Taking Charge: A Leadership Meeting for African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
7 - 8 August 2004

Background: - During the last four decades, the African continent has been faced with a myriad of natural and man made disasters and humanitarian crises. These have included war and civil conflict, floods, famine, volcanic eruptions and health epidemics. Millions have lost their lives, and millions of others have ended up being internally displaced in their own countries or refugees in other countries. Billions of dollars of international aid have been poured into Africa to assist the affected populations in their time of need.

Today, Africa continues to have the largest share of global humanitarian crises. The 54 national African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement are consistently on the front line, providing relief to the most vulnerable. Yet, not a single African National Society is financially independent and able to pay its basic core-costs, let alone the programme costs. They have to be supported by the donor National Societies and other components of the movement. Further, despite the abundance of highly qualified people in Africa, most National Societies have not been able to create governance structures that are effective, accountable and transparent.

This has led to the situation today of the International Federation, the ICRC and donor National Societies sending delegates, who come to assist National Societies in Africa with managing of their programmes, and providing quality financial and technical reports to donors. These delegates are said to be necessary to fulfil the donor requirements, even if their costs are charged to the programmes. In addition, more and more donor National Societies have set up bilateral offices, managed and staffed by personnel from the home countries in Africa. As a consequence of these trends, it is not clear that African National Societies are setting the agendas and executing the strategies of assistance in their own countries.

To address this issue, a meeting of African leaders from African National Societies was convened.

Objectives of the Meeting: - The objectives of the leadership meeting were to:

    Take stock of the current status of African National Societies
  • Provide the opportunity to freely discuss past, present and future situations of African National Societies
  • Establish a clear road map for the way forward for each National Society as well as the network of National Societies in Africa
  • Identify the resources necessary for each National Society to pursue its own road map

The Meeting: - The leadership meeting, held in Johannesburg, South Africa was convened by Abbas Gullet in partnership with Fritz Institute on 7-8 August, 2004. The Libyan Red Crescent Society also provided financial support. The meeting was attended by the leadership of 15 National Societies including: Kenya, South Africa, Libya, Somalia, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Sudan, Nigeria, and Uganda. The Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross was invited to observe and share lessons learned in Asia.

The first session focused on taking stock of the magnitude of crises facing the continent, such as the AIDS epidemic, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the African National Societies to cope. Among the strengths mentioned were the reputation of the Societies, the access to the network of the movement, deep experience and expertise of the local communities and contexts, a culture of values and partnership with governments. Prominent among the weaknesses were the lack of an African vision, inability to attract and retain top quality professional staff, inability to develop medium and long term strategies, lack of South-to-South cooperation, and the inability to mobilize in-country and regional resources and the inability to package and tell stories of success.

The session on working with governments highlighted the mixed messages inside the movement about working with governments. It was noted that while Northern Societies were encouraged to collaborate closely with their governments, African Societies were often discouraged from having close relationships with their governments. As a consequence, many African societies have not received significant funding or attention from their own governments. Representatives from the Kenyan government encouraged the African Societies to lobby their governments more effectively and to be more strategic with their media and messaging. The group expressed a desire to create a working group that would examine the relationship with governments more closely and develop strategies to obtain resources and attention from their governments.

The session on working with the private sector highlighted innovative strategies that various National Societies had used to raise resources from the private sector. It was agreed that the private sector in most countries represented an untapped resource, but in order to access the private sector the African National Societies had to articulate the value derived by both parties to the transaction. The private sector can offer skills, technology, in- kind resources and cash. However, they need to be persuaded of the value of the partnership. Marketing and communication efforts building the value of the brand make the National Society a more desirable partner to the private sector. Regular communications about the activities of the Society are effective in describing the need. Effective use of the media can showcase these partnerships and build more.

The discussion on working with external donors highlighted the complexities of the underlying issues. Some felt that donor National Societies often came to their countries with their own agendas, providing resources for programmes that were not needed or that were not priorities of the National Society. There were also situations where a country might have its own National Society, delegates from the IFRC, as well as bilateral offices from different donor National Societies, each with different agendas. This often weakened the level of trust and effectiveness of all parties. Further, since no African National Society could support its core costs, the agendas of the African National Societies were often dictated by donor National Societies. One best practice that was offered was to have an annual meeting of all the donors where the African National Society describes its agenda, and the donors collaboratively support different programs so that strategic goals are met.

