Civil society, democratisation and foreign aid in Africa

Civil society, democratisation and foreign aid in Africa

Donors: influencing policy through funding civil society organisations - South Africa, Uganda and Ghana

This paper critically examines the current donor practice of funding civil society organisations as a way to influence govenment policy and to create more citizen involvement in public affairs. Drawing on empirical case studies of civil society organisations in South Africa and Uganda, and related material from Ghana, it asks how politically effective these organisations are and what are the impacts of foreign aid on their political efficacy.

The study finds that:

  • few civil society organisations demonstrate a consistent level of direct involvement in the policy process and fewer still make a significant difference to policy outcomes
  • organisations that are closely linked to political parties and the state have the greatest ability to exert policy influence
  • donor funding for civil society policy advocacy has not made a major impact, though well-organised and substantially funded NGOs have made a significant contribution in some circumstances
  • foreign aid can facilitate access to the policy process and strengthen capacity where there are opportunities for engagement and strong organisations already in place but it is not the most critical determinant of successful policy engagement. Rather it is an organisation’s internal governance and its specific relationship to the state that are the most decisive factors in achieving policy influence
  • the capacity of civil society organisations to offer citizens a say in decisions and to enhance pluralism may be as important as their ability to influence policy and demand accountability from state actors.
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