06 Creating Accountability

Holding the powerful accountable. Young environmental activists from Fridays for the Future and Extinction Rebellion protest against climate change outside the South African Parliament. Credit: Miles Giljam

People are sinful and imperfect. We all fail at some stage, even if we have good intentions. There are always people who oppose change, and others who will deliberately exploit people and opportunities for personal gain. Movements need ways to maintain internal discipline, influence change in others and hold wrongdoers accountable.

A number of the areas mentioned under building agency, such as discipleship and the development of appropriate institutions, will play an important role in creating accountability, in addition to the areas outlined below. You can also read more in Shift 6: From self-interest to ethical leadership on pg. 50.

3.1 Advocacy and activism
Advocacy and activism are movement techniques that are effective when working for change from outside an institution of power.

Advocacy is about “seeking with, and on behalf of, the poor to address underlying causes of poverty, bring justice and support good development through influencing the policies and practices of the powerful.” Christians have an opportunity to unite with a voice that prophetically declares truth to challenge injustice, and a pastoral voice for healing and unity.

It is critical that any advocacy be done alongside, not simply on behalf of, the poor, oppressed and vulnerable. No policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the groups affected by that policy. Such advocacy requires that we first organise by:

a. Building continental coalitions around key advocacy topics in order to create spaces for grassroots activists to influence national and continental policy, to establish narratives, and to help align local efforts for greater impact.

b. Supporting activists being threatened by violence or arrest for legitimate activism or advocacy.

c. Developing capacity-sharing structures and training for emerging grassroots activists.

d. Creating legal capacity to challenge injustice through the court system.

The Malawi Creation Care Network marched around the country against plastic pollution in support of a legal challenge to outlaw the manufacture of thin plastic bags. Thin plastic bags are now illegal in Malawi! Credit: Martijn Baudoin/Unsplash

3.2 Clear demands and a concrete plan
To keep ourselves accountable we need to be clear about our plans and demands. This report is a start in creating a conversation around a set of clear demands and some suggestions for where concrete plans can be made, even though these plans must remain flexible to adjust to contextual changes or the addition of new partners.

This clarity aligns implementation approaches, even in the absence of coercive leadership. Sadly the church often struggles with execution, especially collaborative execution. We must honour our stirring sermons and brilliant theology, but must also focus on formulating and delivering clear advocacy demands and concrete, workable project plans. This will probably require inviting leaders from business, politics and civil society into our planning and execution teams. We will need to shift some cultural expectations and let go of some control to do this, but the new skills will help deliver the movement’s objectives.

3.3 Culture of review and measurement
We need to develop a culture and systems of review and measurement to ensure that we are constantly learning and improving our practices. Too often the church has been guilty of declaring victory and moving on without actually measuring success or only showing success through anecdotal stories. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves, our congregations and our donors to be able to have the moral authority to demand similar accountability from government and other sectors.

Preparation and persistence as we move
When Noah obeyed God and started building the ark he was widely ridiculed. Yet he persisted against the odds, and eventually, when faced with the crisis of rain, his preparation paid off. Much of movement building is understanding what is needed in the future and preparing in line with that vision, even if you are ignored and ridiculed, so that when a crisis happens or the wave of the Spirit moves, you are well positioned to catch the wave and partner in what God is doing.

Operating in these cycles of preparation and change takes persistence. One cycle is rarely enough to secure our objectives. We are dreaming about building a movement to change a continent – that usually happens over multiple generations. Think again of Moses and Joshua. After every success or failure, preparation must begin again. And the cycle must be repeated over and over. We need to connect to the work of our spiritual mothers and fathers, persist in our own work and raise up the leaders who will complete our work once we are gone.

If we are faithful and courageous then we may be blessed to see the shifts needed for our dreams of an Abundant Africa to become a reality.