The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law
Volume 8, Issue 1, November 2005
By Jared Duhu1
For countries in the South, the best way to foster democracy and development is to strengthen institutions, and then let governments make the policies to be implemented through such institutions, with civil society as an important actor in the overall process – that, at least, is what donors commonly say. In my view, they’re only half-right. When dealing with many countries in the South, you must go beyond formal institutions and take into account the local logic by which things gets done, sometimes under informal arrangements where institutional policy implementation and patronage are hard to separate.
Tanzania provides an illustrative example. Donors working with civil society there have emphasized strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide “voice” for the poor in the economic and political spheres. This has been done through a number of strategies such as program support, institutional support, technical support, partnerships and coalitions, and conditions attached to aid to governments. These strategies focus on enhancing such elements as civil society’s autonomy, representativeness, accountability, sustainability, advocacy roles, skills to monitor government policies, political dialogue, and empowerment so as to pursue democracy and development goals effectively.
Having strengthened these elements, donors expect civil society, through its voice and accountability, to prod the government to make policies that favor the poor. Donors further expect that citizen participation will increase in issues affecting their lives, civil society will be able to monitor government policies, dialogue will be encouraged between the government and civil society, and civil society will deliver services in certain circumstances (including HIV/AIDS and disasters) while most service delivery will remain a responsibility of the government.
Are these expectations realistic? Answering that question requires, first, some historical context.
1961-1985: Single Party and Centralized Economy
Tanzania gained independence from British rule in 1961 under the leadership of the late President Julius K. Nyerere. Because it was one of the first countries to gain its independence in Africa, Nyerere was skeptical about establishing close ties with the West. That skepticism was reinforced by his decision to take the country into the socialist bloc when he developed “Ujamaa na Kujitegemea,” a socialist policy to guide development for the newly formed nation.
Power was centralized in the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), as the engine to push the socialist agenda forward. Officials of the ruling party were strong enough to supplant the governmental mechanisms for making and implementing policy. Particularly during the difficult economic conditions of the early 1980s, the state machinery weakened while personal and informal connections grew more important. Although governmental institutions were in place, they held less power than the individuals who held political office. Hence, there was neither transparency nor public accountability (Hyden 2005:13).
Civil society organizations were limited. The state had created umbrella organizations to coordinate all forms of associations and organizations, and CSOs were strongly discouraged, particularly activist ones. As a result, individual and collective initiatives to organize for a common social cause were few. At the same time, foreign ideas, especially those from Western countries, were seen as an intrusion and a potential imposition of neocolonialism. As a result, those in power rarely listened to outside experts, except when it was made a condition of donor aid.
1985-1995: Political and Economic Liberalization
The 1980s presented great challenges; overall, the socialist policies seemed to produce more failures than successes. As a result, under the leadership of the second president, Mr. Ali Hassan Mwinyi, the divide with the West was bridged. Mwinyi accepted the policy reforms that his predecessor had constantly rebuffed. Toward the end of the 1980s, Tanzania embraced an economic liberalization agenda set by international financial institutions, and multiparty democracy was allowed in 1992.
These changes proved more difficult than they might at first appear. The Western conception of the market economy relies on economic exchanges that are immediate and contractual, but in Tanzania, the situation at the macro-level reflects what takes place at the micro-level – what has been termed the “economy of affection.”2 In the economy of affection, exchanges often are neither immediate nor precise, and the reciprocal response expected is not explicitly defined (Hyden 2005:8). The result is a continuous give and take that reinforces relationships.
Significantly, the economy of affection operates in politics as well. The patron has more power, and the client seeks the delivery of goods or services, not implementation of policy. At this level, power is the principal means of exchange in which people invest in order to get things done. Therefore, contrary to Western hopes, the period of liberalization did not significantly change the status quo for ordinary citizens – personal relationships remained critical (Hyden 2005:9).
The 1980s, however, did change the CSO environment in important ways. Upon Tanzania’s independence, most CSOs were intertwined with the state as affiliates of the ruling party. During the 1980s, many CSOs cut ties with the political party, and many new CSOs formed (ODI 2000, CMI 2000:6, Mogella 1999). A more autonomous civil society, in turn, led to changes in donors’ approaches. Instead of channeling funds and support to governments, donors increasingly supported CSOs. This further fueled the growth of CSOs, mostly in the form of NGOs.3 Most concentrated on economic and social development, environmental conservation, gender issues, human rights, and professional matters (ODI 2000).
