A Decade of Democracy in Africa by Stephen N. Ndegwa

By Stephen N. Ndegwa

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Many scholars, Western and African, have criticized this rather narrow defini­ tion of civil society for being a Western imposition. Ekeh (1992), for instance, has warned against, “the danger of transposing the raw notion of civil society in the West in its entirety to African circumstances” (p. 194). But the conventional view is not really a full rendering of the Western tradition; it is derived rather narrowly from Tocqueville’s use of the term. Even a cursory reading of recent Western liter­ ature on the subject shows clearly that little agreement exists on what civil society is, other than some type of public sphere between the state and the family.

By attracting funding from elites, including major political leaders with high positions in the state, they provide a means of political participation and accountability. Again, this is not based on liberal democratic norms but on the norms of reciprocal obligation and prebendalism; where major ruling party leaders are involved, rumors abound that the funds contributed come from state coffers in one way or another. Self-help groups can maintain some autonomy from the state even as they interact with and demand resources from it.

We cannot assume individual, profit-maximizing behavior (the market) and collective pursuit of group goals (civil society, whether motivated by self-interest or a conception of public good) are identical. 4 Autonomy, however, implies that civil society will recognize the legitimate existence of the state and have some relationship with it. ” Callaghy (1994) suggests: “if used at all (emphasis in original) [civil society] should be used in a very restricted sense relating to the emergence of a consensus on norms defining a ‘civil sphere”’ (p.

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