OSISA End of Year Statement: Endings and Beginnings
Endings and Beginnings
And so another year comes to an end. Yet, with no end in sight, the COVID-19 pandemic continues on its devastating path. The emergence and detection (thank you South Africa!) of variants such as Omicron serve as painful reminders of how Africa continues to be left behind in this fight despite providing the world with crucial learning moments. Recent travel bans on southern Africa (now lifted by United Kingdom) are unhelpful and only serve to perpetuate the myth of a continent struggling to cope with the virus. The irony, of course, is that the very same countries imposing these restrictions on Africans are hoarding vaccines and their reluctance to push for waivers on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in relation to the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines is causing global inequity and therefore prolonging the pandemic.
At the same time, persisting challenges across southern African States are not making the situation easier as the weaknesses and shortcomings of most governments have been exposed. The failure by these governments to proactively resolve social, economic and political crises – all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic – points to looming instability in the coming years. This is a major concern given the significant shift towards authoritarianism currently taking place in some countries the region. Also of concern is that several corporate entities, especially Big Business, are profiteering from exploiting the poorest citizens, not meeting their human rights obligations and escaping accountability altogether, aided and abetted by the same authoritarian governments. It is an untenable situation and something has to give. As the late poet, Kofi Awonoor once warned through his poem, ‘The First Circle’:
So this is the abscess that hurts the nation –
jails, torture, blood and hunger.
One day it will burst; it must burst.
OSISA is Transforming
I would also like to inform you of the changes currently happening across the Open Society Foundations (OSF), of which the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) is part. As they come into effect, these changes will reshape our strategy, focus, approach and ways of working, including our grantmaking approaches.
At a global level, OSF is adjusting to the current social, economic and political context. In Africa, particularly, this adjustment is occurring within a context of rising authoritarianism, COVID-19, fragile States, elite capture of key political and economic processes, regressing civic space, gender injustice and state insecurity and ideological geo-political battles. Hence, our response is to contribute towards building and defending a globally-assertive, vibrant and integrated continent characterized by democratic governance, sustainable development, and economic systems that deliver more just, inclusive, and accountable outcomes with, and for the people and the environment in Africa.
To achieve this ambition, we are merging into one organizational unit the five OSF entities currently operating across Africa: Africa Regional Office (AfRO), Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA), Open Society Initiative Western Africa (OSIWA), Open Society Foundations for South Africa (OSF-SA) and OSISA. Not only will this merger prime us for achieving our ambitions, it will also result in the creation of a lean, highly efficient, and cost-effective pan-African organization that prioritizes impact by availing even more resources to the field. Our approaches and tools will include grant-making; research and knowledge-building; convenings and issue-based collaborations; advocacy, communications, and campaigns; direct technical assistance; use of culture, arts and working with creatives; learning; strategic litigation and impact investment.
What does this mean for OSISA?
The merger into a single entity means OSISA will no longer exist as we all know it. Going forward, therefore, our work in southern Africa will be managed by OSF-Africa, the new entity. Hence, 2022 is our year of transition and we are committed to ensuring a smooth, responsible and accountable transition.
OSF-Africa’s strategy is anchored on four (4) pillars: Accountability and Justice, Opportunity and Equity, Participation and Expression, and Security and Rights. There will be cross-cutting programs, including units with a dedicated focus on Policy, Advocacy and Engagement as well as Women’s Rights and Youth. We will also become more intentional in our shared learning and impact assessment; grantmaking, partnerships and compliance, and operations.
This is both an exciting and challenging time for all of us at OSISA. We are convinced, however, that this is a transformation process we needed to pursue given the nature of our work and our ever-evolving operational context as a I have described it above. Our Partners and other key stakeholders have been informed of the changes taking place and we will continue to provide information at regular intervals.
On a Personal Note
It has been an immense pleasure and source of inspiration for me to lead OSISA since 2013. I am grateful to our brave Partners who are always on the frontlines, defending open society values, oftentimes at significant personal cost. You all make the work we do worthwhile. I am also grateful to our Board which has steered and provided a clear vision and oversight of our organisation and to my team – past and present – who have all shown dedication, diligence and commitment to our work. My gratitude, also, for all the support, affirmation and encouragement I have received as I, together with my partners, resist the illegal seizure of our farm by the Zimbabwe government.
As we end 2021 and look ahead to 2022, it is quite clear that the physical, financial and spiritual demands on all of us who work to confront autocracy, injustice, climate change and similar struggles will only increase. May I encourage you, therefore, to pause, rest and reset during this holiday period. Practicing self-care is, in itself, a revolutionary act as Audre Lorde taught us.
We are back in office on 4th January 2022. Until then, please take care and stay safe.
Executive Director, OSISA