“Real change can only be achieved through challenging dominant political and economic interests.”
For several years, the nature and discourse of “development” has been thrashed out among governments, donors and NGOs, all of whom have vested interests in Africa’s development. NGOs are strategic players – they have access to substantial funding to implement donor and government programmes and can create a bridge between those with money and power (state, donors, the market) and politically or economically disenfranchised citizens. It has been argued however, that often NGOs are just co-opted into existing power relations and perpetuate existing hegemonic political and economic interests.
The Broker has written a special report on “Deep Democracy: Civic Driven Change Initiative” as part of a process that interrogates the current Aid paradigm. The report argues that the guiding philosophy for civic-driven-change is ‘an alternative for the current ‘over-reliance on economic growth that emphasizes accumulation over distribution and a moral and practical failure of (market-driven) party politics and democracy on many scales’ which feeds ‘instability and … disempowers citizens as agents in charge of their own development.’
Crucial then to civic-driven-change is “instead of allowing outside experts and idealists to determine what is good for people, the determination should be founded on their ‘lived reality’.” This requires a shift in perspective – “from the citizen as a rights-bearing individual … to the citizen as the co-creator of a democratic society”, and also requires a new level of participation and communication with citizens, who are no longer just recipients of services or programmes. As Harry Boyte quotes Mamphela Ramphele as saying – “people have to become the agents of their own development.”
If the citizen is a co-creator of democracy, where does this leave NGOs working in Africa?
“Will NGOs continue to ‘assist’ the poor from the outside with resources and expertise, or will they opt to strengthen the political and normative – the civic – struggles that people fight within the market, the state and civil society?” In an alternative model, NGOs could help the poor to find their own way, rather than “giving the poor something they lack – a school, medical treatment, advice on setting up a business” – all of which are noble ‘gifts’ but ultimately continue the trend of dependence.
NGOs can choose to be catalysts in allowing citizens to be their own agents of change; and NGOs could see their role as creating “places and processes where differences engage rather than collide, … and promoting horizontal exchange between civic driven change initiatives.”
Read the full report about Deep Democracy on the Broker site here.
*All quotes above are taken from the report
For more essays on civic driven change, click here.