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Framework Advocating CSOs Analysis

Take a case of ‘actually existing civil society’ and critically discuss the extent to which your case has managed to achieve any democratic or developmental progress.

Championed as the panacea for development ills under the neoliberal New Policy Agenda (McIllwaine;1998), civil society has become the ‘sweetheart’ of development donors (Barr, Fafchamps & Owens, 2005;659), famed for its ability to incubate participatory development[ma1][ma2]. Civil society is conceptualised as an independent ‘third pillar’ between state and market, comprising of horizontal networks of associational groups with ‘cross cut ties of kinship and patronage’ (Putnam, 1993). Within this network, citizens organize to pursue shared interests and influence policy in the public domain (UNDP, 2014). Civil society organisations (CSOs) can embody autonomous or NGO supported community based organisations, or can comprise of NGO’s as ‘primary agents’ of civil society themselves (Mohan, 2002[ma3]). Despite doubt surrounding the classification of NGOs as CSOs (Carmody, 2007), this essay will define NGO’s as a variant of CSOs, as their ‘primary purpose is influencing public policy’ (Edwards & Hulme, 1997;24), and are ‘independent from direct government control’ (UNDP, 2014[ma4][ma5]). Thus, for the reasons outlined, this essay will focus on the Voice2People programme of Christian Aid, an NGO based CSO.

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Ultimately, this essay will examine the extent to which the normative framework advocating CSOs as the ‘missing middle’ between citizen and state (World Bank, 1996;114), represents the reality of ‘actually existing civil society’ (Mamdani, 1996;19). It is in this sense that ‘actually existing civil society’ is defined as the reality of CSOs in practise as largely dissonant from the normative ‘promised agenda for change’ (Ibid). By analysing Christian Aid’s Voice2People programme, this essay will posit that the realities of ‘actually existing civil society’ are divergent from the normative ideals placed upon it, and thus can achieve little democratic or developmental success.

This essay will begin by demonstrating the normative and programmatic qualities perceived as inherent within CSOs, in particular their ability to facilitate participatory development, upon which donor funding is predicated (Igoe & Kelsall, 2005). It will then outline the ‘Voice2People’ programme rolled out by Christian Aid, in relation to the normative characteristics it is perceived to retain. Once the theoretical framework is outlined, this paper will then assess the extent to which these normative ideals diverge from reality of ‘actually existing civil society’. By outlining the flaws of the theoretical framework underlying the programme, and the problematic constraints it faced, this essay will conclude by arguing that contrary to normative perceptions, ‘actually existing civil society’ in the case of the Voice2People programme, can achieve very little democratic or developmental progress.

The normative characteristics of civil society organisations

However, it is first essential to outline the perceived normative characteristics of CSOs in order to analyse their divergence from the empirical reality of ‘actually existing civil society’. These characteristics are normative in the sense they are expected rather than empirically validated. It[ma6][ma7] is also essential to underscore the ideological nature of these characteristics, which dovetail the neoliberal new policy agenda (Robinson, 2003;2) which embraces the ‘democratic development paradigm’ (Banks, Edwards and Hulme; 2015, 710) in supporting ‘inclusive participation to facilitate development’ (Mertz, 2012;54).

Firstly, neoliberal theory posits CSOs as vehicles through which to ‘build better citizens’ (Archer, 1994). Civil society is thus perceived as an arena for the cultivation of liberal norms, including participation and market rationality (Williams & Young, 2012). CSOs become ‘schools of liberal democracy’ (Banks, Edwards & Hulme, 2015;4) educating citizens to take participate in formulating their own development agenda. Secondly, CSOs are also regarded as key actors in encouraging increased state accountability, as an active civil society ‘enables choice, scrutinises errant governments, and leads to pluralised democracy’ (Mohan, 2002). CSOs thus demand state accountability to local demands (Suileman, 2013;245) an issue outlined by the Voice2People baseline report (Christian Aid, 2013). In addition, CSOs are also perceived by donors as vital facilitators of democratisation. This is because CSOs are seen to exhibit a pluralising function as they disperse the distribution of political power in society through increasing channels of access (Hadenius & Uggla, 1996) – what Ndegwa (1996;3) terms the ‘civil society political liberalisation thesis’. Additionally, as Przewoski (1992) notes, CSOs also play a constitutive role in defining the rules of state/CSO interaction along democratic lines. Finally, the last perceived function of CSOs is facilitating localised empowerment, so communities can pursue their own development activities either through CSOs or as autonomous politically conscious citizens. This view posits ‘the poor not as beneficiaries, but as controllers of the development process’ with the means to radically alter their own situation (Clark, 1991;201).

