The current discourse on 'civil society' in Africa, conducted by Northern governments, international NGOs, activists and academics, often presents civil society as the locus sine qua nonfor progressive politics, the place where people organise to make their lives better, even a site of resistance. This article seeks to remind us that, as originally theorized by Antonio Gramsci, civil society is a potential battleground. It also constitutes an arena in which states and other powerful actors intervene to influence the political agendas of organised groups with the intention of defusing opposition. This article examines the extent to which this form of civil society is being constituted in Africa, in particular, through Northern government support to African policy-oriented organisations. It does this by looking at three quite distinct national contexts and investigating the relationship between the dominant development project in each, undertaken by the government in 'strategic collaboration' with donors and civil society. It focuses on Ghana, South Africa and Uganda during the late 1990s. All three countries have been paradigmatic in terms of donor visions for the continent and have attracted some of the largest aid packages that specifically target 'civil society'. It is argued that donors have been successful in influencing the current version of civil society in these countries so that a vocal, well-funded section of it, which intervenes on key issues of national development strategy, acts not as a force for challenging the status quo,but for building societal consensus for maintaining it.
Original research funded by: 'Foreign Political Aid, Democratisation and Civil Society in Africa' (1997-2000) R6958, the Economic and Social Research Committee (ESCOR), UK Department for International Development. RAE_import_type : Journal article RAE_uoa_type : Politics and International Studies