A well balanced state is commonly described as one that is capable of assuring basic security, maintaining rule of law and justice, or providing basic services and economic opportunities for its citizens. In contrast, fragile states, generally speaking, fail to perform functions necessary to meet citizens’ basic needs and expectations. In other words, fragile states are countries at risk as well as those that are actually failing.
No one disputes the fact that fragile states need support. However, supporting fragile states to provide basiservices to their citizens is not so simple. Government agencies that provide aid services on their own initiatives run the risk of undermining the legitimacy and capacity of the fragile state. On the other hand, supporting the fragile state’s own initiatives can be tricky as the state itself may be the cause of its own fragility. So how can aid-providers yield better outcomes by the provisions they make towards fragile states? One way is by identifying and engaging local non-state actors who are capable of looking into and handling the situation of fragility. In this case a non-state actor refers to civil society – the arena where people associate to advance their common interests.
It is a commonly held belief that the participation of civil societies in the processes of state building is an overriding factor in creating a well-balanced state. Presumably, the notion of modern civil society in Africa, which dates from the independence era, is based on the establishment of universal rights. The new class of conscientious citizens who tried to establish a sphere of influence in their countries’ politics demanded to play a meaningful role in the relationship that was developing between the civil society and the State. That sphere of influence, no matter how contested, continues to grow in some parts of Africa.
In most African countries the State became the centre of social relations, manages the state-civil society relationships by providing more space to those inside governmental structures. The newest country in Africa, the Republic of South Sudan, provides an interesting case study of a fragile state that is struggling to cope with the demands of its civil society organisations and the scrutiny of the international community.
South Sudan’s fragility can be seen in its current armed clashes within its borders, untamed pockets of rebellions, its weak institutions and governance systems, and its extreme lack of basic services. Problems such as influx of refugees, corruption, ominous war with North Sudan, cattle raids and so forth represent the main challenge South Sudan is facing in achieving stability, basic economic growth, and human development in the years ahead.
A social contract between GOSS and the international community (donor agencies) is essential if the country is going to build a stable, functional, and accountable state that is responsive to the needs of its citizens. The rights of citizens to health care, clean-water, and education can only be met through a state that is transparently governed and expends its resources towards these human development goals. Basically, GOSS should forge ways of working with the private sector, NGOs (local and international), and other civil society actors to bring about the desired outcome.
Realistically the development of relationships between donor agencies, Western governments and local actors can both enhance the effectiveness of programmes and encourage democratic governance. To start with here are some facts about the CSOs in South Sudan.
- Relatively speaking, South Sudan allows local and international NGOs to operate in the country with fewer restrictions [than other countries of the region].
- South Sudan is still working on its NGO Bill – therefore, there is no new legal framework governing NGO activities.
- Generally speaking, civil societies in South Sudan lack a secure resource base – a base from which to pursue their missions efficiently.
- Civil societies, at this stage, have limited capacity to influence government policy and affect real changes in legislation.
- There are many government organised NGOs in South Sudan at the moment that are competing against other NGOs.
- There are many party-affiliated local NGOs in the country – especially among the youth groups.
The Justice Africa Experience
Since 2009 Justice Africa has worked continuously to support and promote civil society in South Sudan. The plan has always been to create a niche for CSOs, ensure their uninterrupted presence as a collective, remain a noticeable segment of society that voices the concerns of the citizens, participate in political processes and articulate a South Sudanese way forward. The plan materialised when Justice Africa, together with other civil societies, held a Civil Society Convention in July 2011, bringing together over 250 civil society actors to discuss their role in the post independence period.
- Lessons Learned
The principal lesson that Justice Africa has learned since 2009 is that a realistic and modest approach is crucial in making the most of the relationship that develops between donor communities and local actors. Not driving the agenda, but providing support in ‘key moments’ and more importantly, walking alongside the local actors is a crucial element of the ‘formula’.
- Implemented Approaches
Justice Africa has and continues to implement the following approach:
- More focus on the process of the initiative rather than the event: studying the internal dynamics, obtain a good understanding of the positions of different players and the way in which they responded to events and the process as a whole.
- Thorough Consultation: build consensus through genuine and thorough consultation and pay close attention to the manner in which the process is driven by civil society groups themselves.
- Assume Facilitative role: bring the local actors at the forefront and provide support at ‘key moments’.
- Engage in Trust Building Activities: break down barriers and build feelings of reliance between each other (Justice Africa and the local actors).
- Team Composition: Good choice of influential local actors and the deployment of skilled activists on the ground.
The support that the donor agencies are pouring into South Sudan is bound to have an impact on the dynamics of civil society. However, our experience suggests that support which lacks good understanding of the internal civil society dynamics could chip away at the progress civil society community has achieved in recent years.
- Some Thoughts
Based on the experience of the Convention, here are some thoughts on how best to engage local non-state actors in fragile states such as the Republic of South Sudan.
a) What is the experience of civil society in fragile states in engaging with donors and Western governments? What are the positive and negative experiences?
- As demonstrated during the Convention the level of international engagement in South Sudan, including support to civil society, continues to remain high. That substantiates the fact that Western governments do not want South Sudan to fail but to broaden its civil society base.
- The necessity of effective civil society engagement is a process; however, trying to hurry through the process may bring about adverse effects. Therefore, expectations from all sides need to be managed better.
- Some donors are of the opinion that local actors do not have a proper understanding of the values of civil society; while local actors feel the social and political contexts of their situations is not properly analysed by the donors.
- The mechanisms that enable donors to directly connect with South Sudanese civil society need to improve. Most donors route funds via international NGOs. This greatly impacts the quality and areas of programming undertaken by local actors.
- Local groups are usually funded to undertake a pre-planned set of activities designed by international organisations. The capacity and profile of the local partners need to be enhanced as they are the real representatives and supporters of communities.
b) What perceptions do civil society and external governments have of each other?
- Many see civil society as an important component of the political project of building and consolidating democracy in South Sudan. However, one needs to exercise caution that this belief is not shared by all actors on the ground. In many fragile states the conventional notion of civil society is still in its infancy.
- There is a tension between short-term services that meet basic needs and contributing to the long-term development of capacity. Those tensions often create discord between donor and recipient communities.
- Both communities, donors and recipients alike, often engage without setting commonly applied measurable expectations. Our experience shows that expectations, from both ends of the scale, should continually be monitored.
c) What are the pressures that civil society faces in fragile states with oppressive governments?
- Supporting oppressive fragile states to provide basic services to their citizens is not so simple. It is tricky because many a times an oppressive state itself is the cause of its own fragility.
- Donor communities must address critical questions about working in partnerships with local actors if the situation on the ground is not conducive. Aid can easily be diverted to finance unplanned activities.
The outcome of the Convention shows that the international community and funding organisations have made significant progress in their approach by partnering and/or funding locally based civil society organisations. This change in approach is a positive step for local civil society organisations. However, there is still much work to be done on the part of donors and organisations to build trust, equity, strong partnerships and to manage certain expectations.