At this time, civil society’s role in development concentrated on social service delivery. For example, in a study conducted in 1993 by Norway’s Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), NGOs in Tanzania ran 61 percent of secondary schools, 87 percent of nursery schools, and 43 percent of hospitals (CMI 2000:6). The study found that in some regions of the country, CSOs did far more social service delivery than the state.
This reliance on CSOs for social services brought many challenges, beginning with accountability: most of these CSOs were NGOs funded by Northern donors, and they were more accountable to their donor agencies than to the people they served. A second challenge was sustainability. These CSOs provided integral support to their communities, but the local base for fundraising was poor; without the support of outside donors, the services might cease. And donors sometimes change their funding priorities – today, in fact, donors are shifting from supporting delivery of services to supporting influence over policy. A third challenge resulted when the government made less effort to allocate resources to areas where social services were being provided by CSOs, effectively sidelining these communities from state benefits and making the CSOs all the more indispensable. A final challenge was empowerment – something that the relationship of giver and receiver does not especially foster. Donors might want local people to participate actively in issues affecting their lives, but the service-delivering CSOs tended to reduce the roles of both government and citizenry.
1995-2005: Donor Confidence Restored, Civil Society Sidelined?
The change of leadership in 1995 brought a third president plus a new commitment to strengthening institutions in the country. President Benjamin W. Mkapa has been hailed for putting Tanzania on track in economic progress and winning donor confidence. Goran Hyden (2005:15) sums it as follows:
If the Nyerere years was a blind race toward a false paradise and the Mwinyi period was a chaotic free-for-all dance in the rediscovered market place, the past ten years under the country’s third president [Mkapa] has been an attempt to a more disciplined march toward specific policy goals.
Results, though, have been mixed. Economic developments in Tanzania have been largely positive – a stabilized currency, reduced inflation – but less progress has occurred in the political sphere. Though the single-party regime is gone, the opposition is weak, the ruling party holds the majority of seats in parliament, and officials still command their power not only because of their offices but because of their connections. The logic of governmental institutions as sources of authority has not yet been enshrined in Tanzania (Hyden 2005:7).
Though it is not my purpose to discuss the full scope of liberalization in the South, it is important to note that it was not universally limited to the market. The political arena had its own version of liberalization, with many countries embracing democracy and multiparty systems. Important expectations accompanied this political liberalization, including the following:
- People would freely affiliate in associations and groups through which they can express their interests.
- Governance institutions would hold decision-making power and act in the interest of the society at large.
- People would have the right to involve themselves in governance, including affairs affecting their own lives, without political institutions being captured by individual or special interest groups.
- Citizens would hold those in public positions accountable for their programs and policies.
- Civil society would educate people on what is expected of them as citizens and what they can expect from the state and political institutions.
- Civil society would cooperate with political institutions to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
- Civil society would help create a democratic culture.
Today, more than twenty years after the adoption of liberal policies, it appears that political change in Tanzania has been limited. The ruling party CCM is still at the helm, and government officials still hold power as individuals rather than as components of institutions. This is reinforced by the fact that most political parties formed in the early 1980s are now entangled in internal crises of leadership and mismanagement as well as lack of appeal to the populace. The result seems to be what has been termed “electoral democracy.”4
While the relationship between the state and civil society in Tanzania continues to improve, more must be done to institutionalize a non-obstructive environment for civil society to function freely in the country. The country analysis survey conducted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI: 2000) showed that even after Tanzania has joined many international conventions that guarantee freedoms and human rights, and even though policy-makers laud the importance of civil society to the advancement of democracy and development, laws still constrain civil society. To begin with, the Societies Ordinance of 1954 – used by colonial rulers to suppress civil society and political organizations – remains operational, and the Registrar of Societies can bar registration as well as require organizations to seek permission for rallies, meetings, and celebrations. The state has similarly sought to restrict the operation of civil society groups through the Tanzania NGO Policy.5 Although the government depicts this policy as a means of facilitating NGO activities, in effect it imposes limitations on civil society. For example, the policy requires that NGOs be “non-political” and that they fully account for how they obtain and use their funding through financial and program reports submitted to the government (Prime Minister’s Office 2001:6, 15).
