Workshop 5: CDC in fragile states

Civic Action27 Jul 2009The Broker

Author: Willemijn Verkoren

CDC Cases:

  • Annemarie Sweeries of IKV Pax Cristi presented a case from Ituri in Eastern DRC, where a platform of local NGOs has been set up to deal with reconciliation. IKV Pax Christi has also supported the creation of village committees consisting of volunteers who engage in local-level mediation. Other committees focus more on security issues, monitoring, denouncing and engaging with militia members. Barzas – community gatherings – have been organized in this region as well to enable people to share concerns and visions for the future. A particularly salient issue for IKV Pax Christi in this region has been the weakness and often uncooperative stance of state authorities.
  • Stephanie Joubert of Cordaid presented the case of the Development and Peace Groups in Manipur in Northeast India, where civil society has been caught in the middle between a variety of violent state and underground groups. This has torn apart society: the civil society forum that was set up by academics, religious groups and community leaders took around 10 years to find common ground. However, the platform has increasingly been able to create space for civil society in an environment dominated by the language and ideologies of the state and underground groups. In addition, it has sparked off a number of other initiatives, including women and youth networks that are formed across conflict and ethnic lines. However, divisions within civil society make continuous dialogue necessary. Also, the more visible civic initiatives become, the more they are under threat by the various warring sides. The role of Cordaid has been to support building lobby and advocacy capacity, to provide contacts with groups in mainland India, and to do direct lobbying in Europe and the Netherlands.

The roles of NGOs in supporting these civic-driven initiatives have been primarily threefold:

  • to facilitate communitation
  • to provide the ‘munition’ for civic action in the form of information (e.g. about laws) and skills (e.g. lobbying capacities)
  • to connect groups to one another, both horizontally (i.e. bringing groups with similar aims in contact with one another) and vertically (i.e. providing access to lobbying channels)

In the discussion the following points came forward:

  • CDC taken to the extreme can be interpreted as a call for less external interference in local processes. However, in fragile situations there is a need for external help.
  • Currently an often-heard argument is that local initiatives are spoiled by donors who force them to institutionalize and thereby become further removed from their base. However, institutionalization is not necessarily a bad thing. In fragile states one might even say that there is a dire lack of institutions.
  • In fragile states civic initiatives can come to replace the functions of (non-functioning) state institutions. However, in the longer run, getting the state to carry out these functions should be an aim. This means that authorities need to be involved in activities, rather than running parallel to them. One participant remarked that we ‘should be trying to bring out the “civicness” in existing power structures so that they can start doing what they are supposed to be doing’. Another noted that often, authorities are much more willing to cooperate and learn than is assumed.
  • It was noted that in doing all this it is important to build on local values and language.
  • Finally, are civic actors powerless in the face of the powers that be? Not necessarily; in CDC, power is derived from
    – involving authorities in activities
    – sociall legitimacy (including people from different groups)
    – numbers