However, for the sake of this essay, the above functions will be amalgamated into one role of facilitating ‘participatory development’ – the process through which ‘stakeholders can influence and share control over development initiatives, decisions and resources that affect themselves’ (Worldbank, 1996b;4). This requires the participation of empowered groups in the design and implementation of development projects, and is dependent on a state open to pluralising the political arena to organisations such as CSOs who can demand accountability on behalf of their members. The[ma8] next section of this essay will outline the Voice2People programme rolled out by Christian Aid, which attempts to facilitate participatory development in Nigeria.

A case of ‘actually existing civil society’

Christian Aid’s ‘Voice2People’ programme is a DFID funded programme worth £2million (DFID, 2016), aiming to facilitate ‘citizen-driven development and increased government accountability’ in Anambra State, Nigeria (Christian Aid, 2016;2). It is through this programme which aims to influence public development policy, that Christian Aid can be regarded as a CSO in its own right. Prior to the programme, the baseline report suggested that 54% of 1, 535 respondents in the area felt they were not able participate in making demands to state representatives, and that there was no accountability mechanism to ensure state compliance with local needs (Christian Aid, 2013;6-8). Consequently, the Voice2People community based programme utilised two strategies (outlined by Brown and Tandon;1994) in an attempt to rectify this ‘democratic deficit’ (Warleigh, 2001;1). Firstly, Voice2People employed state reform strategies to secure agreements which guaranteed quarterly community engagement meetings, with the aim to precipitate democratic norms such as state accountability. Secondly, societal programmes such as the use of participatory rural appraisals (PRA’s) intended to create community charters of needs, aiming to immerse all levels of community participation in development consultations (Christian Aid, 2016a;8). However, this next section will analyse the theoretical and practical barriers which constrain the Voice2People programme; an example of ‘actually existing civil society’ (Mamdani, 1996:19); in achieving participatory development.

Can Voice2People achieve participatory development?

In the donor community, the perceived functions of CSOs are taken as normative and unproblematic. This is concerning as this next section will show, there are various theoretical and practical barriers which constrains ‘actually existing civil society’ (in this case, the Voice2People programme) to achieving participatory development[ma9].

  1. Theoretical barriers

One[ma10] of the first theoretical constraints which limit the Voice2People programme and other CSO work in achieving participatory development, is the problematic dichotomy in which state and CSO’s are theorised (Lewis, 2000). CSOs are perceived as autonomous agent able to impose community-formulated demands onto a democratic state. However, it is unwise to conceive civil society as unconstrained by the power of the state, as Hadenius and Uggla (1996) note, CSO inclusion is dependent on regime type, with autocratic regimes opposing CSO engagement due to desire to monopolise the political space (Clark, 1991[ma11]). Therefore, as Stewart (1997) suggests, the presence of CSOs does not instantly facilitate democratic engagement with states. In some cases, inclusion of CSOs into policy consultation is little more than PR to meet the criteria of debt relief. In the case of Voice2Protect, government legislation passed in July 2016 which requires a state-led regulatory body to oversee the work of CSOs (Civicus, 2016), demonstrates the power of the Nigerian state in constraining the work of Voice2People. It is therefore too simplistic to theorise the state and CSOs as independent actors with equal agency in influencing public policy[ma12]. Moreover, it would also be unwise to suggest that even democratic states can adequately address the demands of CSOs, as due to the streamlining and weakening of state under structural adjustment, ‘gridlock’ can occur, whereby the sheer volume of CSO interests and demands can lead to political impasse (Blair, 1997 in Lewis, 2002).

