Civil Society, NGOs and Democratic Governance in developing countries. A case of KHRC in Kenya

Master's Thesis, 2014

83 Pages, Grade: 7





1.0 Introduction
1.1 Structure of the Thesis
1.2. Problem statement
1.2.1 Context
1.3 Assumptions
1.4 Research Objectives
1.4.1 Specific Objectives
1.5. Research Questions
1.6. Hypothesis
1.7. Research Methodology and research design
1.8. Limitations of the Study
1.9. Conceptual Clarifications

2.0 Defending Qualitative Methods
2.1 The Merits of Case Study
2.2. The Narrative
2.3. Secondary Sources

3.0 State of Art/Theory
3.1 Liberal Democracy Model
3.1.1 Civil society and democratization: The Liberal school of thought

4.0 Democracy in the Developing Countries
4.1 Civil Society and Democracy in the Developing Countries
4.1.1 Role of the Civil Society in a developing country context
4.2 Democracy in the developing countries post Cold War

5.0. Kenya
5.1. Kenya’s Political Discourse
5.2 Democracy Transition in Kenya
5.3 Kenya’s unfinished Agendas
5.4. The Civil Society and Democracy in Kenya
5.5 CSOs as advocates and monitors of Democracy in early 1990s
5.6 Political Developments in the decade 1990-2000
5.7 State and Civil Society Relations
5.8 Close relationship between Civil Society and the NARC Government: Beyond 2003

6.0 The Kenya Human Rights Commission
6.1 History of the KHRC
6.2 KHRC’s Vision and Mission
6.3 KHRC’s strategies and activities that contribute to democratization and democratic governance
6.3.1 KHRC's Strategies Advocacy Research, Monitoring and Documentation Rights Based Approach to Change
6.3.2 KHRC’s Activities Civil and Political Rights Equality and Non-Discrimination Economic Social and Rights The Human Rights Education Programme Electoral Monitoring
6.4. Relations with the Government
6.5. Influence on state policy formulation and implementation
6.5.1 The New 2010 Constitution of Kenya
6.6. Relations with other organizations
6.6.1 International NGOs and other development agencies
6.6.2 National NGOs
6.6.3 Grassroots and Community Based Organizations

7.0. Analyzing KHRC’s role in promoting democratic governance

8.0 Conclusion


Appendix 1: List of Bills drafted by KHRC

Appendix 2: List of press statements by KHRC

List of Pictures

Picture 1: Cover photo of LGBTI report published by KHRC in 2011.

Picture 2: KHRC launching a report on the 2013 General elections in Nairobi on March 2014

Picture 3: Members of the public taking part in demonstration organized by KHRC..63Picture 4: Picture showing conference between KHRC and other non state actors


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Scholars agree that modern political democracies are almost impossible without vibrant, free and activist civil societies. In Africa, as in many other parts of the developing world, civil societies have arisen as a response to the dysfunction and despotism of the postcolonial state.

Since the late 1980s, democracy, governance, and human rights organizations, which are basically a crucial part of the civil society, have greatly influenced the democratization process in Kenya and other parts of the developing countries after the failures of the regimes to bring about meaningful development, transparency, accountability and respect for human rights through bad governance. It is in this light that civil society organizations like the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) that sought to directly engage with other stakeholders with the same concerns such as donors, the society and other organizations in a bid to promote democratic governance in Kenya by reforming the state and challenging its legitimacy.

To achieve this, KHRC was involved in various activities that included community mobilization and sensitization about issues such as their human rights that should be guaranteed and protected by the state, good governance characterized by transparency and accountability, and their role as citizen to keep the state on check and demand for reforms whenever necessary. The NGO has also been involved in lobbying and putting pressure on the government on issues that the state should reform on why also lobbying to the government’s external donors and development partner to put pressure and emphasize the need to carry out reforms and institutional strengthening.

Given the current political developments in Kenya, including a new constitution promulgated in August 2010 that has been applauded as being very progressive and with an elaborate chapter on Bills of Rights, and its continuing implementation, the relatively peaceful, largely “free and fair” general elections of March 2013 that KHRC monitored, it can be said that the organization has positively played a positive role in the last quarter of a century but there is still a long way to go for real democratic principles to be permanently enshrined among the Kenyan political elites and state institutions and as such KHRC must continue on its struggle to keep the various regimes that come into power on their toes and engage them on the way towards ensuring a strong and stable Kenyan state that is deeply rooted in democratic governance and that has accountability, transparency and respect for human rights.

This thesis there seeks to examine how civil society, represented in this case study by KHRC have contributed to the increased democratic space in Kenya, and therefore be able to conclude whether civil society and NGOs contribute to democratization and democratic governance within the state.

Key Words: Democratization, democratic governance, civil society, human rights, Non Governmental Organizations, developing countries, Kenya, Kenya Human Rights Commission.

1.0 Introduction

In this thesis, the role and the impact of civil society and NGOs in particular in the promotion of democratic governance in developing countries will be evaluated. To achieve this, the thesis will use KHRC, a national NGO working in Kenya as a case study and an analysis of its various activities will be conducted so as to reach a conclusion on how it assists in making Kenya a more democratic state. In doing this, the study will show that civil society in developing countries have had a significant impact on democratic governance

1.1 Structure of the Thesis

This thesis is going to be organized as follows; in the Introduction chapter will be included a brief introduction of the topic, including statement of the problem and the structure of the thesis followed by context within which the study has been conceptualized while research methodology, limitations to the study and conceptual clarifications close the introduction section.

The next chapter after introduction will be defending qualitative methods employed in this study where an argument is made for the reasons behind the choice of methods used in the study and their merits. Chapter three links the subject of study to a possible theory, the liberal democracy theory which puts civil society and NGOs at the center of democratic governance and as important non state actors, while chapter four looks at the what scholars have written about the state of democracy and the contribution of civil society to democratization in developing countries in selected cases in Latin America, Asia and post colonial Africa. This includes various literature survey and reviews, analysis and conclusions about the progress made by civil society in promoting democracy.

