Why has the East Africa Civil Society Organisation cloned the INGO?

My blog last week asked whether the East Africa Civil Society Organisation (EACSO) is a recycled INGO – the blog raised interesting comments both on and offline. https://gabazira.com/2015/01/21/local-cso-recycled-ingo/ Given all that has been said and written on the subject, it must be safe to assume that the EACSO is indeed a clone of the INGO.

Development practitioners like you and me should explore why the EACSO has opted to clone than maintain its authentic identity. By the way, what is the identity of this so called authentic EACSO? Who defines and rules on what is authentic, in a society that has at some point in time been governed by folklore?

Rt. Rev. Nathan Ahimbisibwe, the South Ankole Diocese bishop, prays for President Museveni and wife Janet at St. Matthew Cathedral in Kyamate during the Easter service yesterday. Other clerics have asked the President not to stand again for presidency come 2016. photo by PPU

Even Bishops are activists – Rt. Rev. Nathan Ahimbisibwe, the South Ankole Diocese bishop, prays for President Museveni and wife Janet….Other clerics have asked the President not to stand again for presidency come 2016. photo by PPU

It is by understanding what should or not form part of the so-called authentic EACSO, that we may start to appreciate why this CSO entity has chosen to clone its International peer.

A short typology of civil society and its organisation:

The varying views by both scholars and other practitioners re.: civil society organisation typology, goes to show how complex the subject civil society is. The good news is that Mike Edwards http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745679358 has done an excellent job of defining a typology of civil society, that I am confident applies to the EACSO context.  Edwards explains three archetypes of civil society:

  • associationism,
  • doing good to society,
  • and engaging in the public sphere.

Edwards asserts that for civil society organisations to be seen as effective at their mandate, they have to operate across all three archetypes. Welcome to the talk: development = the jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Of-course, I have to wonder why a civil society organisation cannot ONLY be a volunteer village organisation with members that support one another (social insurance) during a time of death? Why should this burial group have to do ‘political’ activism for it to be considered complete?

True to culture and practice in international development, the EACSO positions itself as delivering on all three archetypes above. Indeed, the EACSO would fit Edwards perspective of effective civil society. However, upon deeper reflection, does it deliver on all the three archetypes? The truth is that EACSO’s work is mostly silent on ‘associationism’ and ‘doing good’ archetypes. Instead, its work is tilted towards public-sphere work as it is the latter that donors want to fund.  Go check who is funding village based voluntary associations – It may be like finding a hen’s teeth!

A4C protests

Uganda: example of donor market ‘demand’. A4C protest in Uganda (monitor photo)

While it is true that we increasingly see an INGO in the EACSO, you and me need to desist from condemnation of the EACSO for its opportunistic tendencies. Rather, let us all ask and answer the question below:

Why has the EACSO opted to clone the INGO and abandon its core identity of voluntarism and community development?

Reasons for the INGO-ization:

1. There is demand from the global aid architecture for what the EACSO has to offer in the development eco-system. If there were no funds available to the EACSO and what it offers, it would have died or returned to its roots of voluntarism and doing good for the community. In effect, a key underlying cause of the ‘cloning of the INGO by the EACSO’ is the fact that donors, specifically western donors and in some cases governments, have used the EACSO to deliver their agenda. Faced with the reality that donors and government control the majority of development funds, the EACSO will only access funds if it does what the purse-holder ask.

2. The EACSO was not formed in the spirit of true ‘associationism/voluntarism and community relations building’, but the urge to engage in the public sphere, mostly upon western donor prompting. The EACSO has at times been deployed as a tool for checking the political excesses of the state in East-Africa, especially whenever donors feel that there is the absence of a viable opposition. The irony is that voluntary groups if well nurtured, can even be more effective at delivering to this need, or I think.

3. Well let us be honest, the EACSO is likely to have been born in East African capital cities or even, imported by those in the diaspora direct from western capitals.  Its main purpose is creating employment for the ‘entrepreneurial’ creators. If the objective is job creation, then they need to be sure they answer to ‘demand’ from the market. In this case, ‘demand’ is not necessarily from the authentic market – i.e. the poor, but the purse-holder of global aid resources – i.e. donors and their deep pockets. The INGO has been an effective machine at addressing demand from the donor, and it would be naive to expect the EACSO, not to clone a business model that has served its masters so well.

