The domain of national development discourse has been topical

The role of Civil Society
Organizations (CSOs) in the domain of national development discourse has been
topical since time immemorial as there
has long been a bone of contention that an analysis of national development programs
without a critical look at the role played by CSOs is insufficient. Nga etal
(2006), acknowledge that even the continued rise in civil society research
demonstrates its importance in national development agenda. Development is critical
and essential to the sustenance and growth of any nation, and a country is
categorized as developed when it is able to provide qualitative life for its
people (Naomi, 1995). However, for this to happen, a number of pre-requisites
are necessary which are economic, social, political, and environmental in
nature, and a well-functioning civil society has increasingly been identified
as one of such critical preconditions for development. Against this bedrock, and
building on the arguments by Fisher (1997), Banks etal (2014) and amongst
several other scholars, this paper seeks to evaluate the role of Civil Society
Organizations (CSOs) in national development programs with specific reference
to Zimbabwe.

Framework- Civil Society

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The concept of civil society evolved a long time
ago. According to Cerothers (1999), the
concept can be traced many centuries back in Western thinking with its roots in
Ancient Greece. The modern-day notion of civil society began around the 18th
Century, prompted by political theorists from Thomas Paine to George Hegel, who
advanced the idea of civil society as a sphere parallel to but then independent
from the state. Moreso, the 90s brought about rekindled interest in civil
society, due to the trend advancing for democracy which unlocked space for
civil society and the necessity to cover rising gaps in social services which
had originated from structural adjustment and other reforms in developing
countries (Cerothers, 1999).


According to World Bank (2012), civil society
incorporates a broad spectrum of non-governmental not-for-profit organizations which
have a presence in public domain, voicing the values and interests of their affiliates
or others based on ethical, political, cultural,  religious, scientific or philanthropy factors.
Similarly, Boadi (2006) identifies civil society as the realm between the
household or family and the state, populated by voluntary groups and
associations formed on the basis of shared interests, and are separate and/or
largely but not necessarily completely autonomous from the state. However, despite the
term civil society being a victim of definitional pluralism, most definitions
concur on some common characteristics of the notion. Ghaus-Pasha (2004)
identifies key features of successful civil societies as including, among
others, separation from the state and the market; formed by people who have
common needs, interests and values like tolerance, inclusion, cooperation and
equality; and, development-oriented through a fundamentally endogenous and
autonomous process which is difficult to control from outside.


For Ghaus-Pasha
civil society should not be equated to NGOs as NGOs are only but a part of
civil society although they play an important and sometimes leading role in
activating citizen participation in socio-economic development and politics and
in shaping or influencing policy. It is a wider concept, comprising all organizations
and associations existing separately from the market and state. Examples of
civil society organizations range from local and international non-governmental
organisations; labour unions, religious groups; conflict resolution
institutions; cultural and
educational associations; youths and women associations; and, political
interest groups; to special
interest groups; voluntary associations; pressure
groups; policy networks; professional
associations; and business associations.



In view of the national development policy and
programme situation in Zimbabwe CSOs have taken, and continue to take, various
roles and use various strategies in order to influence national development
programmes in the country. Some of the roles and strategies are as delineated


Promotion of Good Governance

society organizations play a crucial role in the promotion of good governance. World Bank (2004), believes good governance is
epitomized by predictable, open and enlightened policy making; an executive arm
of government accountable for its actions; and a strong civil society
participating in public affairs all behaving under the rule of law. Mitlin, etal
(2007) and  Adesina
(2007) posits that the involvement of CSOs occupies a critical place in the
governance process and promotes good governance by facilitating people’s
collective action for attaining sustainable socio-economic outcomes for the
common good of the society.


A clear example when civil society in
Zimbabwe fought to promote good governance was in 2011 following the
resolutions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Troika which called for the crafting of a Road Map to free and fair elections
in Zimbabwe. Approximately 45
CSOs united to petition and urge SADC and the African
Union (AU) to broaden their consultative process to ensure that views of a broader
spectrum of Zimbabwean citizens, including those in civil society, are heard
and taken into account (Magaisa, 2009). The petition had about 10 broad recommendations
which were about constitutional and institutional reforms including, calls for legislative
and media reform agenda, particularly on Public Order and Security Act (POSA)
and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA); deployment of
local, regional and international election monitors and observers; as well as
inclusion of civil society in political conflict resolution (Magaisa, 2009).
The result of the petition was such that it created a spotlight on the
Zimbabwean government and its political and electoral system, thus giving
impetus for the government to exercise democratic elections.


Advocacy and Lobbying

Rights CSOs play a key role in ensuring development from a human rights
perspective. A good example concerns the
policy on people living with disabilities. According to Sibanda (1996), before
Zimbabwe’ independence in 1980, the approach of the government towards the
disabled was to make them adapt to matters such as transport, housing,
education and health instead of the opposite. As a result, people with
disabilities found themselves marginalized from the social, political and
economic affairs of the community. However, after 1980, activism of people with
disabilities increased resulting in a consortium of CSOs, the Zimbabwe Federation for the Disabled (ZIFOD),
forming to speak with one common voice. Sibanda (1996) argues that this
coalition increased its strength to persuade government by combining their
skills, labour, and resources.


