’,  ‘engage’ and see
‘opportunities’ in regional and continental
organisations. When do ‘windows of  opportunity’
become open fields of  opportunism?

African NGOs and the wider Civil Society Movement have
to stop behaving like Missionaries whose motives
cannot be questioned simply because they are allegedly
 doing God’s work. We have to hold ourselves up to the
same standard of accountability, transparency, level
playing field and due process that we harangue our
governments to uphold.

What happened at the ECOSOCC Interim General Assembly
was clear: IT WAS A STICH UP. Many participants have
confirmed that they had arrived in Addis to a
prearranged coronation. It was just a shame that the
Queen makers could not deliver the Queen at the time
of the votes itself. Does this mean nothing good will
come out of it?  I am an optimistic political activist
who, like Bob Marley, "may fight and run away but live
to fight another day “.  Therefore even if Wangari
does not resign the interim ECOSOCC institutions
should not be ignored. The English say, imitation is
the most sincere form of flattery. Maybe out of this
fudge we could salvage an ECOSOCC that will work
together and independently with emerging structures of
the AU. It is not yet Uhuru therefore wherever we are
and regardless of which side of the debate we fall, we
should maintain interactive vigilance and challenge
this largely AU –chosen representatives of CSOs to
deliver to the diverse constituencies they are
supposed to represent. They ought to be CSO
representatives in the AU, not AU agents among Civil