22 March 2004
Botswana President Festus Mogae welcomed hundreds of civil society practitioners, researchers, activists, business leaders and government representatives from around the world at the welcoming ceremony of the CIVICUS fifth World Assembly in Gaborone, the first in a series of biennial world assemblies to be held in Africa.
The CIVICUS World Assemblies provide unique opportunities for civil society organizations and other stakeholders worldwide to share their experiences, consider new strategies and consolidate existing ones in advancing greater space for citizen participation.
In his opening speech, President Mogae highlighted the importance of coordinated action and committed partnership at multiple levels if individual societies and the global community are to effectively address the challenges they face. "I believe gatherings such as this one can play a critical role in highlighting innovative experiences and practical solutions from diverse contexts. I am hopeful that your discussions and debates this week will lead to a sharper understanding of how civic energy can be harnessed in the quest for social, political, economic and civic justice," he says.
Over 700 delegates gathered to the sound of drums in a unique outdoor, opened the discussion in kgotla style setting. The kgotlais Botswana's traditional participatory method, involving people on issues affecting their lives. This participatory opening set the tone for all meetings, discussions, plenaries and over 70 workshops and learning exchanges that the delegates will be attending in the next five days.
The Assembly, with the theme "Working Together for a Just World", is taking advantage of its African location to highlight some of the key issues relevant to development in the region. It is highlighting innovative strategies on HIV/AIDS and the search for practical solutions to the pandemic. Other pertinent issues to be discussed will include the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), the devastation caused by internal and regional conflicts and the challenges faced by African nations in defining strategies for governance.
The diverse workshops, plenary sessions, learning exchanges and capacity-building workshops will focus on defending the rights of civic association, strengthening governance and legitimacy of civil society organizations, the role of civil society in public or private conflicts, working for social and economic justice and enhancing citizen involvement in decision-making.
In between the workshops, speakers will present views on the global state of civil society, human rights and development. These include Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland; Prega Ramsamy, Executive Secretary for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Graça Machel, United Nations children’s rights champion and recipient of multiple international awards.
Graça Machel will also launch the new "CIVICUS Nelson Mandela Graça Machel Innovation Awards", aimed at supporting innovative ideas that engender a more just world and that emerge directly from the Assembly.
CIVICUS is an international alliance aimed at nurturing the foundation, growth and protection of citizen action throughout the world, especially in areas where participatory democracy and citizen’s freedom of association are threatened. Through its worldwide membership base, it aims to have a positive impact on civil society organizations’ ability to engage with governments, corporations and international institutions in order to effect broad social, economic and political change.
Others speakers included first female paramount chief of Botswana, Kgosi Mosadi Seboko, Paramount Chief of the Bamalete and Botswana, Philip Makgalemele, Chair of the Botswana Council of non-governmental organizations (BOCONGO) and Patrick Johnston, Chair of the CIVICUS Board.
Read speech of CIVICUS Secretary General Kumi Naidoo