In these circumstances, the challenge for CSOs in Tanzania is how they can effectively foster democracy without being regarded as “political” and thereby risking the loss of registration. The challenge can be exacerbated by donors’ strategies. For example, USAID has adopted a strategy of offering technical support and partnerships to “politically active” CSOs. Will Tanzanian NGOs be shut out? While USAID’s approach is commendable, the state may deregister NGOs that seek to enter the political arena, given that democracy is considered a “political” issue. Resolving this dilemma involves efforts to limit the state’s control over civil society. If such delicate issues are not tackled, achieving the goal of democracy becomes less and less likely. To put it differently, civil society has to figure out just when the “civil” becomes the “political” (Foley and Edwards 1996:38, 39).
The donor community has responded to Tanzania’s economic performance by showing confidence in the government through changing the funding arrangement from project and program support to budget support. An emphasis on budget support is thought to make governments “own” the development process, an idea that has gained prominence in recent times. Donors now provide budget support in many countries. This approach puts the government at the center. Radelet (2005:18), however, suggests that it would be better to draw a distinction: in well-governed countries, governments should be trusted to take the lead, while in poorly governed countries, a large share of donor support should be given through NGOs and civil society groups.
Many donors have parallel funding mechanisms, with general budget support for government and additional funding for civil society; for the majority of donors active in Tanzania, however, no funding is specifically directed to civil society, despite the doubts about the strength and effectiveness of the government.6 Budget support leaves much to be desired if, as in Tanzania, the country lacks institutional mechanisms to enforce government’s responsibility and maintain its accountability. In my view, given the history of state-civil society relations in many countries in the South, and Tanzania in particular, e xclusive funding for general budget support with no parallel support for civil society will sideline civil society before it is strong enough to contribute effectively to policy.
Role of Civil Society to Promote Democracy
Despite the restrictive NGO policy, most Tanzanian CSOs involved in advocacy have built their capacity to contribute to the formulation of government policy. This is demonstrated by their influence over government policies on sexual abuse on children, inheritance laws, and land ownership, among others (ODI: 2000). In order to foster democracy, civil society is expected to play additional roles, including the following:
- Providing a checks and balance mechanism on the behavior of the state (watchdog function)
- Enhancing political participation among citizens through civic education (Fowler, 2000:7)
- Providing political leadership and resisting authoritarianism
- Nurturing democratic institutions
Tanzania ‘s civil society organizations are far from being effective in these roles because they lack skills, information, and resources.
Moreover, civil society in Tanzania has on occasion acted to impede democracy. It was reported recently that a few NGOs, under the guise of civic education, were telling people which presidential candidates to vote for.7 In the same account, some churches and mosques were telling their people to vote on religious lines. Finally, the president, Mr. Benjamin William Mkapa, made a national address to call on Tanzanians to shun religious leaders and NGOs trying to divide people on religious or tribal lines because, in the words of one report (The Guardian, September 1, 2005),
“Ours is a secular state.” Mkapa cautioned voters also to beware of Non-Governmental Organizations and reminded stakeholders of their role when delivering civic education. “They should not teach the voters who to vote for,” the President said.
Role of Civil Society to Promote Development that Reduces Poverty
In some respects, civil society is especially suited to promote development that aids the poor and reduces poverty. Civil society can foster such development by assuming the following roles, among others:
- Advocating equity and policies that favor the poor
- Building social capital to effectively organize and act collectively in advancing pro-poor development, in the same way it can promote democracy
- Directly delivering social services, especially where the state is inefficient (Fowler, 2000:7)
Since the traditional role of CSOs and most NGOs in Tanzania has been service delivery, donors must shift their emphasis if organizations are to fulfill the first two of these roles.
