The Role Of Civil Society In Developing Countries

Student Author(s)

Sarah Wenz, Hope CollegeFollow

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Virginia Beard, Hope College

Document Type


Publication Date



The student research was funded by an internal grant from the Hope College Political Science Department.


Civil society organizations have long been heralded as essential players in fostering stable, sustainable democratic growth. More recently, however, evidence has emerged to dispute this as an unquestioned assumption. A growing body of literature suggests mixed or even negative impacts of NGOs in democratic development This paper explores both negative and positive influences of NGOs, using the case study of Rwanda as a developing democratic state and burgeoning economy with a large presence of NGO activity. Using secondary data analysis as well as qualitative data gathered during a June 2010 scholarly trip in Rwanda, this paper explores the useful and less than useful impacts of NGOs. Findings suggest that, while NGOs are crucial in meeting basic needs, a significant number of negative effects result from NGO presence and activity. This paper therefore argues that, when it comes to long-term development of a democratizing nation, the role of civil society must be re-evaluated and re-structured. Future research should view warily the influences of civil society organizations, questioning the currently posited theoretical benefits of civil society, which do not seem to play out in the reality of developing African democracies.

Based on the theoretical literature and the case study of Rwanda, civil society, though often heralded as a magic bullet for positive political development can also prevent such development or even contribute to the falling apart of seemingly stable and sustainable growing nation-states. This paper presents an analytical view on the factors that both foster and prevent development through civil society in Rwanda.

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