Angola: Changing role of civil society must be supported by donors, report

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 14 July (IRIN) - A new report by the World Bank says civil society organisations (CSOs), which have been forced to play a more prominent role in conflict-affected and fragile states such as Angola, need more support during the transition from an emergency to a development phase.

In the absence of credible or capable public institutions, "the development community relies heavily on CSOs to reach the poor", said the report, 'Engaging Civil Society Organisations in Conflict-Affected and Fragile States - Three African Country Case Studies".

"In Angola, extensive donor presence during the conflict has led to a burgeoning yet uncoordinated landscape of CSOs, dominated by high-capacity international NGOs. Development projects have created a wide range of community-based organisations (CBOs). In areas with less NGO presence, mass party organisations and religious groups are the main organisational structures," the report noted.

The paper also assessed CSOs in Togo and Guinea Bissau, observing that "CSOs play a different role in conflict-affected and fragile states than in other countries".

"When public services have broken down due to conflict or a weak public sector, NGOs, religious groups and other CSOs become more important providers of basic social services, in contrast to advocacy and governance work," the Bank commented.

CSOs engaged in advocacy and governance work were sometimes viewed with distrust by governments, "who often try to regulate and control these activities".

Although Angola had been in post-conflict transition since 2002, the relationship between CSOs and the government "remains tenous".

"Communities deprived of basic services too may attach lower priority to advocacy and governance efforts. Nevertheless, CSOs do have important governance functions. First, they improve governance from the bottom up by creating partnerships between CBOs and local governments. Second, CSOs introduce more participatory approaches to community-level decision-making. Third, CSOs can play a stabilising and mediating role in reducing conflict," the authors commented.

The transition out of conflict in Angola posed new challenges for CSOs. "First, as conflicts end and public institutions gradually recover, the dynamics between citizens, CSOs, and government institutions change, and new sources of friction may emerge."

While CSOs would continue to play a major developmental role, particularly in the area of social service delivery, the redefinition of roles and responsibilities could give rise to tension between CSOs and the government. This was of particular concern where rules were not clear or were applied arbitrarily.

"Second, as countries transition out of conflict and as the state is strengthened, the type of activities carried out by CSOs needs to shift from relief to development," the report pointed out.

CSOs required new skills and business models, "which are difficult to acquire when donor funding is tied to small, discrete projects, and CSOs have few sources for longer-term assistance in capacity building and institutional development".

Thirdly, as public institutions gradually resumed responsibility for basic service delivery, opportunities could arise for CSOs to become more active in advocacy and influencing policy.

"[However], this is an area where CSO experience and capacity is generally limited", the paper noted, and engagement with CSOs by donors and other developmental partners had been largely fragmented.

"Donor preferences for financing CSOs on a project-by-project basis gives these organisations limited opportunities for developing capacity, specialisation, strategic planning, and long-term investments in beneficiary communities," the Bank said.

Competition among CSOs for scarce resources had led to them becoming "donor-driven, with their accountability focused upward to donors rather than downward to citizens".

The report recommended longer-term financial support for CSOs as they made their transition from the emergency phase to meet the "more demanding conditions required by donors in the development phase".

Longer-term partnerships between international organisations and local CSOs would also enhance capacity and improve sustainability.

For the full report go to:


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