A More Inclusive Global Governance? the IMF and Civil Society in Africa

By Scholte, Jan Aart | Global Governance, April-June 2012 | Go to article overview

A More Inclusive Global Governance? the IMF and Civil Society in Africa


Scholte, Jan Aart, Global Governance


Does engagement with civil society generate more inclusive global governance? This article examines that question in the context of relations between the International Monetary Fund and civil society organizations in six countries of sub-Saharan Africa. IMF exchanges with CSOs in this region have indeed brought some new voices into global governance. However, the overall scale and depth of these connections has remained modest. Moreover, such engagement as has developed has generally favored geographically, socioeconomically, and culturally privileged constituencies. These limitations to, and hierarchies of, access and influence in IMF-CSO relations have resulted from a combination of: personal qualities of the individuals involved, institutional attributes of both the IMF and CSOs, and deeper structures of contemporary global politics. Attention to these various circumstances could yield greater inclusion. KEYWORDS: Africa, civil society, global governance, International Monetary Fund.

MUCH DISCUSSION ABOUT BUILDING MORE DEMOCRATIC GLOBAL GOVERNANCE has focused on the role of civil society. Many scholars and practitioners have posited that civil society activities present a formidable "voice of the people" for global regimes. (1) More broadly, cosmopolitan theorists have extolled the democratic virtues of citizen mobilization in a "global civil society" of "global deliberative spaces" within a "global public sphere." (2) Other analysts have made more cautious assessments. For example, some have suggested that the degree of civil society contributions to democratic global governance depends on contextual circumstances. (3) Meanwhile, more skeptical readings in Gramscian and poststructuralist veins have argued that civil society can be a co-opted force that hegemonically legitimates repressive neoliberal global governance. (4)

What does the actual record on the ground suggest following two decades of increased interactions between civil society organizations (CSOs) and global governance institutions? In particular, how far have civil society channels provided greater access and impact in global policymaking for constituencies who have tended otherwise to go unheard such as people of the Global South, rural populations, underclasses, women, and non-Western cultures? What circumstances have enabled and/or obstructed civil society organizations to provide increased recognition, respect, voice, and influence for marginalized circles in global governance?

Surprisingly, perhaps, this key issue of more democratic global politics has received little research attention. True, notable literature on relations between civil society associations and global governance agencies has appeared since the mid-1990s. (5) Much of my own work of this period has explored the forms, promptings, and policy implications of these interchanges. (6) Yet the specific question of inequalities with respect to civil society involvement in global regulation has not gone beyond loose comment. Intuition suggests that hierarchies of civil society access to global governance could compromise what some have dubbed "associational" and "stakeholder" democracy. (7) However, systematic detailed analysis of inclusion/exclusion in these interactions has barely begun. (8)

And these matters are significant. For one thing, it is to the intrinsic good of human dignity that people should have a say in the politics that shape their lives, including through global governance. In addition, recognition and voice for marginalized groups can promote effectiveness in global public policy in terms of bringing into consideration otherwise missing or underplayed issues, information, perspectives, proposals, and critiques. Thus, for example, listening to farmers could help counter an urban bias in mainstream development policy, and empowering women could help counter disproportionate female poverty. More inclusive relations with publics can also enhance democratic legitimacy and, hence, political support for the substantial role that is needed of global regulation in today's more global world. …

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