In chapter five, the study looks specifically at the Kenyan scenario and struggles for a democratic oriented state with emphasis being put on the role played by civil society and NGOs to enshrine democratic tenets in the society starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the struggle being seen as an ongoing process up to the contemporary scenario where the struggle is still on for democratic governance and stronger institutions. To articulately analyze the contribution of civil society and NGOs to democratic governance, chapter six takes one NGO that has been actively involved in human rights and democratic governance issues in Kenya, and looks at the various activities that it has been involved in since its establishment and the successes achieved in making Kenya a more democratic state.

Towards the end of the thesis an independent analysis will be done as well as a conclusion both which will aid in understanding from the study’s point of view where the topic and the research objectives have been answered to the full extent and if not the next recommendations will be provided for further research where necessary.

1.2. Problem statement

CSOs and NGOs, especially democracy, human rights and good governance advocating ones have been actively involved in the quest for the transition from autocratic rule to participatory democracy ever since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and many scholars have applauded their role in this process through their various advocacy tactic through which regimes in the developing world have been changed. Academicians see them as having taken advantage of the changing scenarios both at the international and national levels in the post Cold War era to institute demands for more accountable regimes that respected and upheld basic human rights and also more political participation through liberal democracy. However, in equal measures, CSOs and NGOs have not been in the scene without criticism and questions about their role in the so called ‘second wave of democratization’ have been asked.

African governments have seen them as being used to as the medium through which the West controls policies and governance in the less developed world. This is the case especially in Kenya where multi party politics were restored in the early 1990s after donors and other development partners enforced sanctions and put further donor-recipient relations on hold until the democratic and political space in the country was opened up.

The above notion is reflected by Pommerolle[1] in the fact that scholars and academics have dismissed human rights NGOs as donors’ marionettes, while African states often accuse them of being foreign agents bent on orchestrating the interests of their foreign pay masters. The emphasis on external factors can be explained by the fact that most NGOs have been born out of or helped by donors’ will and funding, in a context of externally encouraged democratic change. One of the points during this argument this that a large percentage of their funding comes from external sources, notably international NGOs and government sponsored development agencies from the developed countries.

A majority of NGOs in Kenya, regardless of where they were established, are funded via international sources. “Of the approximately $213 million NGOs reported raising in returns submitted to the government in 2005, $195 million originated in the international economy versus $17 million from Kenyan sources, of which only $1.5 million came from the Kenyan government.3 This means 91% of funds come from international sources. Of the other 9%, 8% come from local private sources, with only 1% of NGO funds derived from the Government of Kenya at the national or local level”(Brass, 2012). External powers that channel growing proportion of aid via NGOs have been said to also be able to determine many domestic policies and priorities without the need for consent from either the indigenous population or its elected representatives, Pinkney (2003) concludes.

1.2.1 Context

Ever since achieving independence, Kenya has witnessed what Murungi[2] (2009) refers to as the most egregious violations of human rights that include among others torture, political murders and assassinations, political repression, detention without trial, corruption and theft of state resources, all which have been conducted with impunity. These activities point out to a country that is predominantly undemocratic and which does not follow democratic principles of governance. But at the same time, this period has also seen the establishment of important human rights and governance organizations, pressure groups, citizens groups, and community based groups all which sought to promote and protect the rights of Kenyans while also lobbying for a democratic and plural society[3].

In 1995, Covey made an observation that “at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, there was much talk of the emerging advocacy role for NGOs in both North and South. Debates about the propriety, legality, and safety of NGO lobbying were in the air. Now, only a few years later, advocacy activities with governments, donors, multilateral development agencies, and publics is assumed to be a crucial ingredient in enhancing the position of NGOs as key players in the diffuse social movement loosely labeled ‘sustainable development’.”

Kenya has made tremendous steps towards democracy ever since the onset of the multiparty politics in the early 1990s after what was a long battle to free the country from the authoritarian one party regime that was enshrined in the constitution. Ever since then there has been several competitive multiparty elections and in 2010 a new constitution that has radical reforms to the structures of governance and human rights was overwhelmingly voted for by majority of Kenyans. The constitution is currently in its progressive stages of implementation and once fully operational, good governance, transparency and accountability with ensure that the rule of law is upheld.

1.3 Assumptions

Almost all works written during the early 1990s and a decade earlier tend to reflect a positive role played by Civil Society in the struggle to make most of the developing countries thriving democracies. However, this assumption has not been without skeptics who have seen NGOs as merely being actors within a developing country who represent foreign interests largely donors who fund their activities. These donors have been noted to include among others INGOs, MNCs, and even foreign governments especially those in the western countries.

1.4 Research Objectives

This study is primarily interested in the role civil society and NGOs play in the transition towards democratic governance in non democratic states and how these organizations work within the state to ensure that there is democratization and that this process is upheld without relapsing into authoritarianism. This is because civil society has been active in developing countries in the last two and a half where they have been trying to support the weak state to be more democratic or to transit from despotic regimes.

Looking at the various activities that they carry will assist in determining whether they have been contributing to the ongoing democratization. This will be done by taking one such NGO and examining its activities so as to reach a conclusion.