This suggests that Voice2People is unable to achieve participatory development success either due to the constraining power of the state, or through lack of state capacity, notions largely ignored by the theoretical framework. This has led to the critique by some post-colonial scholars, who suggest that civil society as a concept has very little explanatory value for the ‘complexities of African associational life’ (maia) which can include an autocratic state characterised by ‘big men’ rule (cite). Therefore, although Voice2People established ‘a working relationship with the House that was formalised with an agreement to hold quarterly meetings with members’ (Christian Aid, 2016;4), there are no constitutional mechanisms to guarantee the continuation of this interaction, and no clear capacity of the state to meet the demands forwarded by Voice2People. This is further evidenced by the Voice2People progress report which cites that citizens ‘found it difficult to engage government officials since the governments lacked the financial power to undertaken any projects’ (Christian Aid, 2014;6).

As well as the problematic dichotomy between state and CSOs, the theoretical underpinnings behind CSO led service provision also limits the extent to which Voice2People can achieve participatory development. Due to their closeness to intended beneficiaries, CSOs are regarded as ideal for replacing waning state services that have been decimated by structural adjustment (Carmody;2007). Empowerment therefore is economic in the liberal sense, as through the participation of contributing funds towards a community service project, one gets to become the controller of their own development. Voice2People utilises this approach to pacify the 46% of respondents who were ‘not happy at all’with the level of state service provision (Christian Aid, 2013;6). Although seemingly locally appropriate, this approach is highly problematic as it reduces the concept of public welfare to mere private provision to the extent that ‘citizens forego their sense of state entitlement’ (Kamat, 2003;156). CSO service provision, no matter how well intentioned, therefore reduces the state to a ‘franchise state’ (Wood, 1997;1) – ultimately unaccountable for the services provided to its citizens through other actors. Community based service provision as utilised by Voice2People therefore achieves very little democratic output, as any state accountability based on service provision is nullified, and replaced by self-dependency. Additionally, this project does little to increase development, as the limited financial accessibility of community funded services, means that the chronic poor seldom partake in this form of neoliberal participation and are thus excluded from accessing vital services. conclude


  1. Practical constraints

When aiming to facilitate participatory development, one of the practical constraints faced by Voice2Protect is the extent to which it can achieve full participation. In an attempt to facilitate inclusive participationVoice2People liaisons with ‘established community structures’ (Christian Aid), to create ‘charters of demands which prioritise community development needs’ (ibid). However, by working through established community structures such as chieftaincies, ‘existing power relations are entrenched and reproduced’ (white). This ‘new localism’ which essentialises established structures as microcosms of a homogenous community (mohan) is problematic, as it excludes traditionally ostracised groups from access to civil society participation. Additionally, community participation can also be co-opted by middle class hegemonic groups in a ‘bid to access influences and resources’ (Mercer and green), often leading to disillusionment amongst the ‘primordial public’ of traditionalist groups who interventions aimed to target (Suiliman[ma15]). These issues occurred in the Voice2Project programme, whereby ‘community mobilisation was misconstrued to have political bearings by stakeholders’ wanting to gain access (cite) and thus exclusive meetings were still ‘utilised to buy-in community leadership’ for the middle classes(Cite). Conclude

On a similar note, for Voice2Protect to achieve full democratic participation, there needs to be greater emphasis on the gendered implications of PRA’s and other participatory tools, as ‘some V2P communities are yet to adopt balanced representation in decision making platforms’ (cite). The time necessary to participate in decision making is problematic, as it reduces the time women dedicate to caregiving roles, therefore impeding female participation (Howell and Milligan[ma16]). This then leads to ‘talking to men about women’ which is hardly democratic nor will ever understand the gendered development issues facing women as a group (Ardner). Concludeand addmore

Additionally, one of the clearest practical factors constraining Voice2Protect in facilitating participatory development, is that contrary to ‘building better citizens’ (archer), CSOs can often pluralise the political arena for the worst, incorporating the voice of extremist or violent community organisations (Lewis and Kanjii). A pluralised political arena thus legitimises ‘vice as well as virtue’ (Robinson & White, 1998;229), as well as ‘ethnic chauvinism’ (diamond) as an exercise in liberal democracy. Although this does increase pluralised democratic output (for the better or for worse), such instances could indeed hinder inclusive community development, as can often become a platform for legitimising prejudices or community based structural violence[ma17][ma18][ma19]. more

