Civil Society Organizations have, over the years played an increasingly influential role in promoting social and economic change in Cameroon. They have influenced, in no small measure, local and national policy-formulation and in certain instances, taken over roles and duties that traditionally belong to the government. In addition, due to their watchdog status, CSOs have become key players in the democratic movement, demanding high standards of transparency and accountability from government.
The increasing influence of CSOs has also raised concerns around transparency, legitimacy, accountability and general good management practices on the part of CSOs themselves. In short, many CSOs struggle to gain credibility. Some CSOs have been created with a hidden objective of raising funds for individuals and their family, rather than to fund work on social issues in the community. There is also the issue of consultancy firms existing in the guise of CSOs thus making it difficult to distinguish between organizations doing work on a non-profit basis and those who are consultants or service providers. Furthermore, there are examples of persons who create a CSO, yet act like an obstacle to the CSO movement by virute of the relationship they have with other actors in government and donor agencies.
From 2008, the Action Group on Governance and Environmental Management (AGGEM), a thematic group of the Civil Society Umbrella organization under the North West Association of Development Organizations (NWADO) attempted to tackle issues around legitimacy, accountability and transparency (LAT) in Cameroon. This comprised conducting research through Civil Society dialogue forums and questionnaires following examination of Civil Society Codes of Ethics from other contexts similar to Cameroon. Transparency and the signaling of quality were the issues most raised. In response a code of ethics was developed after a broad-based national civil society consultation.
This code (in French and English), outlines rules of behaviors that should govern the operation and management of CSOs. In particular, it details values and principles, and lays the ground rules for elements of acceptable conduct in human resources and financial management, accountability, communication and networking, conflicts of interest and other governance issues. This is the first example of a bottom-driven self-regulatory initiative to promote genuine respect for democratic principles between and amongst civil society organizations in Cameroon. At the time of publishing, there are 100 adherents to the Cameroon CSO Code of Ethics.
Efforts have been made to ensure the code is active and does not end up as another document gathering dust on the shelves of CSOs. There is a strong need to dispel the fears of many non-adherents who simply view the code as another layer of regulation and fear sanctions in the event of non-compliance. AGGEM is thus looking at the best strategies to move the code from written rules to effective enforcement (with strong anti-corruption provisions) in participating organizations that voluntarily adhere through third party intervention.
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This blog post was written by Eric Ngang, Founder/CEO of Action Group on Governance and Environmental Management (AGGEM). Eric is also Special Correspondent (Global Environment & Climate Change) at Global South Development Magazine (GSDM) and a PhD researcher/Lecturer at the ICT University in Cameroon.