1.4.1 Specific Objectives

Specifically, this paper seeks to look at the following issues:

- To find out KHRC’s key strategies and activities that assist in its contribution to the democratization process and promotion of democratic governance
- To find out the nature of relations between the KHRC and the Kenyan government
- To find out whether KHRC has any influence in the policy formulation and implementation by the state.
- To find out he relations between the KHRC and other international, national and local based organizations (CBOs)

1.5. Research Questions

In trying to determine the contribution of civil society in promoting democratic governance, this study will be guided by some questions that are pertinent in finding out the how they contribute to a more democratic society and state. These questions will largely pay attention to the main activities NGOs carry and how they affect the basic conditions necessary for a democracy to thrive. To achieve this, the study will be guided by the following research questions:

- What are KHRC’s key strategies and activities that assist in its contribution to the democratization process and promotion of democratic governance
- What is the nature of relations between the KHRC and the Kenyan government?
- Does KHRC influence the state’s policy formulation and implementation processes?
- What are the relations between the KHRC and other international, national and local based organizations (CBOs)?

1.6. Hypothesis

Civil society and NGOs in developing countries, Kenya included, have played an important role in the transit from the authoritarian regimes through a democratization process and promotion of democratic governance by agitating for democratic place and keeping the government on check on governance, accountability, transparency and human rights related issues among others, which is the scenario that is on the ground today with more than ever seen before number of civil society registered.

1.7. Research Methodology and research design

Research Methodology in this study represents the principles, procedures, and strategies of research used in a study for gathering information, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions. There are broad category of methodology such as qualitative methods and quantitative methods; particular types of methodologies such as survey research, case study, and participant observation, among many others. In the research process, the researcher decides which theoretical paradigm to use, what research strategies are appropriate for the purpose of the study and, which the methods of collection, analysis and interpretation are.

The research strategy to be utilized in this thesis is a case study research. This study is a qualitative study and literature review and documentation was the main technique employed for collecting data about democracy, civil society and NGOs in developing countries, Kenya and also KHRC. Thus, the author of this thesis corroborated evidence from different sources in order to shed light on case.

1.8. Limitations of the Study

To maintain a narrow scope on the field of research, this study will mainly be limited to one Non-Governmental Organization, the Kenya Human Rights Commission which will serve to represent CSOs as well as NGOs on their roles and influence in the democratic governance processes in Kenya. Data will also be limited to secondary (this is explained in the next chapter), and the timeline will be from the onset of multiparty politics in early 1992 up to the current scenario.

1.9. Conceptual Clarifications

Before ploughing deep into the topic of study, it is important to define some concepts that will be repeatedly used in this study and thus this section will attempt to provide possible definitions and a clear understanding of these concepts that inform this study. These concepts are democracy, civil society, NGO, democratic governance, good governance, democratization, human rights, the West, developed and developing countries.

Democracy has been defined to show its numerous and varying conceptions and ideologies that underlie them, and as Liston (2009:65) correctly puts it, democracy is a contested concept with a wide debate about its definition. This also has implications for the state, society, and the citizenry. Varieties of democracy have been noted to include direct, radical, guided, liberal, socialist, and consociational democracies, with each having its own unique characteristics, writes Pinkney (2003:7). However, for the purposes of this thesis, democracy will be used to refer to liberal form of democracy with attributes such as checks and balances to prevent tyranny of the majority, representatives, or powerful minority, representation and protection of diverse interests, constitutional safeguards of individual rights among others.

Liberal democracy as a way of organizing politics and the society at large has thus been the most popular form of democracy in the contemporary world due to what scholars have seen as its application in the western countries of Europe and Northern America. On the same vein, the concept Democratic Governance is practically derived from the ideas of democracy and especially liberal democracy within which context governance comes in to refer broadly to the exercise of power through a country’s economic, social, and political institutions and in which these institutions represent the organizational rules and routines, formal laws, and informal norms that together shape the incentives of public policy-makers, overseers, and providers of public services (Olu-Adeyemi, 2012). Still on the democratic governance, (Bevir, 2011) says the term broadly refers to “public organization and public action, capturing one of the major trends of recent times.”

In this study, the concept good governance will also feature prominently and it will in some instances be used interchangeably with democratic governance to imply a process of governance that Olu-Adeyemi has described as “participatory, transparent and accountable, effective and equitable, and promotes the rule of law. It should also ensure that political, social and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision-making over the allocation of development resources (2012:167).

The next terminology which is closely related to the above concepts is democratization and which according to Whitehead (2002:22) is best understood as a complex, long‐term, dynamic, and open‐ended process. In his view, it consists of progress towards a more rule‐based, more consensual and more participatory type of politics with a polity. For the purposes and within the context of this study, democratization will be understood in the same way as what Whitehead sees it as beginning “with the exit of an authoritarian regime and ending after competitive free and fair elections have given rise to two successive peaceful transfers of government to contending parties.” Kenya fits squarely in this description and the authoritative regime in question is the one party state that was replaced by multiparty politics in the early 1990s and hence opening up political space for competitive politics and elections and with only two peaceful transfers of governments since then.

The concept civil society has remained elusive given the different labels which led to its meaning changing over time and with tradition, Kanyinga[4] observes. However, despite this, Kanyinga sees neoliberal paradigm as attaching importance to civil society in relation to rights, citizenship, rule of law, free markets, freedom of information and democratic representation. He sees civic society as concerning civic institutions with their activities geared towards enriching liberal democracy, with the contemporary sociological theory borrowing from the Hegelian tradition that has associated civil society with autonomous groups of free individuals who are organized separately from both the state and the family. This tradition sees civil society as the realm in which the social relations are reproduced and articulated to foster the social good.

On what entails civil society and what does not, (Diamond, 1997) sees civil society as being different from society and generally involves citizens acting collectively in a public sphere where they seek to express their interests, passions, preferences, and ideas while also exchanging information, achieve collective goals, made demands on the state, improve structure and functioning of the state, and also hold state officials accountable. As such, Diamond sees civil society as “the realm of organized social life that is open, voluntary, self-generating, partially self supporting, autonomous from the state and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules.” In this light, the study will understand civil society as encompassing a vast array of organizations, both formal and informal which, according to Diamond (1997:6) include economic, cultural, informational and educational, interests groups, developmental organizations, issues-oriented movements, and civil groups among others.

