Civil Society in Transitional Contexts - A Brief Review of Post-Conflict Countries and Afghanistan

from NATO Civil-Military Fusion Centre
Published on 07 Sep 2012

Executive Summary

Afghan non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are struggling to survive as donor contributions continue to wane, according to Reuters. While the international community pledged to provide USD 4 billion per year for Afghanistan through 2015 at the July 2012 Tokyo Conference, it remains unclear how much aid will ultimately be disbursed and how any change in aid levels could affect Afghan civil society, which is a broad category that includes NGOs as well as other voluntary bodies involved in governance or development. In order to gain a deeper understanding of how Afghan civil society may be affected by the on-going period of transition, this report examines three other countries that previously experienced periods of transition and declining financial donor support: Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste. Those case studies, which are outlined in the full report, point to a number of key lessons learnt, such as those noted below, related to civil society in transitional contexts. The following points emerge from reports such as the “Mozambican Civil Society”, “The Civil Society Landscape in Sierra Leone” and the “Situation Analysis of Civil Society Organisations in East Timor”.

  • Diversify Funding Sources. There is a need to gradually reduce dependence on international stakeholders for funds and capacity building. By diversifying sources of funding, civil society organisations (CSOs) may gain greater flexibility and be more independent of fluctuations in aid levels, as noted in the case study of Sierra Leone.

  • Coordinate or Collaborate. When funds are scarce, collaboration and coordination among CSOs becomes particularly important to maintain cohesion within civil society and to enable coherent or complementary activities. The alternative is a rise in inter-CSO competition, as was identified in the case of Mozambique.

  • Integrate Women. While there are many CSOs focused on women as beneficiaries, in Mozambique and elsewhere, women remained underrepresented in a significant portion of CSOs. Moreover, women tend to make up a smaller portion of the paid staff of CSOs when compared to men.

  • Enhance Understanding of Traditional CSOs. Research suggests that traditional institutions should be more closely studied in order to determine how they can more fully engage with registered CSOs, donors and government agencies. In Sierra Leone it was noted that rural residents preferred indigenous forms of civil society.

  • Consider Simplifying Funding Requirements. The difficulty of navigating complex funding requirements was described as another obstacle facing civil society in transitional contexts. The result tends to be the concentration of financial support among only a few CSOs.

Such lessons, while based on contexts other than Afghanistan, may be useful to Afghan NGOs, was well as other CSOs, which flourished after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. As of June 2012, the Ministry of Economy said that 1,707 local NGOs were registered in Afghanistan. Research by Counterpart International suggests that CSOs in Afghanistan are particularly concerned about their future levels of funding and are also grappling with insecurity and capacity deficits related to fundraising, project development, proposal writing and organisational management. However, the same study found that Afghan NGOs have also become increasingly professional; 90% of NGOs have written rules about how they are governed, and nearly 80% reportedly have procurement and accounting policies in place. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at the recent Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, the question now remains whether the international community will provide a sufficient investment to enable civil society to continue to develop and contribute to governance and social and economic development.