Here too, civil society can hinder development. In Tanzania, a survey of NGOs in Kilimanjaro area found that many of the organizations were created by the wives of influential men; the husbands then secured access to prominent benefactors at the national level; and nepotism and “know who” were important factors in determining who received services from the organizations. Such organizations do not benefit the poor as a whole. On top of that, the ruling CCM and the opposition party CUF donated money to Community Development Associations (CDAs) to win political support from those areas (CMI 2000:11). Politics, like nepotism, can prevent the unbiased delivery of social services to benefit the poor. Therefore, donors seeking to strengthen civil society in order to advance development need to consider the vulnerabilities of CSOs in the South and develop strategies to ensure that they effectively address the needs of poor.
A Shortfall for Donor Expectations
Civil society is expected to play an effective role in both democracy and development for many reasons, one being that CSOs are regarded as cost-effective, people-centered, efficient, and able to perform the watchdog function over the state (Fowler 2000:12).
The success of CSOs, though, is heavily influenced by the nature of their relationship with the state (Van Rooy 1998:202, Foley and Edwards 1996:48). The relationship with the state, in turn, can depend in part on civil society’s claim to represent the populace. In Tanzania, most CSOs have small memberships and therefore only a limited claim to representativeness. Consider trade unions. Before privatization, many state enterprises allowed trade unions to establish branch offices at the workplace and encouraged employees to become members. But since many of the state enterprises were privatized, the number of members has fallen and the unions have struggled to adjust to dealing with the private sector. This has affected the unions’ funding and their effectiveness in advancing the interests of their members. More generally, because most CSOs were formed through a top-down approach, people are unaware of their opportunities to take a frontline role and participate in their activities; the suffocation of independent organizations during the single-party regime altered people’s understanding (CMI 2000:25).
Do donors, through their funding decisions, fulfill their own goals for strengthening civil society? In making funding decisions, donors commonly emphasize such aspects as accountability, representativeness, autonomy, sustainability, advocacy, participation, monitoring, and political dialogue. Generally speaking, they hope their funding will help civil society fulfill such roles as the following:
- Promoting voice and accountability in policy development and implementation
- Ensuring citizens’ participation in the development of pro-poor policies
- Ensuring efficient service delivery, with allocated resources reaching the intended recipients
- Monitoring and influencing government policies, including holding government accountable for its performance in allocating public resources
- Responding to humanitarian emergencies and HIV/AIDS
- Opening up dialogue on political issues facing the country
- Assisting interest groups that lobby the legislature
- Defending human rights
In Tanzania , both the government and donors have failed to take into account the local factors that are crucial for getting people to participate actively in democracy and development. For example, a survey conducted by Afro Barometer8 in 2001 found that Tanzanians participate heavily in democracy and development activities if they are mobilized from above, but they rarely initiate such activities on their own. Some have suggested that this is a legacy of the single-party system, when people expected the state to “supply” policy without their involvement (CMI 2000:5).
However, despite high expressed support for democracy itself, and for its underlying values, very few Tanzanians are willing to stand up and fight for democracy. When asked what they would do if the government suspended the National Assembly and cancelled elections, almost half (47 percent) say they would do nothing, while 9 percent would join a protest march, and 16 percent would contact an elected representative. The same pattern emerges when we offered the potential scenario in which the government dismisses judges who had ruled against it. Half (49 percent) say they would do nothing; only 7 percent would protest, and 13 percent would complain to an elected representative. Similarly, if the government shut down independent newspapers that criticize it, 45 percent would do nothing, 8 percent would protest, and 14 percent would contact an elected official. This leads one to wonder whether there is a sufficient critical mass that would be willing to stand up and support democratic institutions under threat. Only when the scenario shifts to a potential threat to personal liberties does the picture change. If government stopped people from traveling freely inside Tanzania, 33 percent would remain inactive, while 15 percent would protest and fully 25 percent would speak to an elected official. And if government told people which religion to follow, just one-quarter (26 percent) would remain on the sidelines. One-fifth (19 percent) would protest, and another fifth (22 percent) would contact an elected official. (Afro Barometer: 2001)
These results suggest that people are currently unlikely to initiate political demands to the government, and that civil society organizations working to advance democracy might fruitfully seek to boost people’s readiness to mobilize for a common cause. Donor strategies, however, have not reflected such needs. As Ottaway and Carothers (2000:10) put it, donors generally emphasize pre-determined goals, and CSOs try to adjust their activities to match those goals. When the goals disregard local conditions and needs, the results are less likely to advance the donors’ broader objectives of promoting democracy or development.
