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Foreign Aid Essay, Research Paper

Since the 90’s, the Western governments have increased their interest in funding

civil society in Africa to promote democratization. This discussion paper examines how a

range of foreign donors, including Western Governments, multilateral agencies and Non-

Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) have developed “civil society” in Ghana, South

Africa and Uganda. Other important assistance comes from Civil Society Organizations

(CSO’s) to assist in basic provisions for food health and shelters.

The three countries discussed in this essay are viewed as models by the Western World since they are amongst the African nations that receive the most foreign aid. For example, in 1995 South Africa was the second largest African recipient of US aid after Egypt; Ghana was the seventh-largest recipient of US aid; and Uganda was the ninth-largest recipient in 1997. Uganda is Denmark’s top aid recipient worldwide and was the UK’s second-largest African aid recipient and Ghana was its fifth-largest African aid recipient in 1997.

The single most favored area of US civil society assistance is that of advocacy NGO’s, such as human rights groups and election monitoring organizations that seek to influence governmental policy on some specific set of issues. National organizations that receive the most support from donors include the following kinds of groups: women’s organizations, rights/legal aid groups, think tanks, development NGO forums, business associations, governance/democracy NGO’s, youth and student organizations, conflict resolution groups and professional media associations. They are mostly those concerned with supporting political liberalization, those concerned with promoting economic liberalization and those supporting the rights and political participation of particular socially excluded groups, such as rural women or the urban poor. Donors are not funding the popular sectors of society, but are strengthening a new African elite commited to the promotion of a limited form of democracy and structural-adjustment-type economic policies in partnership with the west. This raises two crucial questions: How important is this civil society in relation with political parties, religious movements or the military, and how effective can it be?

The first types of donors are the ones that strengthen the position of the civil society in relation to the state. The World Bank has played an important role in a two day National Economic Forum in 1997, bringing together over 150 organizations and institutions. The second form of donors for civil society is through funding the programs and strengthening the capacity of individual organizations. Such support ranges from funding research, parliamentary lobbying, public education campaigns and conferences to training and paying an organization’s overheads. In South Africa, the Free Market Foundation received nearly 1$ million in 1997 from the United States for the promotion of economic policies in the South African parliament and administration. In Ghana, USAID proposes to spend 6$ million over five years to build the local civil society organizations through training in organizational management and lobbying skills.

The leading donor in aid to civil society worldwide is the United States. The United States is responsible for 85% of total civil society assistance and spent over 100$ million on civil society support in 1993 and 1994 alone, equivalent to one third of its political aid spending. Two important factors explain US dominance in this area. First is the place of democracy promotion within the international role of the United States. Second is the variation in emphasis amongst donors in their democracy promotion. The British Government promotes good government as one of its core objectives, yet much of its work is directed at public sector reform and enhanced competence of government. Sweden emphasizes human rights within its democracy assistance. In contrast, the United States emphasizes civil society. In addition to three direct governmental channels, a host of US NGO’s are involved in distributing government funds, the most important of which is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Although the NED’s budget was only one tenth of USAID’s budget for democracy assistance, the NED is highly significant. “It is a focal point for democracy promotion activities around the world and the catalyst to a worldwide democratic movement activists, intellectuals and NED-type political foundations. In South Africa, the United States has played an important role since the 1980’s in shaping civil society. Between 1985 and 1993 it provided 338$ million in aid, all of it to NGO’s. Like other Western governments, the United States has shifted its distribution of aid more evenly between governments and voluntary sectors since the election of Mandela in 1994. In 1997, 52% of overall US aid was to the government. However, it also has an important program that supports “watchdog” organizations to monitor the government. Since 1996 it has provided 1$ million to each of three of South Africa’s most prominent CSO’s to undertake this monitoring function. The maturing of multi-party democracy is very important for the United Sates policies in Ghana, and it provided the largest donor contribution to the December 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections. Its second aim is to hold workshops in Ghana’s ten regions, which fund predominantly urban professional groups. In Uganda, US civil society assistance is less developed than in Ghana and South Africa. The main reason is because following twenty years of civil war and a million of deaths, when Museveni came to power in 1986, the US priority was to rebuild the economy of the country and the organs of the government, including a new constitution.

