Let’s Talk! Conversations with advocates across Africa

Collaborative advocacy between civil society organisations, media and governments has led to actions for better health for girls, women and newborns. In this blog, we share parts of a dynamic question and answer (Q&A) session by coalition representatives, David and Samuel from Kenya and Chibuike and Ayo from Nigeria. They share experiences on their advocacy journey highlighting and insights from working in coalitions. Each Q&A is followed by a reflection from E4A-MamaYe.

Q. What did your advocacy look like before you joined the coalition?

David Odhiambo: “Before my organisation joined the Nairobi based Maternal and Newborn Health (MNH) Coalition in the year 2020, we could not tell really where our focus was. As a Community Based Organisation (CBO) we did a lot of social mobilisation activities supporting implementation of some Non-Governmental Organisation work.”

The situation highlighted by David, is similar for many Community Based Organisations (CBOs) across the world. How then can these groups position themselves to become the real drivers of change and identify their own priority issues for engagement with governments? Three years ago, we built the capacity of advocates to use best practices so that they would join forces with others to identify and achieve the issues that are a priority for women and girls in their locality realise sustainable change. Recently, our project team released the Guide to Coalition Building, as an important resource for civil society groups that want to form new coalitions or want to strengthen their existing coalitions. The interactive guide is linked to a depository of resources that guide advocates at different stages in coalition building.

David Odhiambo: “Our efforts were constantly unsuccessful because of the lack of evidence in our interventions which at times affected the credibility of our work.”

A key lesson we learnt was how civil society organisations were often unwelcome in government offices. Fostering a good working relationship was important. Government is the custodian of data which civil society needs to track progress. At the same time, civil society advocates can play an important role for government, by providing them with evidence on what health issues need to be prioritised.

Q. Has there been any change in how you work since being part of a coalition?

Samuel Nakitare: “Now we can see results of our advocacy efforts. By working in a coalition, we identify priority issues that are in line with each of our individual organisations and use evidence to develop messages outlining the problem at hand.”

In a coalition, advocates harness the different strengths’ that different members bring. Samuel refers to how they use the skills of different members to generate, analyse, visualise, and package evidence to inform their engagements with and demands to key decision makers.

  • LASAM Coalition members discussion in Lagos, Nigeria
  • Bungoma RMNCAH Network members discussion in Kenya
  • MNH Coalition members discussion in Nairobi, Kenya

Q. What are some of your experiences in advocacy that are worth sharing- especially during the period in which you have been engaging as a coalition?

Chibuike Amaechi: “I have learnt that advocacy is a painstaking process. On many occasions we were strategising. It requires patience and consistence. Now I understand the most strategic ways to influence the most powerful decision makers and bring about change using tools such as scorecards, evidence briefs and stakeholder analysis.”

Chibuike is a member of the Lagos State Accountability Mechanism for Maternal Newborn Child and Adolescent Health (LASAM). This is one of the coalitions that was supported longest and one that has done remarkably well in producing scorecards since the year 2016 to advocate for zero stock-out of family planning commodities. LASAM has been persistent in its advocacy and has worked to address very complex issues that required regular adaptation and with results that are not achieved over a short time.

The health budget for Lagos state increased from 6.33% in 2017 to 12.32% in 2020 and for the first time, a dedicated FP budget line was established and allocated 50M Naira in 2017 which has been maintained up to date. Chibuike Amaechi, LASAM Coalition

The advocacy handbook developed by E4A-MamaYe is often mentioned as a useful resource for the coalitions. Through a practical ‘political economy analysis’ (PEA) approach they deploy effective advocacy approaches in engaging decision makers anchored around building partnerships, thinking, and working politically and using evidence.

Q. What challenges does the coalition face and how do you navigate around these?

Barrister Ayo Adebusoye: “Given the political landscapes of the regions, changes in those who hold political power interrupts our efforts to monitor and track advocacy commitments and progress. Continually thinking and working politically we work to retain political buy in for our advocacy interventions.”

As we look into the future, we hope lessons learnt by advocacy coalitions in Nigeria and Kenya can be scaled across Africa. Our goal is to build a strong movement of advocates to jointly work to save lives of girls, women and babies. These advocates using evidence claim their place in decision making spaces and inform dialogues with those with the power to affect change. The coalitions we support will play a leading role in teaching their peers and sharing of what works with many more civil society organisations across Africa.

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