How can the AfDB better engage with Civil Society at its Annual Meetings?

Published: May 21, 2024

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are valuable partners in monitoring the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) projects. They play an important role in holding the AfDB accountable and promoting inclusive, transparent, and sustainable development. However, the AfDB has largely fallen flat when it comes to providing civil society with a proper platform for participation over the years, particularly in its Annual Meetings. 

Since 2018, there has been a glaring lack of dedicated spaces for CSO participation in the meetings. This absence has created a deficiency for the AfDB in maximizing the effectiveness of its work, especially when considering the benefits engagement with CSOs has provided outside of the annual meetings. 

For instance, in Uganda, CSOs were instrumental in incorporating the needs of persons with disabilities into an AfDB-funded water supply and sanitation project, leading to more accessible infrastructure and enabling persons with disabilities to benefit from the project. 

In the Gambia, CSOs contributed to the Rice Value Chain Transformation Program by overseeing project implementation and advocating for an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) that was responsive to environmental and social risks. More specifically, CSOs successfully advocated for the ESMP to include specific mitigation and response measures related to gender-based violence; sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment of children; and child labor to prevent harm to communities social risks that were not initially included by the government or the AfDB. Addressing these risks better enables the project to contribute to the country’s development by preventing the generational impoverishment that violence against children is known to create.

The AfDB should build on the successes it has seen from working with CSOs in other aspects of its work. In the upcoming Annual Meetings, it must work to forge more robust, meaningful engagement with civil society, particularly groups that voice critical views.

The AfDB should facilitate greater engagement with CSOs and incorporate their research and opinions during the Annual Meetings and throughout all stages of policy and project development, including by:

  • Creating a forum for CSOs to share their opinions. The AfDB needs to carve out a space in which civil society can voice their concerns and provide recommendations on how the AfDB can be more responsive to the needs of communities. A system similar to the Civil Society Policy Forum (CSPF) that the World Bank uses in its Spring and Annual Meetings would give the AfDB a better perspective on the progress of its projects and objectives through the eyes of the people it hopes to benefit from its work. The Asian Development Bank similarly holds multiple sessions that integrate the voices of civil society into its annual meetings.
  • Bolstering their implementation plan for the Integrated Safeguard System (ISS) with civil society’s input. The ISS faces criticism for not fully integrating civil society's recommendations and concerns over the AfDB's ability to implement the ISS effectively. The AfDB can and should use the Annual Meetings as an opportunity to address these concerns and plan for a strong and inclusive ISS rollout process with the help of CSOs present at the meetings.