I am just back from a week in Dar es Salaam, where I was running an advocacy workshop for an INGO and its partners across East Africa. We had eight nations represented from across the region. This workshop was following on a year after a similar workshop I had run for their Asian region in Bangladesh. The training had worked in Asia but would an advocacy campaigns framework also resonate in East Africa?
What was really impressive about this workshop was the degree of preparation that delegates had to do prior to coming to Tanzania. I have run some courses where people have given little thought to the issue that they might want to use for advocacy. This workshop had case studies from each delegate submitted before the event. So we had an impressive course reader detailing each person’s advocacy issue against a suggested framework. We had issues such as trail bridges, self-help groups, disaster risk reduction schemes and much, much more. What did interest me was that in the main they were projects where an idea had been made to work on a pilot basis. At the end of each case study was a short section entitled next steps. Generally this section was very brief. The purpose of our workshop was to help people to develop their next steps and therefore have more impact.
We spent a lot of time in the first couple of days getting participants to describe the realities of their external enabling environment for advocacy: the environment in Kenya, being different to Mozambique, being different to Ethiopia. We were massively helped in this exercise by the presence for a while of Maina Kiai – the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. He is an inspirational speaker with an amazing global perspective. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, you must do so!
As with our workshop in Bangladesh, I was interested to see how the country groups of participants struggled initially to agree how to explain their external environment. There were some very robust discussions. I know that I have written before about how important it is to have these explicit conversations because the danger is that you all assume that you share the same understanding. Having secured agreement in each country group, delegates were encouraged to move around the groups and hear about the external environment in the other countries. This was a great exercise and ensured that we had a common understanding of the external environment in all of the eight countries.
Having got this understanding, we then went through defining the problem, being clear on the solution and who the target might be with the power to make this change, looking at the different routes to influence this target, assessing the degree and the nature of the opposition, before finally beginning to sketch out what a theory of change on each issue might look like.
At the end of the week, I was interested to see that energy levels were still running high. It was also interesting to see that while they were keen to take their initial theories of change back home to discuss with their colleagues, there was also a strong desire to keep the peer group from the eight nations together. There is a group Skype conversation planned for later next month. Yet what really excited me was a group of passionate individuals from across East Africa with their burning desire for change on their issue fired up with some practical tools to help energise their advocacy campaigns.
In my last blog I highlighted the plight of Sombath Somphone, the community leader from Laos who disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances in 2012. I did, as I implored you to do, and I wrote to my MP about this case. I received a very detailed answer from the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Not only did he know about this case, he had raised it on several occasions and was continuing to do so. This was really encouraging – but let’s keep the pressure up. If you haven’t contacted your MP about this case please do so. We should be prepared to stand up for community leaders who stand up for their community and then suffer the consequences.