Although the group felt a great affection and affiliation with the Federation Secretariat, it was also frustrated by the lack of voice of Africans at the international level, with disproportionately limited representation in management and decision making.

Moving The Agenda Forward: - The bulk of the second day was spent identifying and discussing specific next steps that could strengthen the network of African National Societies and promote collaboration, sharing of best practices and peer support. The group formed a network called "New Partnership for African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (NEPARC)" and issued a communiqué describing its intent (see Appendix 1).

The action items stemming from the meeting were:

  • To establish NEPARC as a formal network with Abbas Gullet as its focal point
  • To develop a coherent strategy to identify national and regional resources from governments and the private sector
  • To develop a strategy to increase awareness and visibility of the African National Societies through the use of media
  • To support the efforts of the Sudanese Red Crescent by providing support and recognition of its efforts in Darfur

As a partner to NEPARC, Fritz Institute has agreed to work with the network towards the achievement of the stated goals. The group agreed to meet in one year to evaluate its progress

Abbas Gullet, Mombasa, Kenya
Anisya Thomas, San Francisco, USA
September 4, 2004

Appendix 1

New Partnership for African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (NEPARC)

The 15 African National Societies (ANS) having met in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 7 and 8 acknowledge that:

We as part of the 54 AN Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (RCRC) are a critical component of the International RCRC Movement.

The support and partnerships we share with all national and international stakeholders continue to strengthen our efforts to reach the most vulnerable.

ANS continue to be the humanitarian partner of choice, both within and outside the RCRC Movement.

We further recognize that:

The African continent continues to be prone to adverse conditions that exacerbate the plight of the most vulnerable;

ANS have limited capacity to meet the growing complexities and challenges facing us in a competitive humanitarian environment;

The current crisis in the Federation and its diminishing ability to meet its mandate of supporting and coordinating the work of its National Societies, seriously affects our national, regional and global image and humanitarian service delivery.

We the undersigned therefore resolve to:

  • Redefine our vision, focus and priorities as key national partners and auxiliaries to our governments, in order to improve the lives of the most vulnerable efficiently and cost effectively
  • Create mechanisms to address regional weaknesses and concerns by:
    • Establishing an African RCRC network centre
    • Diversifying our funding base, focusing on the private sector and non-traditional partners
    • Improve our intra-continental networking
    • Increase awareness and visibility of ANS through global and local media
  • Become active partners to strengthen our Federation so that it is positioned as an honest broker, truly representative of all its membership and a key actor in the global humanitarian arena

We appreciate the initiative by Abbas Gullet and the support of the Fritz Institute and the Libyan Red Crescent and remain committed to continuing our New Partnership for African RCRC Societies (NEPARC) to better serve our vulnerable communities.

Appendix 2

List of Participants

Society Person Designation
Ethiopia Mr. Shimelis Adugna President
India Dr. Vimala Ramalingam Secretary General
Ivory Coast Mme Monique Coulibaly President
Kenya Mr. Paul Birech Governor
Libya Mr. Suleman Elegmary Secretary General
Libya Mr. Muftah Etwlib Director, International
Namibia Ms. Razia Kauaria Secretary General
Nigeria Mr. Emanuel Ijewere President
Rwanda Mr. Emanuel Ijewere Secretary General
Sierra Leone Dr. Mukhtar Jalloh President
Somalia Dr. Ahmed Hassan President
South Africa Ms. Mandisa K. Williams President
Sudan Mr. Omer Osman Secretary General
Tanzania Mr. Adam Omar Kimbisa Secretary General
Uganda Mr. Tom Buruku Chairman
Zambia Dr. Tito Fashi President
Zimbabwe Mrs. Emma Kundishora Secretary General
Fritz Institute Mr. Lynn Fritz Director General
Fritz Institute Dr. Anisya Thomas Managing Director
Facilitator Mr. Julius Kipngetich MD. IPC, Kenya
Facilitator Mr. John Geoghegan WS Foundation
Facilitator Mr. Abbas Gullet Treasurer Kenya RC.

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