Absent from the AU-EU Summit, the Voice of Civil Society


In 2007 in Lisbon, Heads of State and Governments adopted the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) at the second EU-Africa Summit. This overarching long-term framework strives to bring Africa and Europe closer together through the strengthening of economic cooperation and the promotion of sustainable development. The strategy is based on principles of ownership, partnership and solidarity and claims to be a people-centred partnership by recalling the need to involve civil society in all processes to achieve the objectives developed by the partnership.

Furthermore, to implement the JAES, a roadmap is developed every three years based on jointly identified, mutual and complementary interests. The current Roadmap will end in 2017 and to reshape the implementation of the JAES, heads of states and governments from Africa and Europe met at the 5th Africa-EU Summit from the 28-29 November 2017 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The JAES and its roadmap include references to the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Run-up to the Summit

Five months ahead of the Africa-EU Summit of Heads of States and Governments, Civil society organisations developed a joint declaration with key recommendations during the third Africa – EU Civil Society Forum which took place in Tunis (Tunisia) and where CBM was represented amongst 80 representatives from African and European civil society. In addition to many topics including the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, the joint declaration highlights the right for both African and European civil society organisations to work and collaborate freely, critically and independently to influence, implement and make accountable the decisions of this partnership as acknowledged by the joint Africa-EU Strategy. 

At the Summit

As at every Summit since 2007, representatives of civil society organisations from both Africa and Europe have been invited by the EU and the AU to present their views and recommendations to Heads of States at the Summit – stressing the importance of fostering a space for participation of civil society organisations on both continents. However, these representatives who had been invited and included in the official agenda to present their views at the Abidjan Summit were prevented from speaking at the last moment due to a veto from Algeria, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mali and Ivory Coast. For the first time since the creation of this partnership, civil society has not been able to speak at the Africa-EU Summit. Our exclusion sets a sad precedent in the seventeen years of history of this partnership and confirms the worrying trend of shrinking space for civil society. 

What does it mean for the disability movement?

This veto stresses the worrying trend of censorship against civil society organizations, which is problematic for CBM and for our partners who often face challenges to be included in all political discussions. This situation raises the following questions: How are we going to promote the need to include organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) in all political dialogues if there is no space for civil society? How are we going to promote the rights of persons with disabilities if officials are not listening to us? The JAES claims to be a people centered partnership; however, the scenario that took place at the last Abidjan Summit does not include the voice of the people. The benefit and the implementation of the partnership can be entirely questioned if regarding the rights of the most marginalised people including persons with disabilities are not even addressed. As civil society organisation, we need to protect our space because this is how we can protect our voice and the voice of those who need to be listened to such as DPOs. In that spirit, CBM has been supporting the press statement developed by CONCORD.