Why is it critical for civil society to engage in the AfDB Integrated Safeguard System Review?

The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) review of its 2013 Integrated Safeguard System (ISS) is a key opportunity for civil society to advocate for the AfDB to adopt stronger safeguards. The AfDB must revise their safeguards to fully protect Africans and their environment from harms caused by their project by meeting the highest international standards for development finance. Civil society organizations should plan to fully engage in the consultative process, including through written submissions and participation in consultations.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) is undertaking a review of its 2013 Integrated Safeguard System (ISS), following the Independent Development Evaluation (IDEV) assessment of the effectiveness of the ISS in meeting its objectives. The IDEV report recommended updating specific components and provisions of the ISS as well as improving its implementation to better address emerging safeguards issues. This review presents a crucial opportunity for civil society to engage with the AfDB and advocate for it to bring its safeguards system into alignment with the highest international standards, including by adding a stakeholder engagement policy. BIC and our partners from Africa and beyond have already called for the AfDB to develop a process that is transparent and inclusive of all stakeholders and outlined the steps the institution should take to enable meaningful engagement with civil society. While the AfDB has not made the process as open as we would like, we still believe it is critical to engage and call on civil society to join us and actively participate in the ISS review process.

What are safeguards and why do they matter? 

Social and environmental safeguards play a key role in the development process driven by Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). Safeguards are a system of required rules or standards that serve to identify, mitigate, prevent, and reduce potential negative impacts associated with MDB development projects and programs. Those borrowing from MDBs, including governments and private actors, are obligated to comply with the MDB’s safeguards in order to receive MDB financing. Safeguards also provide an opportunity for civil society to hold the MDBs accountable for harms their projects cause to communities and the environment, thereby making civil society organizations (CSOs) a key partner in the review, implementation, and monitoring processes of safeguards frameworks. 

BIC and our partners have experience participating in other MDBs’ safeguard reviews and have been successful in strengthening the final policies at these institutions. The ISS review presents an opportunity for civil society to advocate for the AfDB to adopt stronger safeguards that reflect the goals of the AfDB as well as fulfill the needs and rights of the people, communities, and regional member countries with whom it collaborates.

How can civil society participate in the ISS review process? 

The AfDB recently announced that the ISS review will include a 45-day comment period and one synchronous consultation meeting with civil society organizations. To participate in this process, civil society can:

  1. Attend capacity building sessions on the ISS and emerging issues to be able to engage the AfDB from an informed point of view. BIC has started holding information sharing webinars for CSOs so they can strategize together and coordinate messaging to engage the AfDB and advocate for priority issues during the consultation process. BIC already held sessions in late 2021 with West and East African CSO partners on the current ISS, IDEV report, emerging safeguards issues, and best practices for engaging the AfDB so that CSOs can meaningfully participate in the upcoming review process. If you are interested in joining such a session, please contact BIC’s Africa Coordinator, Phiona Nampungu.  
  2. Sign up for BIC’s thematic working groups on the ISS. BIC is hosting smaller working groups focusing on thematic areas around the ISS and how these can be improved during the review. These issue areas include: stakeholder engagement, disability inclusion, child rights, and the environment and climate change. CSOs with expertise in these areas will come together to make recommendations to the AfDB on how the ISS can be improved in these areas to better serve the communities and the environment. Please contact Phiona Nampungu to sign up for the thematic working groups.
  3. Join the AfDB Working Group and regional CSO coalitions. The Coalition for Human Rights in Development, Lumière Synergie pour le Développement, and other BIC partners are organizing a campaign advocating for the AfDB to improve stakeholder engagement across its ongoing policy reviews including the ISS review, and in its operations. The AfDB CSO working group will also be organizing meetings with different AfDB offices working on the ISS, including Executive Directors, to advocate for stronger safeguards. CSOs that would like to join the working group can send an email to tagbahey@rightsindevelopment.org.  
  4. Share examples of AfDB-financed projects that have caused harm to communities and the environment, and use these examples to substantiate the need for stronger safeguards. During the review, CSOs can use case studies in which the AfDB and borrower violated the ISS and the ISS was too weak to protect the communities and the environment from project-associated harms. Such case studies are key advocacy tools.
  5. Contact AfDB home and regional offices about CSO consultations on the ISS review. AfDB’s recently-announced consultation plan limits consultation with civil society to a single phase of the process, once a draft has already been developed and cleared by the AfDB Board Committee on Development Effectiveness, and does not include regional and country-level consultations with civil society. Civil society has criticized the AfDB’s limited consultation plans with civil society. Let the AfDB know that this process does not allow sufficient time or space to hear from CSOs and communities by contacting your country office. CSOs can access country office contacts here
  6. Check the AfDB’s website for updates on the ISS review and a public call for comments and feedback. The AfDB will update its News and Events Website with information on the ISS review, consultation schedules, and call for public comments and feedback. CSOs can engage the AfDB using this channel to provide feedback and make recommendations for stronger safeguards. 

Representing the voices of local communities and marginalized groups, CSOs are integral to the development process and hold MDBs, such as the AfDB, accountable to the communities they serve. A coordinated civil society effort to engage the AfDB and advocate for an improved and strengthened ISS is necessary to promote inclusive development and enhance development outcomes. 

For more information on the ISS review and how you can get involved, please contact Phiona Nampungu, pnampungu@bankinformationcenter.org.