For the purposes of this thesis, the definition and conceptual understanding of NGOs and their activities will be defined as has been captured by Mercer (2002) that “the term NGO has been understood to refer to those organizations that are officially established, run by employed staff (often urban professionals or expatriates), well-supported either by domestic or, as is more often the case, international funding and that are often relatively large and well-resourced. NGOs may therefore be international organizations or they may be national or regional NGOs. They are seen as different from Grassroots Organizations (GROs) that are usually understood to be smaller, often membership-based organizations, operating without a paid staff but often reliant upon donor or NGO support, which tend to be but are not always issue-based and therefore ephemeral.”

However, despite the above elaborate definition, other scholars like Murungi (2009:42) have gone further into details and categorised NGOs based on their various activities and on which sector they tend to lean on while carrying out their activities. She talks about there being many types of NGOs in civil society, such as business organizations (BONGOs), political NGOs (PONGOs), briefcase NGOs (BRINGOs), donors NGOs (DONGOs), government NGOs (GONGOs), First Lady NGOs, family-owned NGOs (FANGOs) among others. For the purposes of this study, emphasis will not be put into these various categorisation since the study aims at looking at just a single NGO but it is worth noting that KHRC can possibly over two of these categories, namely political NGOs and donor NGOs given the fact that it is mainly involved in a political struggle and also that it gets a majority of its support, financially and otherwise, from donors.

On the concept human rights, it is a common belief that all human beings have some basic rights. However, there is no widely accepted definition of rights and the term itself lacks a clear definition. Hence, the questions about what the rights constitute and who exercises them have always been undergoing debates. Culture, custom, religion and lifestyle, and many other things, have affected the perception and definition of rights. Therefore, the rights and the possessors of these rights vary from one society to another, observes (Mungle, 2012). He writes that concerns about human rights were first raised in the West, which was also the region where treaties and conventions of human rights were drafted.

For him, the focus of Western approach was individual-based, with the idea that human beings have natural rights. This was based on the argument that human beings are born free and was first articulated by Hobbes and Locke in the seventeenth century. This idea further came into existence in the American and French Revolutions, but it didn't provide an effective worldwide mechanism to protect human rights and to trace their violations by recognized legal bodies. Attempts to establish such mechanisms were only made shortly after the Second World War, with first the establishment of the United Nations in 1946, the drafting and ratification of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 among other international and regional human rights treaties”[5]. However, in this thesis, human rights will be understood and discussed in terms of the full scope of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights that the state should protect and uphold within the society.

Of the probably most contested concepts in the contemporary world is probably the term the West, which is used ambiguously to refer to those countries of Europe that are geographically located in western Europe, those of Northern America (the United States and Canada) and Australia and New Zealand with the latter two not being geographically located in the west but they share ideologies and other characteristics with their ‘western’ partners. The term has also come to be closely associated with other definitions and attributes such as high development index and good governance and democracy and hence also has a political ideology attached to it and mainly associated with democracy and free markets. Thus, the West has been seen by other parts of the world as being leaders in world affairs and as a source of enormous influence in international relations, and also as proponents of democracy and liberal markets globally. For the purposes of this study, this term will be used to refer to this notion of very influential states within the global order.

On developed and developing countries, there lacks a universally agreed upon criteria upon which states should be hierarchically ranked from the developed to developing but there exists some factors that are looked at to evaluate a states rank of either being developed or developing. Among these could be high levels of income, equality, good governance and a good human rights record, economic and social development among others. For the developing countries, the opposite of this is true but the levels of each attribute differs on a country to country basis with some making fast progress while other have not achieved much and their populations live in poverty, are less educated and the government is often accused of oppression and violation of human rights.

2.0 Defending Qualitative Methods

The qualitative method of research will be utilised in this study and analysis since it is concerned with words than numbers, with an inductive view of the relationship between theory and research with the former being generated out of the latter. This study also has what Bryman (2012:380) has referred to as epistemological position that is interpretive in nature as opposed to the adoption of a natural scientific model that is evident in quantitative research. In this case, the stress has been put on the understanding of the social world through an examination of the interpretation of that world by its participants while also taking what Bryman (Ibid) calls an ontological position, a constructionist view which implies that social properties are outcomes the interactions between individuals rather than a phenomenon ‘out there’ and separate from those involved in its construction.

From the above, it is clear that qualitative research methods are the best suited for the current analysis based on their flexibility and given most of the data available is in words rather than numbers and also due to the fact that the study aims at analysing the already available data about the topic of the study as opposed to carrying out a data collection exercise.

2.1 The Merits of Case Study

Studying KHRC as a case study of a CSO involved in the struggle for democratic governance in a developing country context is informed by the fact that its activities in human rights issues, good governance, accountability and transparency of the state have been self evident from the streets demonstrations to the conference room lobbying and negotiation with the various stake holders ever since the onset of the multiparty politics in the early 1990s up to the current scenario.

The choice of KHRC as a case study is further cemented by the fact that the organization itself, according to the 2008-2012 Strategic Plan[6], envisions a Kenya that respects, protects and promotes human rights and democratic values. A vision grounded in the belief that it is possible to realize a new Kenyan society based on a human rights culture that upholds the dignity of all its members equally and without discrimination. Furthermore, the independence of KHRC has made the organization become what one scholar refers to as “a respected group in the Kenyan civil society, a feared lobby of the government, a think tank where foreign and Kenyan researchers collect information, and also as a base for alternative political leadership.”[7]

Its efficiency and professionalism in the engagement with the various stakeholders within the democratization context maybe can be explained through an observation that has been made by one of Kenyan legal scholars Betty Murungi who writes that the founders of KHRC were extremely well organized and tooled KHRC into a formidable advocate for the people and against despotism and dictatorship, taking human rights advocacy to a new level and making it possible for other groups to emerge and join the struggle for social justice and change (2009:40)[8].” It is thus in this light that KHRC offers an appropriate case study to highlight the various activities that different CSOs has been engaging in their struggle to ensure that democracy is entrenched.