Accordingly, donors’ success depends very much on how they define their goals, whether related to democracy or development, and how they work to strengthen the elements in civil society relevant to those goals. The situation is complicated by the fact that the criteria for CSOs to promote democracy sometimes differ from those for CSOs to promote development. Sustainability, for example, may be equally important in both spheres, but representativeness is more important for democracy than for development.
Donor Aid and Promotion of Democracy: Strengthening or Weakening?
Aid giving and receiving has operated under the assumption that aid can contribute to democracy in a number of ways. Knack Stephen (2004:251) highlights such methods as technical assistance in electoral processes, strengthening legislatures and judiciaries, promoting a free press, and strengthening civil society overall.
In order to determine whether donor aid succeeds in achieving its goals, one must know who sets the policy agenda, whose ideas and values dominate, and whether those ideas and values fit local conditions (Hyden 2005:6). For example, the World Bank has required countries to have Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, with governments as owners of the process. Britain’s Department for International Development has said it would withdraw funding from governments that significantly violate human rights (DFID, 2005). The European Commission requires an officer in the Ministry of Finance to co-manage work with Non-State Actors, including civil society groups. The American Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors condition their budget support on such matters as civil liberties, elections, and the rule of law (Knack 2004:252). In the words of Goran Hyden (2005:8):
Policy without power is a pie in the sky. Power without policy is an unguided missile in the sky. Donors face both these phenomena in their development cooperation. Policies are developed by consultants, approved by donors, negotiated with local partners, and adopted in consultations with little understanding of how underlying power relations will affect the implementation of these policies.
Conditions imposed by donors substantially influence the direction taken by civil society, with, I believe, the effect of weakening civil society. In my view, civil society organizations ought to be free to set their own agendas, based on their assessments of local needs and conditions, with donors backing their decisions.
For instance, while it is generally a good approach for donors to help civil society influence policy, it is also important to assess the realities in the particular country. If policy is not uniformly applied, or if significant power lies outside the policy process, a different strategy may be more effective. As noted above, this is the case in Tanzania: since independence, the institutions responsible for policy implementation have had less power than individuals with influence and connections. Similarly, donors seeking to restore confidence in government have increased their general budget support to government, sometimes without parallel budget support to civil society, based on the assumption that an effective government should lead civil society in (for example) development projects that aid the poor. Given the history of unfavorable state-civil society relations since independence in most countries in the South, this approach is likely to sideline civil society. Yet donors must also recognize civil society’s potential to impede democracy and development and take steps to minimize the risks, such as by limiting funding to groups with a demonstrated commitment to aiding a broad cross-section of society.
Overall, donor dependence represents a challenge that is far from being effectively addressed by either the donor community or civil society in the South. As a result, accountability has shifted from people in the South to donors in the North. Likewise, financial sustainability continues to be a challenge for civil society in the South, giving rise to the danger that donors seeking to strengthen civil society will unwittingly weaken it instead.
Several steps, I believe, would substantially help ensure that donors succeed when they set out to bolster civil society.
1) Donors’ Assumptions
A donor’s concept of civil society may rest on invalid assumptions. For example, donors commonly assume that individuals are independent and autonomous, capable of freely deciding to associate with others to advance the common good. This is not always the case in Africa, where an individual can be closely linked to a host of kin who substantially influence the individual’s thoughts and actions.
Recommendation: For countries in the South and Tanzania in particular, donors need to recognize that in important respects, individuals are not independent. Any effort to organize them must take into account their links to kin and society.
2) Strengthening Democracy and Development
In making funding decisions to civil society organizations, donors consider such aspects as accountability, autonomy, representativeness, advocacy roles, monitoring skills, sustainability, and political dialogue. Donors believe that strengthening these components will help civil society champion both democracy and development. In fact, distinctions need to be made. Representativeness, for example, may be vital for advancing democracy but not for advancing development.
Recommendation: Donors must tailor their funding criteria to their particular broadly defined goals, whether promoting democracy or development, rather than applying the same criteria in all circumstances.
