The Africa CSO Sustainability Index: A Comparative Analysis of Government/Civil Society Relations
Michael Curtis, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID
Lisa Slifer-Mbacke, Technical Director, Management Systems International
John Harbeson, Professor of Political Science Emeritus, City College of New York
Professorial lecturer for the African Studies Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
Arthur Larok, Country Director, ActionAid Uganda
Stephan E. Klingelhofer, Senior Vice President, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Steve McDonald, Director, Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, Wilson Center
What is the Africa’s Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI)?
The Civil Society Sustainability Index (CSOSI) for sub-Saharan Africa has been measuring the viability of civil society in 23 African countries since 2009. During the event Michael Curtis, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), stated that civil society organizations (CSOs) “play a critical role in their countries’ development and accountable governance.” However, he also acknowledged that African CSOs often face great challenges when they try to fill the gap in service delivery left by their governments. Given these challenges, Curtis said that the CSOSI helps USAID “assess, in a reliable way over time, the viability of civil society organizations writ large and fine-tune our programming to more effectively support them.”
Lisa Slifer-Mbacke of Management Systems International (MSI) explained that the CSOSI is based on a criterion of seven variables which include the legal environment, organizational capacity, service provision, financial viability, infrastructure, advocacy and public image. The scores range from 1.0 to 7.0 – with 1.0 being the highest level and 7.0 the lowest level. Furthermore, countries are categorized into three tiers according to their methodology. The “Sustainability Impeded” tier refers to countries with scores ranging from 5.1 to 7.0. Countries in the “Sustainability Evolving” have scores ranging from 3.1 to 5.0 and the “Sustainability Enhanced” is a designation for countries with the marks from 1.0 to 3.0. The CSOSI assessment is done by a locally-convened panel of CSOs that rank each variable, write a report and send the findings to the Editorial Committee in the U.S. With regards to government/CSOs relationship, Slifer-Mbacke stated that “two trends are apparent over the last three years: partnerships and polarization.” In some cases, CSOs and governments are cooperating and in others their relationship is tense, especially during election season.
- Ethiopia: Worst Case of Government/ Civil Society Relation.
John Harbeson, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at City College of New York and Professorial Lecturer for the African Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), presented the situation of CSOs in Ethiopia. Harbeson posited that the overall CSOSI of Ethiopia should be lower than the actual 5.6 score registered by USAID. His computations revealed that Ethiopia should receive 6.4. According to Harbeson, two reasons explain the tense relationship between the Government and civil society. The first relates to the nature of the Ethiopian state. He stated that “Ethiopia’s history is that of an empire… and the problem of the state is how to transform this state from an empire into a modern state.” The model of governance chosen by the state was not wholly accepted by the people, which fostered a sentiment of illegitimacy. The state then assumed somewhat of an authoritarian posture. The second reason is owed to the country’s economic conditions. He asserted that “development at the grassroots is very low compared to the development at the state level.” The 2009 Civil Society Act (CSA) constrains foreign and local funding of CSOs and prohibits their entry into the political sphere. The Government partners with CSOs only when the latter support the former’s policies. Harbeson concluded that “overall, the authoritarian environment underlying tight CSA restrictions and controls, intensifies negative effects on CSO sustainability.”
- Uganda: Repression and Cooperation
Arthur Larok, Country Director of ActionAid Uganda characterized the relationship in Uganda between the Government and civil society as one under construction. At present, it can be understood by using what he identified as the “pendulum theory of State behavior” with each oscillation of the pendulum veering between repression and cooperation. Larok mentioned that “there is extreme evidence of cooperation at the national level, but extreme repression at the district level.” The pendulum swings towards cooperation when CSOs supplement the Government’s delivery of services. Conversely, the pendulum swings towards repression when CSOs are viewed as “politically incorrect.” In this instance, the Government uses different tactics to delegitimize CSOs by branding them as supporters of homosexuality for example. Larok asserted that the CSOSI is an important tool because it helps Ugandan CSOs focus on areas in need of improvement. He said that the Index is an evidence-based instrument that can be used “for engagement in the NGO Policy reform process and in the resurgent spirit of dialogue between CSOs and the Government at national and district levels.”
- Kenya: An Illustration of Practical Evolution
Stephan E. Klingelhofer, Senior Vice President of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) outlined the process of collaboration between the Government and CSOs from 2006 to 2012 in Kenya. In 2006, the Parliament passed a “sessional paper” regarding the NGO Coordination Act of 1990. Klingelhofer stated that this paper “found many problems with the current regulations and recommended a thorough review.” The Government tasked the NGO Coordinating Board with conducting the mandated review. The Board partnered with civil society representatives (the CSO Reference Group), the Charity Commission, and the ICNL to conduct the lead the assessment evaluation. Klingelhofer pointed out that communication decreased between the Board and the CSO Reference Group, because the NGO draft laws that they prepared represented divergent views. Consequently, the CSO Reference Group drafted a new law, the Public Benefit Organization Bill (PBO Bill) and introduced it to the Parliament. This episode pushed the Board to reopen the lines of communication with the CSO Reference Group. As a joint-working group, the two entities amended the PBO Bill and introduced a single piece of legislation that was acceptable to both parties. As Klingelhofer noted, Kenya’s case shows that “collaboration between government and CSOs is rarely a “straight line.”
CSOSI: Valuable Measurement Instrument
The panel discussants asserted that the CSOSI is an effective instrument for African countries and the U.S. They recognized that despite serious challenges under which they operate, African CSOs play a vital role in their communities. Through the case studies, it was demonstrated that CSOs/government relations vary across countries depending on the government’s willingness to work with CSOs.
USAID Africa Bureau Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, City College of New York and Professional Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Senior Counsel, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)
- USAID CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa (2011 Full Report)
- Michael Curtis (Keynote Address)
- Lisa Slifer-Mbacke (MSI) Presentation
- John Harbeson (City College of New York / JHU SAIS) Presentation
- Arthur Larok (ActionAid Uganda) Presentation
- Stephan Klingelhofer (ICNL) Presentation