The Director General of Justice Sector Coordination in the Ministry of Justice Anastase Nabahire has called on Civil Society Organisations to be accountable and hold each other and the government accountable as part of the country’s long term goal to have a stronger and more vibrant civil society by 2024. He said this at a three day retreat in Rubavu that brought together 40 Civil Society Organisations and government where they discussed how they can work together to effectively contribute to the country’s laws and policies. Nabahire commended the work that civil society has put into research, citizen and government engagement but appealed for accountability to be the yardstick for improvement. “You can’t hold others accountable if you, yourself aren’t accountable. We all have a role to play. We are looking forward to seeing how your collaboration among each other and with the government will enhance the work you have done to even better standards,” he said. He reminded the participants that the government is committed to having a stronger and more vibrant civil society capable of engaging, influencing and holding accountable government officials by 2024. “Street demonstrations do not prove a proper working civil society. Instead it’s about ensuring that the citizens are well organized, well informed and engaging them while continuously discussing with government and public officials and influencing policy,” he said. Open debate The Spokesperson of the Civil Society Platform Dr. Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza called for more open debates which he said can greatly contribute to enhancing transparency, good governance and increased public debates on issues surrounding formulation of laws and policies. “We can’t make effective contributions unless we are open to debating constructively. That requires us not to censor ourselves and to freely debate. This is the only way that we can contribute to policy improvement,” he said. He reminded that the government’s plan to have a more vibrant society should find all the organisations ready. “We must sit and access and see how we can learn from each other to enhance the foundation that we stand on today. We need to reorganize ourselves, build systems and bring our corporate governance up to standard. The essence of such a retreat is to reflect on whether we are transparent enough to enhance good governance,” he said Funding CSOs Nkurunziza touched on the issue of Civil Society Organizations dependence on donor funding. “Government made a funding commitment to civil society organisations in 2016 but since then, we are still on the discussion level. Theres need for a direct funding line from government to support the work that we do,” he said. The Chairperson of the Pan African Movement Protais Musoni also touched on the funding issue saying that civil society organisations must start thinking of alternative ways of funding their work since the conditions set by foreign donors may not necessarily align with the priorities on the ground. Civil Society Organizations must be community oriented and should emphasize on mobilizing and engaging societies on how to be more solutions oriented and self-reliant, he said. The Executive Director of Health Development Initiative, one of the organisers of the retreat, Dr Aflodis Kagaba called for more active participation of civil society in the formulation of laws and policies. He said that the retreat was an opportunity to step up and effectively implement the civil society mandate of ensuring that the policies and laws that are being put in place respond to the needs of all the target beneficiaries and voices that they represent. “There are quite a number of reports that point to the inadequate contribution of civil society. We need to understand why. We cannot manage to keep in our comfort zones. We need to identify the gaps, share and openly discuss how we can fix them,” he said. The Head of Civil Society and Political Organisations at Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), Judith Kazaire pointed out that the contribution of civil society cannot be ignored as it has grown over the last two decades. However, she said that there are still some improvements that need to be made for civil society to perform better. “There are still some issues regarding compliance in terms of good governance best practices plus failure to conduct research among some civil society organisations. We are open to working together to see how we can further improve, she said. The retreat was organised by the Rwanda Civil Society Platform in partnership with Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy (GLIHD), Health Development Initiative (HDI), Ihorerere Munyarwanda Organisation (IMRO) and Rwanda NGOs Forum for HIV/AIDS and Health Promotion.