As a case study, the research will primarily rely on qualitative, descriptive and analytical research methods and will look at the information from the KHRC about the various activities that the organization has been involved in regarding promotion of good governance and democracy since its establishment. The study will also look at the outcomes and milestones of these activities in line with the objectives of the study to determine whether the results had any positive effect on the democratization process.

2.2. The Narrative

The choice of this topic on democratization and a case study of one of the civil society as an example to illustrate their position on the democratization discourse was informed by several factors, one of them and perhaps the most important being a Kenyan citizen and having observed most if not all of these developments take place. Others would include the fact that having graduate with a Bachelors degree in Political Science from a Kenyan university further helped with the understanding of the Kenyan political landscape and the locating the different political developments into their respective timelines was done with ease. Having worked with KHRC as an intern soon after graduation further helped with the understanding of the continuing Kenya’s democratic transition due to the numerous hands on exposure and involvement with issues on human rights, transparency and accountability that KHRC has been addressing.

2.3. Secondary Sources

Data used in this study will mainly be secondary gathered from what other scholars have written, newspaper reports, and strategic plans among others. The choice of this source of data was informed by the limited time available to arrange for a data collection trip given the distance and logistics needed to travel to Kenya and arrange this.

3.0 State of Art/Theory

The theory part of any research has been described as an important phase to the social researcher since it has been proven to provide a backcloth and rationale for the research. In addition, it is said to provide framework within which social phenomena can be understood and research findings can be interpreted. Apart from this, Bryman (2012) further says that the term theory has been used in a variety of different ways with its most common meaning being an explanation of observed regularities, and as such in this study, the theory will be used to explain why the civil society is a necessity to a successful and stable democratic regimes especially in the developing world.

The best theory to be employed in this study is the deductive theory which as Bryman puts it, the researcher deduces a hypothesis based on what is known in a particular domain and theoretical considerations in relation to that domain and which must be subjected to empirical scrutiny while the hypothesis will be embedded within the concepts that will need to be translated into researchable entities. To achieve this, Bryman says that the researcher must both skillfully deduce a hypothesis and then translate it into operational terms (2012: 24)

Theories used in this study aim at underlining the importance of civil society and NGOs at large to the entrenchment of democracy and democratic governance in a developing country context where democracy has been seen as being on a retrogressive state but with the civil society playing an important role in ensuring that these regimes are back on a democracy oriented course.

3.1 Liberal Democracy Model

The liberal democratic model assigns a wide role to civil society by advocating for a range of groups and individuals to articulate political demands while also encouraging them to contribute their time, expertise and money to the constant maintenance of the various state institutions, Pinkney (2003:88) argues. This results in both a strong state due to the strengthened institutions, and a strong civil society due to its contribution to the state’s strengthening, which he sees as being mutually reinforcing.

Liberal democracy is a political system and culture that is a product of Western civilization as now championed by the United States, writes Connie Ngondi-Houghton (2002:159)[9]. He sees this ‘democratization crusade’ as seeking to impose the institutionalization of liberal democracy in African countries, a notion that is also shared by Igoe and Kelsall (2005:12) with NGOs being seen through a neo-Tocquevillian lens and pictured as “little schools of civilized politics and veritable vessels of democratic pedagogy.”

Most common is the allegiance to the normative ideal that civil society and NGOs are inherently good things; microcosms of the liberal democratic process, comprised of the grassroots, both separate and autonomous from the state, while acting as a ‘bulwark’ against it. The World Bank[10] has increasingly recognized that ‘NGOs and civic movements are on the rise, assuming an ever-larger role in articulating people’s aspirations and pressuring governments to respond’ (2000:43), it is suggested that increased pressure from civil society will serve to reduce the scope for autonomous government action and encourage wider monitoring of the state, thus preventing ‘the worst excesses of authoritarian systems’ (2000: 44). Support for NGOs in their democratizing role is often framed by a liberal democratic view of politics in which the strengthening of NGOs is beneficial for bolstering civil society and enhancing state legitimacy (Mercer, 2002).

3.1.1 Civil society and democratization: The Liberal school of thought

By being constituent units of civil society, NGOs have been seen as being there to basically convey society’s voice to the state, to admonish it when it made inappropriate policies or discharged its duties poorly, protest against it if it took an authoritarian turn and generally champion the interests of the majority of the population, opines Igoe and Kelsall (2005:13). Civil society is also seen by some academicians (for example Mutua, 2009:21) as having established NGOs to act as the medium through with they would struggle to establish a liberal democratic state that is bounded by law and the ethos of constitutionalism. Mutua has subsequently argued that it is impossible to understand the mandates of democracy and human rights NGOs especially in East Africa without having to situate them within the liberal paradigm.

CSOs and NGOs in particular, are also seen as the institutional vehicles for effective democratic transformations of the developing societies into modern, liberal and politically open societies. NGOs are also said to check state power by challenging its autonomy at both national and local scales, pressing for change and developing an alternative set of perspectives and policies. Mercer[11] notes that there is a recurring theme in the literature about the important role played by the NGO sector in democratic transitions and democratic consolidation in a number of countries, particularly across Latin America, and specifically in Chile and Brazil. Specifically, she says that in Chile NGOs played a vital role in opposing the Pinochet regime throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.

