Civil Society and Aid in Africa: A Case of Mistaken Identity?

  • Alan FowlerEmail author
Part of the Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies book series (NCSS, volume 20)


Both the understanding and measurement of civil society in Africa exhibit severe distortions. One result is a gross underestimation of the significance of endogeneity in the forms and applications of civic agency. A concomitant consequence is the (mis-)allocation of international assistance to exogenous ‘semi-detached’ forms of civil society, which relying on overly western and overly optimistic expectations of their roles in development. In the words of an African proverb: ‘a foreigner sees only what he already knows’. Through the lens of aid channels to an externally conceived African civil society, this chapter applies a historical approach to unpack a messy conceptual, empirical and policy terrain. It illustrates the biases and gaps between foreign perception and lived reality in terms of associational functionality and associational formations on the continent. This analysis calls into question an implicit assumption of aid agencies that ‘deep’ civil society is not a player in the ethnic and other factionalisms that shape the socio-political process of governance in many African countries. In order to reach a more subtle and realistic appreciation of development reality, a case is made for re-thinking foreign aid to civil society in terms of proportionality between its exogenous and endogenous expressions.


Civil Society Associational Life Overseas Development Assistance Hegemonic Project Civic Agency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Institute of Social StudiesThe HagueThe Netherlands

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