Exposure to corruption inspires a student to act
Young activist builds career to raise status of women and better future for her country
Family tragedy prompts career built on correcting wrongs
When Ange Zokou was 11 years old, her grandfather was hospitalized for a heart attack and never returned home. It wasn’t until years later that Ange learned the full story.
“In our hospitals, many people die because the doctor wants to have the money before (treatment),” she said. “My grandfather died like that.”
Then, when she attended university, Ange soon learned that corruption even seeped into higher education. “There were many children of rich and powerful authorities at our school, and I’d hear them say, ‘I don’t have to take an exam, I’ll just pay to get a good grade, and after that my father will get me a place in his office.’”
Now 24, Ange recalls how those experiences inspired her to become an activist. “People can pay to succeed at many things – I had never seen that before. I was very shocked, and I wanted to find a way to correct this,” she said.
So, after earning her bachelor’s degree in political science, she started to search for an organization to work with. She soon found a youth organization and for the last year, has been an active member of the group, working in schools to run good government clubs. The organization’s vision is “to build a society without corruption.”
Coalitions and budget knowledge builds strength
The International Budget Partnership (IBP) introduced her group to focusing on budget issues through a summer workshop with other civil society organizations. It helped her see the power of coalitions and delve more deeply into how budget analysis can lead to power and real change.
“It was great – we learned to not just see the budget numbers, but how to find information when we need it, and how to calculate and analyze and really understand our country’s budget,” she said.
IBP’s Djibril Badiane of Senegal led the workshop along with Côte d’Ivoire partner, Social Justice. They invited a group of 15 organizations from different sectors to learn about budget work and to find common ground and common purpose.
Badiane said an important outcome of the workshop was that it was the first time the organizations connected their work to budgets and that they committed to working together as a coalition to advance their goals. Badiane has seen how effective coalitions can be at pushing for service delivery improvements through his work in Senegal.
“We showed them that if they work together as a coalition, they can be more involved and more close to how government works,” Badiane said. IBP and Social Justice also connected the coalition to local donors and gave them insights on how to work and connect with the European Commission, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, all dedicated supporters of greater transparency and inclusion in budgets.
Social Justice’s Constant-Joël Yoboué Kouakou, who co-led the workshop, said that in the past, civil society groups in Côte d’Ivoire have informally worked together on several areas of mutual interest, including corruption, transparency, and good governance. The summer workshop was a catalyst to build on that to create a more formal coalition. “One tree doesn’t make a forest,” he said. “In unity there is strength.”
“Coalitions are more effective to make your voice heard with the government,” Constant-Joël added. “We used (IBP’s coalition experience in Senegal) as a model for the workshops to build that platform in Côte d’Ivoire.”
At the end of the workshop, the organizations drafted a joint advocacy work plan with a specific time frame and resources and identified which actors they would be targeting to accomplish their goals.
Social Justice’s Constant-Joël said that many in civil society throughout Africa do not have the knowledge or are not aware of the usefulness of budgets and how to leverage them for advocacy goals. So, upon completion of the workshop, “my personal feeling was a feeling of joy,” he said. “We were able to share our knowledge with our brothers and sisters in civil society so they can use it to improve development progress in Côte d’Ivoire.”
Envisioning a brighter future for women
Two of the organizations that attended the workshop focus on women and gender issues, but many others that were in the room are critical to making progress on gender equity. Women’s access to education, health, and many other services affect progress in the country – but there is no line item for gender in the Côte d’Ivoire’s budget, Badiane told the group during the workshop. Which is another reason working as a coalition will help with gender mainstreaming, he said. “They each had experience working within their specific sector and knew their issues, but it’s not enough,” Badiane said. Once coalition members do budget analysis on their different sectors, they can bring that analysis back to the coalition to paint a much broader picture of where there are gaps and forge a path forward for joint advocacy on issues like mainstreaming gender analysis into work on different sectors.
For Ange, who is now studying organization and project management, she is brimming with excitement about future work in budget advocacy. She also works with other groups and is passionate about ensuring that more women in Côte d’Ivoire earn an education, especially in fields where the country needs more specialists and which are currently dominated by men, like engineering and politics.
What is holding women back? For some, she says, it’s the fact that advanced degrees are unaffordable. For most, she believes, it is pervasive sexism.
“Women do not really have great standing in our country. This is an idea transmitted from generation to generation. Many men still think our place is in the kitchen and women are afraid to fight.”
Ange, however, wants to break these norms and help other women do so too. “My parents encouraged me to do whatever I want to do and be whoever I want to be,” she said. “I’m not afraid – I’m really not afraid.”
Ange may only be one year into budget advocacy work, but she is hopeful and optimistic about her country’s future, and her role as a woman in the next generation of leaders.
And after the experience of the workshop, she is raring to go. “I thought, this is not just a workshop. Now we can be organized and really do work on the budget and fight against corruption together all at the same time. I was very excited and just want to work, work, work!”