Since the 90’s, the Western governments have increased their interest in funding
civil society in Africa to promote democratization. This discussion paper examines how a
range of foreign donors, including Western Governments, multilateral agencies and Non-
Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) have developed “civil society” in Ghana, South
Africa and Uganda. Other important assistance comes from Civil Society Organizations
(CSO’s) to assist in basic provisions for food health and shelters.
The three countries discussed in this essay are viewed as models by the Western World since they are amongst the African nations that receive the most foreign aid. For example, in 1995 South Africa was the second largest African recipient of US aid after Egypt; Ghana was the seventh-largest recipient of US aid; and Uganda was the ninth-largest recipient in 1997. Uganda is Denmark’s top aid recipient worldwide and was the UK’s second-largest African aid recipient and Ghana was its fifth-largest African aid recipient in 1997.
The single most favored area of US civil society assistance is that of advocacy NGO’s, such as human rights groups and election monitoring organizations that seek to influence governmental policy on some specific set of issues. National organizations that receive the most support from donors include the following kinds of groups: women’s organizations, rights/legal aid groups, think tanks, development NGO forums, business associations, governance/democracy NGO’s, youth and student organizations, conflict resolution groups and professional media associations. They are mostly those concerned with supporting political liberalization, those concerned with promoting economic liberalization and those supporting the rights and political participation of particular socially excluded groups, such as rural women or the urban poor. Donors are not funding the popular sectors of society, but are strengthening a new African elite commited to the promotion of a limited form of democracy and structural-adjustment-type economic policies in partnership with the west. This raises two crucial questions: How important is this civil society in relation with political parties, religious movements or the military, and how effective can it be?
The first types of donors are the ones that strengthen the position of the civil society in relation to the state. The World Bank has played an important role in a two day National Economic Forum in 1997, bringing together over 150 organizations and institutions. The second form of donors for civil society is through funding the programs and strengthening the capacity of individual organizations. Such support ranges from funding research, parliamentary lobbying, public education campaigns and conferences to training and paying an organization’s overheads. In South Africa, the Free Market Foundation received nearly 1$ million in 1997 from the United States for the promotion of economic policies in the South African parliament and administration. In Ghana, USAID proposes to spend 6$ million over five years to build the local civil society organizations through training in organizational management and lobbying skills.
The leading donor in aid to civil society worldwide is the United States. The United States is responsible for 85% of total civil society assistance and spent over 100$ million on civil society support in 1993 and 1994 alone, equivalent to one third of its political aid spending. Two important factors explain US dominance in this area. First is the place of democracy promotion within the international role of the United States. Second is the variation in emphasis amongst donors in their democracy promotion. The British Government promotes good government as one of its core objectives, yet much of its work is directed at public sector reform and enhanced competence of government. Sweden emphasizes human rights within its democracy assistance. In contrast, the United States emphasizes civil society. In addition to three direct governmental channels, a host of US NGO’s are involved in distributing government funds, the most important of which is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Although the NED’s budget was only one tenth of USAID’s budget for democracy assistance, the NED is highly significant. “It is a focal point for democracy promotion activities around the world and the catalyst to a worldwide democratic movement activists, intellectuals and NED-type political foundations. In South Africa, the United States has played an important role since the 1980’s in shaping civil society. Between 1985 and 1993 it provided 338$ million in aid, all of it to NGO’s.