In ‘When Civics go governance’ Ria Brouwers analyses the stormy ascent of African NGOs in the field of good governance. Tracing the tracks of the NGO-boom in Africa, Brouwers brings together key academic writings with ISS led field on NGO interventions in Zambia, Uganda, Kenia and Tanzania conducted under the banner of the Hivos/ISS Civil Society Building Knowledge Programme.
Since the mid nineties or so, governance interventions, ranging from budget tracking to civic engagement in decentralized service delivery and lobby-activities for pro-poor public policies have increasingly complemented or replaced. Yet, the combined picture emerging from desk and field research offers a sobering picture of questionable impact and a fragmented patchwork of intermediary actors and projects, out of touch with local realities, lacking the constituency and capacity to seriously challenge power structures. Combining the small sample of cases with recent larger studies by the IDS Citizenship DRC and The United States Institute of Piece, Brouwers comes to question the main assumptions underneath NGO-led, foreign funded governance interventions. These include the western notion of civil society as countervailing power to the state, the rhetoric versus the reality of participation, the technical capacity of civic organizations to engage governance processes and issues of legitimacy and constituency.
Going forward, Brouwers joins other recent calls (eg. McGee 2011) that call upon NGOs and their international partners to critically rethink their Theories of Change. Suggestions for further research include the effectiveness of civic networks, the exploration of non-western forms of governance, the dynamics of associated and non-associated civic action and further critical reviews of the effects of donors support, which may at times have been disruptive.