• Ayenda conference reveals a thriving civil society

Ayenda conference reveals a thriving civil society

15 December 2014

“We have created a better Afghanistan today and are on the right course to achieving even more.

We are a new democracy but an old civilisation, a poor country but a rich culture, a nation caught in conflict, but at peace with our shortcomings.”

So started the Ayenda Conference on 3rd December 2014.  The above lines from Jawed Nader’s key note speech set the tone for the lively discussions, opinions and questions from a diverse gathering of professionals invested in the future of Afghanistan.   Approximately 250 attended the 4 hour conference in central London. These included our 57 Afghan civil society delegates, numerous donor country officials, representatives of the British government, various international NGOs, academics and think tank researchers and specialists and the Afghan diaspora.

Our conference included 2 panel discussions, for which panellists came from Afghan and international civil society, Afghan ministries and the British and international governments.

‘Mechanisms for the Future’ focused on good governance, economic development and service delivery. The panellists addressed the expectations now placed on the Government of Afghanistan and the international community: that there will be reforms that strengthen democratic institutions, that both men and women will be included in decision making, a transparent government and merit based appointments, the tackling of poverty, corruption and the removal of the culture of impunity. 

While there have been real improvements in service delivery better quality basic services are needed if the health, education and welfare of the population are to be safeguarded.  Investment in economic development, with larger scale projects and robust frameworks, will be required to develop a licit and sustainable economy.

‘People for the Future’ focused on three key groups to involve in the future of Afghanistan: women, youth and civil society.  There is untapped potential in both Afghan women and the youth of the country: both groups should play a full role in society, with access to quality education, to vocational training and job opportunities. Civil society development has been impressive; it is well organized and making a difference, and could now benefit from co-ordination, recognition and long term international support. Panellists enforced an expectation that both the Government of Afghanistan and the international community will meet the commitments they have signed up to.  The Afghan Government have promised there will be four women in the new Cabinet and more shelters will be opened with the help of civil society.  The continuing support of the British government was reaffirmed, just as it had been at the Oslo Symposium last month where the First Lady of Afghanistan advised Afghan women ‘It is your future, shape it or someone else will’.

The final session of the Ayenda Conference saw the two official Civil Society Spokespeople deliver the recommendations of their peers.  These included the role of civil society to be recognised and respected, for women to be accepted in positions of authority and leadership and for the strengthening of democratic institutions. 

The British and Afghan governments then responded.  For the British, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development stated she is personally committed to civil society and women’s rights are a top priority for her.  It is necessary for women’s rights to go hand in hand with development. The CEO of Afghanistan, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, then pledged reform across the board with Cabinet appointments based on merit.  He stated ‘Over the past 13 years we have achieved important milestones.  I say with full conviction, no achievement has been more important than the emergence of a vibrant, proactive civil society’.  He called the sector ‘our strength, a ray of hope for the future.’

Feedback from the Ayenda Conference has been positive.  Afghan delegates commented that it provided a very important platform to raise Afghan voices and for consolidating the role of civil society.  BAAG were commended for bringing delegates from various provinces, whilst Dr Abdullah’s engagement with civil society was a great success.

More importantly, follow up is underway in Afghanistan.  The delegates are arranging a press conference and there have been discussions of their further meetings with government officials.  Thoughts now turn to the Senior Officials Meeting in 2015 and civil society’s role in that.  Thanking the delegates for their involvement, Elizabeth Winter stated in the conference closing comments ‘we will watch you fly, as we have no doubt you will’.


The various speeches from the Ayenda conference, the London Conference official communique and audio and videos of the event can be found on the website.