Building Afghan Civil Society "From the Outside"

By Vanessa Van den Boogaard

This paper addresses the issue of “building” civil society in post-conflict societies through external forces, analyzing the effectiveness of such initiatives and the impacts on the perceived legitimacy of the global civil society actors that are fundamental in shaping the national society in question. Using the case study of post-2001 Afghanistan, the author finds that opportunities for modern Afghan NGOs and traditional civil society organizations to contribute positively to peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts were largely squandered as a result of the international community’s focus on a Western neoliberal definition of civil society that did not necessarily fit the Afghan context, resulting in a circumscribed application that limited the breadth of local actors involved. Global civil society actors came to dominate the landscape of Afghan civil society, limiting the perceived legitimacy of civil society in Afghanistan, and raising fundamental questions in terms of representation and legitimacy when considering the effectiveness of externally fostered civil society in post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

About the author:
Vanessa is a second-year Master’s student of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, currently pursuing studies in Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University. She has worked for the Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries unit at the World Bank and currently works for the International Centre for Taxation and Development, for which she conducted field research in Ghana in November of this year.

Image courtesy of isafmedia.

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