society gets its fair share of attention in the programs of both bilateral and
multilateral agencies involved in supporting the growth of democracy and good
governance in the developing world but it remains in the shadow of the
government-to-government transfers that constitute the mainstay of official
development assistance (ODA). This has become especially evident in the wake of
the 2005 Paris Declaration which, among other things, calls for greater
national ownership of foreign aid, because donors interpret such ownership to
be by government. Civil society from this perspective becomes an afterthought;
its role reduced to secondary rank.
tendency is unfortunate especially in Africa where the state is weak and
government, therefore, not trusted by local stakeholders as much as by donors.
Wherever these conditions exist, organized action by citizens often plays an
equally if not more important role in development. Nowhere is this more striking
than in the Horn of Africa Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan. It is
characterized by military conflict, strained relations between state and
citizens, poor physical infrastructure and a natural environment that is
disaster-prone as a result of climate change and other humanly induced
interventions. Building civil society in these conditions is not easy, yet
perhaps more important there than anywhere else.
Canada has been engaged for some 25 years in supporting development work in the
region. In the past ten years or so, the focus has been on capacity-building
through networking with local voluntary organizations supported financially by
the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
paper begins by describing the partnership before embarking on a discussion of
what it means to build civil society in the difficult circumstances that
characterize the region. The next section focuses on the lessons learnt as they
apply to building civil society. It continues to analyze state-civil society
relations and various strategic issues facing members of the partnership. It
concludes with a discussion of what participants identified as lessons learnt.