Civic driven change in fragile states

Development Policy22 Jun 2009Thea Hilhorst

Crisis spurs creativity. The fatigue with development-as-usual, in the media, policy circles but most importantly with the people within development (scholars, practitioners, policy officers), leads to many new initiatives and ideas. Today I participated in a meeting on Civic Driven Change at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. We could talk for a long time whether there is something new in CDC, but no doubt there is something interesting and inspiring in the kinds of initiatives that fall under their heading. In our workshop on fragile states, two cases were presented: A network of development and peace groups in North Manipur, India and the Haki na Amani (Justice and Peace) network in DRC.

The initiatives are interesting and, although their results are sometimes more symbolic than tangible, they are worth supporting – if only because symbols are hugely important in times where state-society relations are reinvented. One of the interesting observations that came from the workshop is that because the space for civic driven change is often small, it is all the more important to ‘civilize’ the powers that be. Government officials, church leaders and soldiers are often found to be mre interested in civic notions and rights-based approaches than assumed and they can make a lot of change. But citizens are far from powerless too. Because of their social legitimation they can be heard, especially when they come in big numbers. “One woman’s complaint may fall on deaf ears, but 500 women are listened to”.