Civil society organisations as interlocutors
Civil society is made up of citizens organisations like voluntary associations, clubs, self help or interest groups, religious bodies, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, trade unions, foundations and social movements that are not part of government or political parties and are not established to make profit. In the Mwananchi programme, civil society plays an important role in representation, policy and accountability.
Civil society plays an important role in governance, especially as it builds relationships and fosters citizen participation in public affairs. It also provides spaces for citizens to mobilise, articulate and pursue their interests.
Civil society is an important mediator between conflicting interests and social values. It is also a vehicle for cultural and religious expression. It can help increase the accountability of governments to their citizens by limiting their ability to close citizen spaces. Additionally, civil society nurtures values of citizenship in good governance.
What civil society can actually achieve on the ground depends heavily on the social, economic and political context. In neo-patrimonial states, governments tend to control registration of civil society organisations – especially when their initiatives are seen as threatening the established power structures. In such situations, governments register CSOs and give them little room for manoeuvre by barring active engagement in national politics. CSO leaders are often viewed as political rivals – indeed, sometimes they are failed politicians.
The Mwananchi programme realises that civil society represents marginalised citizens and can work with media and elected representatives to enhance good governance. It also recognises that building relationships between citizens and governments brings in new forms of participation, responsiveness and accountability. While acknowledging the role played by elections, the Mwananchi programme is also interested in how governance works in various contexts especially the ‘rules of the game’. This is done by exploring ways of linking citizens to other mechanisms of holding public officers to account.