3) Donor Strategies to Strengthen Civil Society
Donor strategies to strengthen civil society are diverse, including program support, institutional support, technical support, creation of partnerships and coalitions, and conditions imposed on aid to governments so as to foster a healthy environment for civil society. These strategies seek to give civil society a greater capacity to influence government policies. More specifically, donors may expect civil society to give voice to the poor, promote citizen participation in the development of policies to alleviate poverty, influence policymaking and monitor policy implementation, deliver services in humanitarian emergencies and in HIV/AIDS response, h old government accountable for its allocation of public resources, open up dialogue on political issues facing the country, and safeguard the interests of the disadvantaged groups in society.
The connection between means and ends, however, is sometimes murky. For example, the European Commission is not clear on how development can be achieved through partnership and coalition building of Non-State Actors, one of them being civil society. In the same way, USAID is not clear about precisely how its program support to CSOs will further democracy and development.
Recommendation: Donors need to assess whether a strategy can achieve the intended goal. They must also ensure that their strategies are actually put into practice. Finally, they must be willing to abandon strategies that fail to achieve their goals.
4) Civil Society’s Potential Weaknesses
Donors tend to look at civil society as a uniformly positive force. However, in some cases civil society simply reflects the local situation. Depending on the local situation, civil society may pursue undemocratic and unprogressive goals. In a heterogeneous society without a firm grounding in democratic values, similarly, civil society can promote ethnic disputes and patronage, which can impede democracy and development.
Recommendation: Donors need to be cautious when dealing with civil society. They should ensure that despite civil society’s diverse and sometimes opposing interests, it promotes democracy and development rather than ethnic strife and patronage. CSO groups that emphasize internal democracy, for example, may be better positioned to gain credibility in the eyes of the community and the government.
5) Constraints on Strengthening Civil Society
Among the most important constraints on strengthening civil society is the question of sustainability. Most civil society organizations in the South are externally funded, with little or no local funding. If donors withdraw their financial support, civil society activities will probably cease. This issue is largely taken for granted, with little discussion by civil society or donors.
Recommendation: Civil society should seek to persuade government to provide steady funding. Just as the government’s annual budget includes allocations for different ministries, it should include allocations for civil society organizations. This is especially important now, when government is increasingly viewed as the owner of development process. To be sure, people may question the autonomy of civil society if it becomes dependent on government funding, but I believe that the danger would be lessened by passing a legislative act in parliament that includes an accountability mechanism.
6) Donor Expectations
On the whole, I believe that donors often expect too much from civil society. They expect it to pursue a vast range of different goals, including promoting voice and accountability in policy development and implementation, enhancing citizen participation in the development of pro-poor policies, improving service delivery by ensuring that allocated resources reach the grassroots, influencing and monitoring government policies, o pening up dialogue on political issues facing the country, and defending human rights. In Tanzania, civil society simply lacks the skills and capacity to fulfill many of these expectations.
Recommendation: Donors need to be realistic in their expectations, clear-eyed in their assessments of civil society’s capabilities, and willing to establish priorities among their goals for civil society.
2 Goran Hyden has used the concept of economy of affection to refer to a situation where exchanges are made between people with an expectation of some reciprocal response in the future.
3 According to the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), there were 224 registered NGOs in Tanzania in 1993, and 8,499 in 2000.
4 Tripp shows that electoral democracy results when elections to legislative bodies and other public office positions become the way through which people participate in politics, without necessarily embracing a political culture and strengthening legislature, judiciary, electoral commission, political parties, and other institutions.
5 In 1997, the government through the Prime Minister’s office developed the national policy on NGOs, which is now operational. According to the government, the NGO policy is intended to “guide the growth and operation of NGOs.” Tanzania does not have a separate policy on civil society, but since NGOs dominate the civil society landscape in the country, the NGO policy affects civil society at large.
6 According to the World Bank survey of 2004 on governance indicators, Tanzania has a score of 40.1 in government effectiveness, which is below the mean 50.0 score. Data available at http://info.worldbank.org/governance/kkz2004/mc_chart.asp, accessed on 8/17/05.
7 Tanzania had scheduled presidential and parliamentary elections for October 2005, but the elections were postponed until December 2005 after the death of an opposition presidential running mate four days before election day.
8 The Afro Barometer survey was conducted by the Dar Es Salaam-based Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA) in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar in 2001.
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