Moreover, this created a common understanding of the
policy goals and facilitated dialogue with the government as the latter had to
deal with only one entity. Lobbying was done with government officials, policy
makers at formal and informal gatherings so that when the Disabled Persons Bill
was presented to the parliament, every member had been sensitized and informed
about the needs of the disabled and hence most supported it. The outcome was
that the final product of the whole process, the Disabled Persons Act (1992)
was far more fulfilling of the expectations of the disabled as most public
buildings became accessible to the disabled, there are equal employment
opportunities and disabled can attend schools of their choice instead of being
confined to special schools.


Providing Complementary Social Services

society in Zimbabwe has had a long legacy of complementing government social
services provision through directly targeting the most vulnerable in the
communities with critical basic social services like education, health, social
welfare, gender and women, as well as livelihoods, skills retaining and job
placement programs (Swanson and
Pinter, 2004). Picking one social service as an example- health- CSOs have
played a critical role in the field of health services provision, particularly
in terms of HIV/AIDS responses. According to Zimbabwe AIDS Network (ZAN)
(2005), HIV/AIDS and other related CSOs have been involved in demand creation for
uptake and utilization of HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care services;
promoting community based sensitization and mobilization activities to ensure
zero HIV/AIDS related discrimination and that the human rights, for instance of
People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) and affected households, are recognized and
respected; as well as monitoring quality of services and undertaking advocacy
for full implementation of national and international commitments.


Mobilizing communities for economic reform and
development (Social Capital)

CSOs are also important in creating what is referred
to as “social capital”. According to Vaneklasen (1994), social
capital refers to the web of associations, networks and norms, like for example
trust and tolerance, which enable people to cooperate with one another for the
common good. Just as economic and human capital, social capital is a productive
asset that accumulates with use. The institutional arrangements and values
which make up social capital constitute the foundation for good governance,
economic prosperity and healthy societies. In Zimbabwe, a number of civil
society initiatives in the 1980s and 90s were largely responsible for
spearheading development at the local level through community mobilization
processes. For example, community-based organizations
in Mhakwe Ward of Chimanimani District, successfully mobilized rural
communities in the ward for sustainable community development (Vaneklasen,


Social capital in sustainable development
also extends to the phenomenon of sustainable livelihoods. In this arena, CSOs
in Zimbabwe have been involved in a number of training and capacity building as
well as enterprise and livelihoods programmes. For instance, Zambuko Trust is
famous for having facilitated organization of individual and group income
generating cooperatives through micro-financing (Vaneklasen, 1994). Also,
through its Junior Achievers Programme, Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) has
helped many youth in Manicaland with entrepreneurial skills
training as well as vocational education and technical training.



Most Zimbabwean CSOs have been marred by
their partisan behaviour, despite them supposedly being non-partisan. Magaisa
(2009) argues that the infectiveness and disorganisation of civic groups is
largely a result of them being fragmented along political, ideological and
tribal lines (Magaisa, 2009). Similarly, Otto and Katema (2011:47) also lamented
that Zimbabwean CSOs “…have become an extension or product of the extremely
polarized environment they operate in and have demonstrated much polarity in their
relations with one another.”


Funding structures and models are also a
major obstacle faced by the Zimbabwean civics who rely on foreign aid for their
projects and programs. This heavy dependence on donors makes programs to be
ineffective as they become donor driven, short term and also promoting an
unhealthy perpetuation of the donor dependence cycle. Ncube, (2011) also argues
that the real needs of communities as well as grassroots participation and
insights are often ignored as the CSOs chase after donor interest. The same
author also revealed that the Zimbabwean political landscape has become an
international donor interests and political advocacy programs have thus
received large donor funding as compared to the dire socio-economic development
issues affecting the country.


The hostile policy apparatus used by the
state has also made CSO operations in Zimbabwe to be difficult. Coercive
instruments such as POSA have limited freedoms by CSOs to engage with the local
citizens as they are normally sued by the state police who normally accuse them
of enhancing opposition political ambitions. This makes them fail to adequately
play their watchdog role in monitoring national policies (Muzondidya and
Nyathi-Ndlovu 2010).



In conclusion, inferring from the above
discussion, one can note that civil society are a crucial “third” sector with
enormous contributions in national development programming in Zimbabwe. The
various roles they take and the strategies they use as discussed above have
been, and continue to be, influenced by the nature of public policies and
programmes instituted by central government, which in turn are influenced by
the macro-dynamics of the political, economic and social environment locally
and internationally prevailing at any given time. However, the fact that the
central government has continued to view civil society influence as so-called
“regime change vehicles”, and thus react radically through extreme measures
like, for instance, restrictive legislative frameworks like AIPPA and POSA, has
to a larger extent negatively impacted on the full functioning of this “third”