It has been often assumed that the relationship between NGOs, civil society and democratization is that while NGOs are part of civil society, they also strengthen it through their activities, which in turn supports the democratic process. Such a line of reasoning is informed by a particular vision of ‘democracy’, ‘civil society’ and the role that NGOs play in bolstering them, Mercer (2002) writes. She sees this vision is an unmistakably liberal one which has taken their cue from writers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Samuel Huntington, Robert Putnam and others from the modernization and political development schools of thought on democracy, the NGO literature reproduces the liberal maxim that democracy within capitalist society requires a vibrant and autonomous civil society and an effective state capable of balancing the demands of different interest groups.

According to liberal democratic theorists, the state should provide a government that is accountable and subject to free and fair elections, while civil society should be able to enjoy civil and political rights and associational autonomy. A strong and plural civil society is therefore necessary to guard against the excesses of state power, but also to legitimate the authority of the state when it is based on the rule of law (Diamond, 1994). By channeling and processing the demands and concerns of disparate interest groups to the state, civil society underpins an effective and streamlined state, ensuring legitimacy, accountability and transparency which effectively strengthen the state’s capacity for good governance. Liberal democratic theory thus sees a strong state and a strong civil society as separate from, yet essential complements to one another. In this vision, civil society exists only in its relationship to the state: it is not envisaged as a potentially democratic sphere in its own right through which alternative visions of democracy might be pursued (Baker, 1997).

It has been written that since the late 1980s, the civil society has organized itself either in opposition political parties or in non-governmental organizations to demand change, seeking rule of law state bound by constitutionalism and incubated in a political democracy, says Mutua (2008:2) who also points out that by 200, these political pressures had resulted in all but several of Africa’s 54 states acquiesced to some form of democratic transition. He sees “the ironclad one party and military dictatorships of the post colonial state as having largely gone”, a change he tributes to the resilience of the civil society and the pro democracy movements in Africa.

On human rights NGOs in East Africa, Mutua (2009:20) argues that a cursory review places them squarely in the struggle for the liberal democratic state, although they have formally been non-partisan in the sense they do not publicly declare their political preferences, but their mandates is connected with working to support the emergence of a political democracy, a phenomenon that includes basic civil and political rights such as political participation, protection and antidiscrimination in political processes, rights which are central to an open democratic process, an essential cornerstone of a political democracy, according to him.

4.0 Democracy in the Developing Countries

Democracy in developing countries struggles to thrive in an environment that has been analysed as not conducive for democratic values and principles to be applied. Lipset (1959:84) has outlined several conditions that are necessary for democracy to work, and among these is that there should be some level of economic development which in turn greatly reduces the struggle for allocation of resources and thus both the society and the state concentrates on other aspects of politics. Most of the states in developing countries and especially in the post colonial Africa do not have this attribute that entails high per capita wealth, industrialization, urbanization and high levels of education.

The above phenomena automatically has had a negative impact on democracy and democratization efforts at large, especially in the decades after colonization in Africa where the newly established states had to grapple with both the need to ensure economic development as well as democratic governance. The majority of these states failed at both and what was clearly evident in the state was high levels of abject poverty, illiteracy and diseases while the state became increasingly authoritarian, with either military regimes or one party states while corruption, bad governance and human rights violations became the order of the day.

Like in most post-colonial states elsewhere in the developing world, the African postcolonial state failed to establish enduring democracies with the liberal constitutions that had been imposed by the departing colonial hegemons soon unraveling and consequently resulting to the colonial state reasserting itself under the pretense of a modern state but characterized by undemocratic principles, says Mutua (2008:18). This led to either collapse of the states or those that survived becoming deeply dysfunctional with no capacity to carry out any of the roles attributed to a modern state. Most post-colonial African states had evolved as either single-party, patrimonial, autocratic, centralized political systems founded on ethnic clientelism or as dictatorial military regimes. With the exception of Botswana and Mauritius, most incumbent governments have had a questionable political legitimacy which in some cases has caused continued internal conflicts and ethnic strife, writes Fowler (1991)

Since the political parties have failed to lead in the reconstitution of the political order in developing countries, Mutua (2009:2) sees civil society as the only remaining viable sector capable of reforming state power, mainly because “civil society has long been recognised as the difference between democracy and state tyranny.” This is due to the fact that the traditional role of civil society in established democracies has been seen as keeping the state honest and accountable, thus the argument that civil society plays a civilizing role in a democracy. He sees this as the role that African civil society must play though it must also do much more than that since they operate in vastly different conditions and must create the conditions for democracy themselves by being the key agents for democratization while also acting as the cartilage between the state and the society.

To put more emphasis on the above point, Mutua (2008/9) quotes John Harbeson, a leading scholar on African politics, that “an effective and viable civil society is the condition precedent to democracy in Africa, and that even if all the other variables for democracy are realized, African renaissance will not be possible without a strong civil society,” and thus the argument that civil society is the missing key to sustained political reform, legitimate states and governments, improved governance, viable state-society and state-economy relationships, and prevention of the kind of political decay that undermined new African governments a generation ago.

The above notion has been the conclusion reached by a number of leading thinkers and practitioners of African politics, Mutua who note than in countries as diverse as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, civil societies have played key roles in the fundamental reconstruction of politics and even in some cases the control of politics shifting from state elites to more popular forces, a fact attributed to strong civil society which open up more political space. But it is also important to note that where civil society is weak, the pace and depth of democratic reforms have been slow or nonexistent mainly because the state has suffocated civil society. Mutua sees Egypt and Ethiopia as belonging to these categories where state elites are easily able to manipulate and manage change to their own advantage.

