Friday, April 1, 2011

Civil Society in Developing Countries

Civil Society has been much in the news as pundits debate the role that it has played in the uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and whether civil society institutions are strongly enough implanted in those parts of the world that they will be able guide nascent democracies into stable and prosperous futures.

Our colleague, Karla Simon, will soon be coming out with a book on civil society organizations in China.  A section of that book is currently available on SSRN, and further information regarding civil society abroad can be found on the website of the International Center for Civil Society Law.

I, too, have done a bit of recent writing on civil society in the developing world.  In my case, the focus is Africa, and my take is mildly cynical.  In an brief article, entitled Wait! That's Not What We Meant by Civil Society!: Questioning the NGO Orthodoxy in West Africa, which will appear in a symposium edition of the Brooklyn International Law Journal, I argue that when we in the West say "civil society," what we really mean is a thriving, mostly secular, mostly educated and West-leaning NGO sector.  What repeatedly happens, at least in Islamic Africa, is that we help create a space for our version of civil society, which then is almost inevitably filled by Islamic religious organizations who agitate for laws that we find repugnant.  My conclusion is that there is not much that we can or should do about it.


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