4. Should we not ask the question whether the purse-holder in global development, would be interested in funding informal civil society? These could be ‘communities of villagers’, that can’t write ‘development-english’ well or even engage in discourse that we have come to know from development power houses. In Uganda, I have witnessed cases where CSO’s are quickly formed to access funds allocated to village development programs at the expense of informal CSO. The latter will have been in existence for many years and could in reality deploy more effectively development funds. However, who would be interested in funding a burial group? After all, they have no bank account, ‘development-English’ speaking technocrats – they simply are ‘impossible to engage’ aren’t they?

As a development worker, i feel extremely challenged that i do not have the state-of-readiness to engage at this informal level.  The industry i work for, just to scapegoat for once, hasn’t prepared me for this. So can we blame the EACSO for modelling what they know will attract money? Perhaps we need a ‘fair-trade’ approach to supporting informal civil society in East Africa.

5. The EACSO has been used to fill the service-provider void in countries where the state in not able to do so. INGO’s have over the years developed a very effective business model for being the link between the state and the citizen – it should not surprise us that the EACSO has embraced the model. Borrowing from our pharma friends, It is smart business for second-generation players in an industry to use well researched, tested products, whose patent has expired, to mint money. The EACSO is precisely doing that – i.e. using the INGO model as a service delivery vehicle.

6. Again, geo-politics is never far from any discussion that is development. It is true that East Africa is witnessing the emergence of progressive politics and stable democracies, whichever way one wants to define the latter. However, sometimes, there is concern about democracy and its development and civil society has been considered and in some cases used, as a force to re-align surging democratic practice.

Recent protests in Uganda by groups such as A4C http://www.independent.co.ug/cover-story/5589-a4c-ban an example in point; i suppose my point is that this ‘default-opposition’ hat, can’t apparently be worn by informal but only the formal & SMART civil society. I do have my views on the latter, but for now, we are showing why the EACSO has cloned the INGO, and this may yet be another reason to consider.

Pausing for a moment, who of us in the INGO community has the moral authority to blame the EACSO for this seemingly opportunistic orientation? What alternative does it have apart from going back to becoming:

  • a grass-roots operation that can’t attract funds sustainably
  • die
  • or do what the development purse-holder wants

So, what are we saying after-all?

I think that we should all be careful not to challenge a proven, and fundamental theory of economics – Demand and supply determine price points – and good prices and revenue margins determine investment-direction. The EACSO is delivering to what the market is willing to pay. Also, is that not what the INGO has done for the last 65 years?

As an INGO worker and one that embraces diverging views about an industry that provides me a living, I believe that the answer to addressing the enigma of the ‘development-market’ with all its failings is:

  1. For the EACSO to continue its focus on work in the public sphere knowing its the ‘cash-cow’, but at the same time explore mechanisms to embrace ‘associationism’ and ‘doing-good’ archetypes. In my mind, I do see a case for a ‘partnership’ of some kind between the contemporary EACSO and ‘authentic’ village based and informal civil society movement. Like Mike Edwards suggests, i do agree that the more effective civil society organisation will continue to work across all three archetypes.  However, it may be too much for one entity to deliver alone.
  2. In the long term, the answer to shifting the ‘dysfunctional-market’ dynamic where the ‘purse-holder’ as opposed to the ‘client’ (or beneficiary as many of you in development want to call it) determines demand, is the economic empowerment and formal education of the client. At the risk of sounding very simplistic, i wonder what would happen if one day (it may be another 50 year cycle and i may long be dead) the East Africa poor wakes up with significantly improved economic fortunes and quality education. If the latter were to become reality, the beneficiary should be able to influence and correct the ‘market-dysfunction’ presented above – i.e. the beneficiary will simply reject what is brought to them but don’t see as useful. That is the ‘power & influence’ that is lacking and for as long as it remains as such, correcting this market-dysfunction will continue to be a wish.
  3. In the medium term, there is a case for creating a ‘fourth sector’ industry like we have the ‘third-sector’ in civil society. The ‘fourth-sector’ will act as a check and balance on the excesses of sectors 1 – 2 – and 3 (Government, Private sector, & Civil Society), but especially civil society (3rd sector). Fortunately, the fourth sector is starting to emerge via organisations that: work with grass-roots organisations directly and ONLY, critique the status quo and challenge existing development industry norms, work within a ‘new’ market framework via social enterprises, tap the power of digital technology and mobile telephony to create aid industry disrupting solutions. I hope that the fourth sector will be able to avoid funding from any of the other three orthodox sectors – as i worry that as soon as the latter happens, autonomy will be sacrificed and with it, fourth-sector ideology and belief.

Do you agree with me that unless saved by a strong ‘fourth-sector’, until such a time that the ‘client’ of aid can determine demand, we may continue to see an aid industry whose business value-chain is not determined and shaped by the market, but whoever holds the development purse?



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