Although the World Bank is different from other donors, primarily providing loans to member governments, its lead position in the donor community provides it with a powerful role supporting civil society. Ghana is the World Bank’s largest program in Africa. Between 1993 and 1995, the bank provided one third of the country’s total aid. In Uganda over the same period, World Bank lending accounted for nearly one quarter of the country’s overall aid. Although the World Bank’s lending program is very small in South Africa, it has played a very influential role at the level of policy in South Africa, and has an active program aimed at winning over elite opinion on economic liberalism. Uganda, Ghana and South Africa are among the more than fifty of the World Bank’s eighty local offices that now have staff responsible for civil society; this compares with only one office in 1995.

The countries of the Like-Minded Group of donors support civil society but the support is irregular. In addition, within the group there are substantial differences in levels of support. Denmark is the leading donor to civil society in Ghana and Uganda in terms of amount aid as well as of number and range of CSO’s supported. Canada, on the other hand, despite a long history of partnership with NGO’s and people-to-people contacts, is not a significant donor to civil society in any of the three of the countries at least. Canadian aid has been involved in the production of eight green and white papers for legislation.

The first objective of the creation of civil society is building democracy. The characteristics of this kind of democracy include “open political competition, with multi-parties, civil and political rights guaranteed by law, and accountability operating through an electoral relationship between citizens and their representatives”. Civil society’s role in building this form of democracy is altering power between state and society; improving politicians and administrators; acting as an intermediary between state and society; promoting the values of liberal democracy. In a public opinion pole taken on democracy, only 27% rated as essential elements of democracy as regular elections and 48% said that the equal access to houses, jobs and a decent income essential to democracy; therefore the most important role that institutions have to play is teaching people to value democratic institutions and processes more for their own sake than for what they may deliver in terms of immediate and tangible benefits.

In conclusion, there are four main objectives for civil society participation. The first objective is to establish interest groups operating at the local level to monitor financial and policy decisions. An example would be teachers and parent’s groups, which have played such an important role in resuscitating primary education in Uganda. These could form a network to track how expenditures earmarked for education are spent. The second objective is to broaden society’s participation in public policy formulation, opening up the political culture to public debate on important economic and political questions. The donors’ third objective is to support interest groups to lobby legislature. USAID wants to strengthen CSOs in each of its five program areas; agricultural and business development, health, environment, education and legal/human rights. Fourth, human rights and law-oriented CSOs increase the public’s knowledge of their constitutional and legal rights. They raise issues in the national arena when they think individual rights or constitutional guarantees are being threatened. They also increase access to the law by running legal aid clinics and paralegal training.

Therefore, the most important aid that western countries can bring is not the immediate help such as supplying houses, jobs, food and financial aid but for the long term to educate the people in their rights and in political and constitutional issues so that they can build a “democratized” civil society and be able to help themselves with the aid and monitoring of donor countries.

Barkan, J. –Can establish democracies nurture democracy abroad? Lessons from Africa–

Michigan State University, MI. #10, 1994\

Beckman, B. – The liberation of civil society: neo-liberal ideology and political theory –

Review of African Political Economy. 58: 20-33, 1993

Carothers, T. – Democracy assistance: the question of strategy – Democratization

4: 109-32, 1997

Diamond, L. – Promoting Democracy in the 1990’s: Actors and instruments, Issues and

Imperatives – New York, Carnegie Corporation of New York. 1995

Hearn, J. – Foreign Aid, Democratization and Civil Society in Africa: A Study of South

Africa, Ghana and Uganda – Institute of Development Studies


Luckham, R. and White, G. – Democratization in the South: The Jagged Wave –

Manchester University Press, Manchester. 1996

Riddell, R. and Beddington, A. – Developing Country NGOs and Donor Governments:

Report to the Overseas Development Administration – London: Overseas

Development Institute. 1995

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