Africa has not been renowned for its record in human rights, the rule of law, equal treatment of citizens, the independence of the judiciary, the effective and efficient functioning of the courts, or the impartiality of its law enforcement agencies. Popular freedom of expression and articulation of interests are blatantly or subtly curtailed. Victims of abuse of power do not obtain redress, nor are perpetrators consistently held accountable, unless with the help of the international community and the international institutions such as the UN and the ICC. The consequence is a low level of expectation on the part of the citizenry that the state will be fair or just in its dealings with them, which obviously does not strengthen its claim to legitimacy. (Fowler, 1991)

On the follow up to the above, Makau Mutua[12] points out that the challenges of African statehood has constituted much of the literature on the post colonial African state. And that soon after the decade of independence the short burst of enthusiasm was replaced by a long, almost unremitting period of despair. This was most made visible by issues such as military coups, civil wars, repressive regimes, refugee flows and economical stagnation which defined the African state (2008: 9).

African bureaucracies are said to be overdeveloped and unaccountable because of the underdevelopment of the formal civil institutions which should control them. Urbanized elites monopolize both political and economic power, leading to a decreasing equity and transparency in the allocation of national resources. Furthermore, the state dominates many aspects of associational life, consciously limiting the existence or autonomy of organizations representing the interests of divergent economic and social groups. The post-colonial period has continued to see a growth in both local and foreign NGOs in all African countries, with a marked mushrooming during the 1980s.

The following observation by Livingstone Sewanyana[13] puts democracy and human rights at large in Africa into the right context. According to him, “the human rights movement in Africa has come under intense scrutiny in recent years due largely to the slow pace of democratic reforms. Even countries that were viewed as having made some progress, such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, and Kenya, have registered significant setbacks in recent years. Human rights NGOs, which are part of civil society, have been viewed as an important actor in the democratic reform process. However, critics argue that not enough has been done by this specialized sector to advance reforms in the region.”

Livingstone sees the lack of response by the state to the demands of the sector as one key challenge to the functioning and success of human rights groups. In the African continent, Mutua (2009:2) is of the opinion that “except for North Africa and a handful of blatantly autocratic regimes in sub-Saharan Africa, more open political space has been created.” However, he cautions that this should not exaggerate the transformative nature of these political transitions. This is because the process has not been uniform in all the African states, with some countries such as Benin and Zambia having routinized their open electoral politics and democratic freedoms while there has also been a serious setback in countries such as Niger, Gambia, and Sierra Leone where he sees elected governments having been over turned. In other parts of the continent, such as Kenya, Makau writes that electoral politics have ushered in regime changes which have failed to neither uproot institutional corruption nor entrench meaningful reforms.

Due to this, kleptocracies and predatory elites continue to rule under the cloak of democracy in many African states, these mostly exist in what Mutua calls “the one party mandarins and military rulers of yesteryear which quickly adapted themselves to some form of electoral politics so as to retain their stranglehold on power.” This situation has led to the failure to transform the undemocratic and illiberal nature of the state and has instead led to the increased presence and sprouting of the civil society, and their role in trying to reform the African state and its political structure. Houghton (2002:159)[14] says that the failure of most African countries to transit successfully into liberal democracies can be explained by the fact that most of them have been independent for approximately four decades, and are characterised by very poor, heterogeneous populations, have weak economies, most of them have gone through internal conflicts, they are weak states with fragile institutions, and suffer deep socioeconomic and political fissures, and hence they have not been able to evolve into a dominant liberal democracy that they have been pressured into.

As the Cold War came to an end in the late 1980s, Mutua sees this as having brought about “a confluent of factors that awakened new hopes in Africa.” This is because of the end of the reflexive support for African states by the key Cold War protagonists which in turn removed a huge barrier to political transformation within the continent. The resulting scenario from this was that many African regimes lost their automatic, clientelist relationships with Cold War hegemons, severely diminishing the resources available to the African state and the legitimacy of the regimes. This further led to a vacuum through which “long -suppressed demands” exploded in the open, and bourgeoning political movements usually couched in the language of reforms sought to capture central political power with a vow to reform the state and thus they were grouped under the heading of democratization, which was a false start to the democratization process, says Mutua (2002:9). He sees most sub-Saharan human rights groups as having arose in the late 1980s as ‘despotic states’ started to lose support from their benefactors in the North at the end of the Cold War which as highlighted before, led to the withdrawal of economic and military support by both the Eastern and the Western countries.

4.1 Civil Society and Democracy in the Developing Countries

Civil society in developing countries, and more specifically in Africa have been in existence since the years even before colonization, as Mutua puts it that “there has been a mistaken view among some scholars that there was absence of civil societies in Africa prior to the advent of the colonial state.” For him, the existence of some forms of states and other centralized authorities in the pre-colonial Africa imply that there was interaction and a kind of relationship with the society. He sees colonialism as having changed the nature of the African civil society and their relation with the state. However, it is impossible to trace the effective of these civil society in this period and they were largely forgotten until the last years of Cold War that coincided with the so-called third wave of democratization, an opportunity that they took to rejuvenate themselves and their activities (2008:18).

Taken as a whole, the empirical literature on NGOs, civil society and democratization is characterized by a rather selective geography and thus claims for the role of NGOs as important civil society actors pursuing democratic development are often backed up by reference to the experiences of several core countries whereby those most frequently referred to have included Brazil, Chile and the Philippines; Bangladesh, India and to a lesser extent Kenya also feature frequently; while South Africa and Thailand have been mentioned more recently (Mercer, 2002:12).

NGO sectors are indeed more vibrant in places where some form of democracy has been the political norm for some time and as such, part of the reason why democratic consolidation has been relatively successful in Chile and the Philippines is due to factors particular to those countries’ historical development, such as legacies from the colonial period and historical processes of class formation and urbanization. Mutua (2009:4) says that it is too soon to assert that African civil societies have turned the corner, in the sense that it is not outlandish to argue that they are now a permanent feature of the political landscape in many if not all African states.

