The Two Faces of Civil Society: NGOs and Politics in Africa

The Two Faces of Civil Society: NGOs and Politics in Africa

The Two Faces of Civil Society: NGOs and Politics in Africa

The Two Faces of Civil Society: NGOs and Politics in Africa

Synopsis

A comparative study of two Kenyan NGOs demonstrates the different roles organizations can assume in the context of contemporary African politics.

Excerpt

This book examines how nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as part of civil society, contribute to democratization in Africa and what conditions facilitate or inhibit their contributions. Although much has been written about how civil society organizations, including NGOs, have significantly altered state-society relations in Africa over the last decade, we understand little about how this process unfolds, its determinants, and its limits. Based on comparative case studies of local NGOs in Kenya, I argue that for NGOs and other organizations in civil society to advance democratization (for instance, through successful opposition to state control of civic activities), four conditions must obtain: organization, resources, alliances, and political opportunity. However, as will be evident in the case studies presented, these conditions are not sufficient, especially at the level of individual NGOs, where a discrepancy emerges between the actions of two similar NGOs placed in similar circumstances: one actively advocating political pluralism, and the other remaining politically obtuse.

This evidence of the "two faces" of civil society strikes at the heart of the thesis that civil society organizations such as NGOs necessarily invest their resources in support of democratization efforts. Even more troubling, I suggest, is that an important determinant of whether a well-endowed NGO is transformed into an activist organization is whether the organization's leadership -- often very personalized chooses to commit its resources to a progressive political agenda. Indeed, of the two NGOs studied, it is the more institutionalized one that when faced with clear opportunities to engage the state in ways that would advance the democratic ferment in Kenya remains aloof, even as its own grassroots clients agitate independently. The two faces of civil society revealed in this book and the centrality of "personal rule" to political agitation in civil society suggest the need to reexamine present assumptions about the real and potential contributions of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.