Finally, an additional practical limitation faced by Voice2People, is the problematic mode through which democratic participation is facilitated within its programmes. Ultimately, the Voice2People programme is externally facilitated by an NGO based CSO, unlike programmes led by traditionalist CSOs which arise out of indigenous community structures. This stems from a contradictive paradox of self-help, whereby external NGO based CSOs are deployed to facilitate empowerment in traditionalist settings (Page, 2014). The concern here is, that due to the nature of Voice2People as an external NGO directed programme, true participatory development is constrained as it foregoes the political conscientization necessary for true and sustainable empowerment. Evidently, by using NGO based CSOs as proxies for indigenous organisations[ma20], only artificial low intensity democracy can be achieved (Carmody). This artificial empowerment runs the risk of disintegrating once the NGO based CSO has withdrawn, and is therefore unsustainable and unable to exert continuous pressure for longstanding change. Since the timescale of the Voice2People programme had an end date of March 2016 (Christian Aid, 2016), one can suggest that due to the lack of endogenous indigenous programmes to guarantee democratic output, participatory development progress began to disintegrate after the withdrawal of Christian Aid. This suggests that the dichotomy theorised by Mamdani (1996;19), which bifurcates the normative perceptions of civil society and its ‘actually existing’ form, is too simplistic to encapsulate the different issues faced by varying CSOs. Through homogenising the realities of all ‘actually existing civil society’, the dichotomy ignores the vastly different realities faced by NGO based CSOs in relation to indigenous organisations[ma21].


Normative ideals as unattainable – clear divergence to the reality fo actually existing civil society

[ma1]”democratic development paradigm’ (Banks, Edwards and Hulme; 2015, 710

[ma2]Since democracy is regarded as the requisite political system conducive to growth (Chan, 2002),

[ma3]Make all this link a bit more

[ma4]Something about beneficiary membership or something about closeness to them

[ma5]This will become important later on

[ma6]Link these two sections together better

[ma8]Make sure you notePD as requiring liberally moulded empowered citizen participation and a democratic and accountable state.

[ma9]Describe theoretical as motivations beind and practical barriers and issues facing actual formation/methodology

[ma10]Maybe link western concept here: universalism of normative ideal does not take into account the authoritarian big man state – this suggests it is applicable to western experience only. Miaia

Why are we pushing the concept it if has failed in the US (Carmoroff and Carmoroff)

[ma11]Mandani – state power is in the ability to incorporate

[ma12]Conclude: how does this link to participatory development? How does this constrain V2P?


Moreover, it can also be argued that the envisioned concept of civil society is applicable only to the ‘western experience’ and thus in reality, can achieve very little democratic or developmental progress elsewhere (Lewis, 2003). In this sense, donor support for CSO’s is misguided, as the theoretical framework used to mould civil society in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism, has very little explanatory value for the ‘complexities of African associational life’ such as the constraining power of tribe and caste (Maina). It also ignores the need of a democratic tradition to perpetuate democratic norms within civil society, as an earlier point states, the presence of CSO’s such as Voice2People, does not necessarily equate to democracy. Additionally, the limited western definition of CSO’s may lead to duplication of efforts to build civil society where an indigenous form already exists (Uggla). This dissonance of the legitimacy to alternatives to western defined CSO’s limits true democracy due to the monopolisation of the political sphere by one homogenous form of CSO (hearn, 2001). When the ‘wrong kinds’ of CSO are excluded, how can participatory development occur? (Banks Edwards and Hulme). Actually existing civil society cannot therefore lead to full participatory development, as the attributes of civil society itself, are western and ungeneralizable to the Nigerian case. Link to V2P.


[ma15]say this too much – reword this so it isn’t repetitive

[ma16]needs to link more

[ma17]need an example of V2P and how this is not participatory – can prejudices lead to the deliberate exclusion of others in participation

the need for monitors has reflected this

[ma18]it is in this sense that White cites the possibility of CS impeding democracy – by gives rise to a multiplicity of distinct structures of dominance and subordinacy

[ma19]find example of this in CA policy doccs

[ma20]I can only stress that through…

[ma21]add example of this from CA policy docc


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