In newly democratic countries characterized by a weak institutional political realm, Clarke (1998a) has argued that NGOs strengthen the state through their participation in improving efficiency in government services, acting as strategic partners for reform-oriented ministries, filling in gaps in service provision and helping the government forge ties with the grassroots. At the same time, NGOs strengthen civil society through protests, where they serve to aggregate and moderate political demands and also provide channels distinct from the state mechanisms through which disputes can be negotiated and dissipated (1998: 211). In addition to this, he views NGOs as a distinct layer of civil society that takes on a role in what he calls rationalization of authority in the sense that they strengthen and support newly democratic regimes while also organizing and channeling protests and citizen participation into organized and recognized institutional forms that are subject to rules laid down by the state.

NGOs have sometimes been open in their desire to promote democratic values and may smuggle democratic values in as part of the process of dispensing aid and that there is no guarantee that these NGOs will promote a version of democracy compatible with that of their parent governments with some even taking a more radical position on issues such as political participation and challenging elite power. The fact that civil society has grown in almost all third world countries since the 1980s is an obvious fact both to the scholars and the states all over the world as activities move beyond the state and business with large proportions of foreign aid being disbursed increasingly via NGOs. This has risen from 0.2 percent in 1970s to between 10 and 13 percent by 1994 making large proportions of resources beyond the control of the state, argues Pinkney (2003). He is of the opinion that there has been pressure at the global level to increase the extent and scope of civil society mainly through great pressure for pluralism and a reduced role for the state to that of largely enabling and creating conducive environment for the free market while the private sector and voluntary sectors have been encouraged to expand.

There has been three interconnected themes that emerged from much of the literature on third world politics and all suggest that expectations of civil society playing a major role in the democratic process need to be handled with caution since a growing sector of the civil society is occupied by groups with ethnic and religious bases and much of the civil society remains increasingly detached from concerns with democracy. In this notion, Pinkney[15] argues that the connections between the state and the civil society are often not conducive to the democratic process.

In addition to this is the assumption that the close association of civil society with democracy may prove to have been a passing phase and that even though most groups in the society prefer a democratic system within which their rights are secure, they also have a range of other concerns that are more central to their existence especially once a minimal form of democracy has been established and that once a major crisis is over, many NGOs go back to promoting development and welfare (Pg. 104). In Africa, he says that there has always been the danger of seeing the combined activities of self help groups and the pressures of intellectuals for democratization as constituting a potentially viable civil society which might not always be the case.

There have been different schools of thought among political analysts who have tried to understand the mechanisms by which democratic transitions take place and then take root and from this, civil society is thought to play different roles at different stages of the democratization process. Most political analysts have tried to distinguish between democratic transition and democratic consolidation whereby in democratic transitions, civil society is thought to play a major role in mobilizing pressure for political change. Mercer quotes Diamond (1994:7) who is of the opinion that “organized social groups such as students, women’s groups, farmers’ organizations, NGOs, GROs, trade unions, religious groups, professional organizations, the media, think tanks and human rights organizations are ‘a crucial source of democratic change’, whether this takes place quickly and dramatically as in the assertion of ‘people power’ in the Philippines in 1986, or whether the transition is a lengthy and negotiated process as in South Africa in the early 1990s”

On the other hand, civil society is also considered by scholars as playing a key role in the consolidation of democracy, checking abuses of state power, preventing the resumption of power by authoritarian governments and encouraging wider citizen participation and public scrutiny of the state and its activities as far as governing is concerned. Such actions have been seen to enhance state legitimacy and thus the notion by Diamond[16] that “a vibrant civil society is probably more essential for consolidating and maintaining democracy than for initiating it.” The World Bank envisions that an active civil society encourages greater participation across all sectors of society and also aids decentralization, particularly in those countries with ‘marked ethnic divisions and deeply rooted local identities’ (World Bank, 2000)

To show the connection between civil society and democratization in developing countries, Mercer echoes Garrison’s observation that there has been increasing linkages between the Brazilian state and NGOs as a sign of their role in democratization; the government–citizen policy councils that foster ‘deliberative democracy’ at the local level; the provision of technical assistance to local governments on a consultancy basis; increased government funding to NGOs through various government- and World Bank sponsored small-grant facilities in order to carry out a host of projects and programmes; and the election or hiring of leading figures from CSOs to positions within local and national government (2000:10).


[1] “Leader in the Human Rights Sector: The Paradoxical Institutionalization of a Kenyan NGO” P.93 in (Igoe & Kelsall, 2005)

[2] Betty Kaari Murungi is also the current Vice-Chairperson of the Kenya Human Rights Commission

[3] In Mutua (2009)

[4] “Contradictions in Neoliberalism: Donors, Human Rights NGOs, and Governance in Kenya”, in Mutua (2009:185)

[5] Ibid., p.3

[6] Available from:

[7] Pommerolle in (Igoe & Kelsall, 2005)

[8] “To Whom, for What, and About What? The Legitimacy of Human Rights NGOs in Kenya” in Mutua, (2009)

[9] “Donors and Human Rights NGOs in East Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” In Mutua (2009)

[10] World Bank Report (2000)

[11] Ibid.

[12] Makau, (2008)

[13] “State and Civil Society Relations: Constructing Human Rights Groups for Social Change” In Mutua (2009)

[14] Connie Ngondi-Houghton, “Donors and Human Rights NGOs in East Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” In Mutua (2009)

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid.

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Civil Society, NGOs and Democratic Governance in developing countries. A case of KHRC in Kenya
University of Aarhus  (Institute of Culture and Society)
International Relations
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A deep insight into the contribution of the Civil Society and the NGOs in the democratization process after the return to multiparty politics in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Democracy, Democratization, Civil Society, Civil Society Organizations., Kenya, Kenya Human Human Rights Commission, KHRC, Non Governmental Organizations, democratic governance
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Timothy Mugo (Author), 2014, Civil Society, NGOs and Democratic Governance in developing countries. A case of KHRC in Kenya, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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