Spotlight On…Social Watch Benin

This month´s “Spotlight On…” column will profile Social Watch Benin, currently one of the most vibrant groups of Watchers in francophone Africa. As a signal of its success, the Beninese coalition was featured as one of the case studies in the new Social Watch publication “Learning from Successful Experiences”, and in addition will play host to the next meeting of the Social Watch Coordinating Committee, programmed for July 17-19 in Cotonou.

Social Watch Benin is an initiative that came into existence in 2005, in the context of a seminar to promote transparency and good governance practices in the fight against poverty. This seminar was organized by local NGO Soeurs Unies a 1’Oeuvre, together with five other like-minded Beninese civil society organizations and with the support of the Dutch development agency SNV and UNDP. These local organizations thus became the “founders” of Social Watch Benin, with SNV offering financial and technical support to the fledgling coalition of Watchers. Today, Social Watch Benin is a network that involves over 130 NGOs, with a national office and local-level committees in 12 distinct municipalities, allowing the coalition to work on both coordinated country-wide actions as well as more decentralized initiatives.

In its brief four years of existence, Social Watch Benin has managed to achieve notable recognition from the national government, intergovernmental agencies, and its peers in Beninese civil society, for its work in monitoring the implementation of local development and poverty reduction policies. In particular, SW Benin investigates how government commitments to reach the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and the benchmarks set out in its Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) are being translated into concrete actions, looking specifically at how corruption, a poorly-trained civil service, and the lack of internal and external checks-and-balances are holding back governmental efforts to improve the wellbeing of its citizens. This means that the Beninese coalition has embarked on initiatives ranging from conducting community-based inquiries into the possible misappropriation of funds earmarked for education, health care, and sanitation in certain municipalities, to the coordination of civil society participation in the formulation of the second PRSP, launched in March of 2007. In addition, SW Benin carries out activities related to the monitoring of the State budget, having participated in 2006 and 2007 in a consultation process initiated by the Finance Committee of the National Assembly, and also collaborates in capacity-building processes related to economic, social and cultural rights and womens’ rights.

SW Benin recognizes that building public awareness of issues related to poverty is key in eliminating this social evil, therefore its media outreach efforts are an essential component of its work together with its research and advocacy tasks. For four consecutive years, the coalition has published annual alternative reports analysing governmental efforts to comply with the MDGs, whose launch has attracted the attention of local journalists, governmental officials, and representatives of intergovernmental agencies working in Benin. The most recent report was launched recently in March of this year. Additionally, SW Benin has produced three documentaries as well as radio and television spots on Benin´s progress towards the MDGs, which have been broadcast extensively throughout the nation.

Despite its relatively recent entry into the Social Watch network, the Beninese coalition has played an important role in promoting the SW initiative not only nationally but also throughout francophone Africa. The coalition has contributed national reports on Benin to the global SW Report annually since 2005, and has also represented the network in various events such as the World Social Forum and the upcoming UN Conference on the Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impacts on Development. Through the organization of regional workshops and consultations, SW Benin stimulates public policy monitoring initiatives in other West African countries, and in particular has helped create SW national groups in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is hoped that the continued efforts of SW Benin, combined with the publication in French of the global Social Watch Report this year, will lead to both an enhanced presence of SW in francophone Africa as well as to a strengthening of civil society in general in the region.

For more information on Social Watch Benin, please see: