I was partaking in a discussion the other day, and someone asked what ‘civil society’ in fact meant. Erh … yeah, say. We weren’t entirely sure. As we found in a dictionary, it refers to:
‘Interaction between private individuals and institutions and the state’. (A useful bit of social science jargon, yay! … )
Anyhow, the question popped up when we were on the topic of aid distribution in Africa and how miserably it has failed on many points, and how even the effort of pouring money on African NGOs to in the 80s and 90s had somehow evaporated. The problem, according to some, is that there is no civil society in Africa so we’ll need to build that up as well. But is it true? Perhaps the answer depends on what we consider to be a valuable aspect of civil society. If clans, traditional secret societies, or ethnic associations don’t qualify simply because they don’t conform to Western principles, that doesn’t mean that they don’t work and Western style organizations do. If for example Muslim welfare organizations – which seem to bring a lot of benefits to African communities – are ignored or attempted stamped out simply because, that may do a lot more damage than good.
Does anyone else have a different take on this?