Monday, October 25, 2010

Governing Civil Society Symposium

Several regular contributors to this blog attended a symposium last Friday at Brooklyn Law School on Governing Civil Society: NGO Accountability, Legitimacy, and Influence.  Brooklyn's International Law Journal will be collecting and publishing the papers (next spring)?  My paper, "Wait! That's Not What We Meant by Civil Society: Questioning the NGO Orthodoxy in West Africa," described how Western efforts to engender civil society in several West African nations has produced unintended consequences as Islamic religious organizations have flooded into (and as often as not taken over) civil society.  One problem with the nascent civil society organizations promoted by the West is that they tend to be run by Western-oriented elites whose interests diverge from those of grassroots citizens and groups.  This is one of the reasons that Islamic organizations have had so much success.  The paper argues that there is not much that we (i.e., the U.S.) can or should do about the situation.  All of the papers were thought provoking, but I particularly enjoyed Gary Jenkins' remarks.  He pointed out that Western insistence on NGO best administrative practices might have the effect of exacerbating the elitism of host country NGOs, rendering them illegitimate in the eyes of the ordinary citizens. (Gary, sorry if I misstated your argument.)

TAK

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