Consensus and conflicts in civil society

Experience from Africa (and the rest of the world) has given many examples of a Civil society not necessarily good in itself. In some cases civil society has contributed towards destruction of societies and played a negative role in conflicts and peace building.

Foreign support to civil society in fragile state has often failed. Sometimes the donors have not understood the internal conflict of a country. Lack of knowledge, little insight in local culture and power structures have proved to be obstacles to good results.  

Donors are often attracted to groups within the country who share their values and views on development, but who have limited support and no outreach in their own country. In many countries in Africa this kind of artificial civil society is mushrooming as a response to donor funding. Donors should seriously rethink their ideology and be more willing to trade ideology for pragmatism.

In many fragile states civil society is polarized, reflecting existing conflicts within society. Civil society has sometimes contributed to the history of conflicts. In such a context it may be more important to support cooperation and reconciliation in order to facilitate trust among key fractions within society.

A civil society organisation should avoid playing a role similar to that of a political party.


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3 Responses to Consensus and conflicts in civil society

  1. Morten Eriksen says:

    General statements about “Africa” and other places do not add much value to the debate about role and function of civil society organizations. My general response is that I don’t know any democratic society with opportunities for all without strong and active civil society organizations.

  2. I can see Terje`s point, through my own experience in the organisation in Zambia which I am working in. When we started this organisation we felt that our only role should be to provide encouragement and information on how the communities can use their own human and material resources in a better way to improve their lives. We felt it was important that we don`t interfere in HOW people will do it, but let them create their own foundation for THEIR projects. We felt that donor support and up through the years to some extend had created dependency and we wanted to do the opposite, more creativity!
    For so many years we have managed to get support from the Norwegian Government (directly and in-directly through other Norwegian NGO s.) But it’s been a struggle because the rules and conditions have been getting more and more complicated, while we believe in simplicity! (Which is Motivation and information and capacity building which is based on their systems and only adopt “new” ideas when its fits into their own culture and way of doing things). And when the components of our development aid programs become very complicated they may also become too complicated to understand and manage for the target group.
    Many of us westerners seem to believe, for instance, that women and children have no rights in their traditional African setting. While at the same time the contradiction being that when we visit their homes we also admire the respect and good behaviour which for instance young people are showing, compared to our western societies. It is a fact that the local communities do have a traditional system with good values, and human rights, which has been working for hundreds of years. That’s why when we started this organisation we felt that our job could be to encourage the communities to build on the traditional systems which they do have, instead of creating parallel structures, built on western ideas. So that way they feel at home with their own development.
    In spite of believing very much in our self-help approach and the work we do, I am pondering a lot about these issues!

  3. Asbjørn Eidhammer says:

    It would be much easier to discuss such general statements If some evidence were provided. While I can see the issues, sweeping statements are not very useful in cosidering them.

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