Foreign funding for civil society: enhancing or undermining democracy?

Date: 18 October 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen - Stadscampus - R.014 - Building R, Rodestraat 14 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: USOS and IOB

Short description: Debating Development: Jonas Wolff (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt) and Pieter-Jan Hamels (11.11.11). Moderator: Filip Reyntjens


In many countries, civil society organizations (CSOs) involved in peacebuilding and democracy promotion rely on foreign funds from bilateral donors, NGOs, or multilateral agencies such as the UNDP to support their programs. However, over the past decade many governments have pushed back, resulting in a 'closing space' for democracy promotion.

Governments have curtailed foreign funding, either by outright prohibition (e.g. Eritrea) or by enacting onerous requirements or restrictions (e.g. India, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Russia, Hungary, Kenya) that severely limit foreign funding to domestic CSOs. Scholars, activists, and practitioners have warned of the adverse effect this has on democracy since it enables authoritarian or oppressive governments to curtail human rights advocacy and civic activism.

However, others have pointed out that there are valid reasons for governments to eschew foreign funds: historically, development assistance has often included opportunistic intervention and economic exploitation. Foreign funding can thus represent an extension of neo-colonial power, or the imposition of particular Western values and normative ideas of democracy, thus undermining national sovereignty and the right to collective self-determination. 

Jonas Wolff
Jonas Wolff is head of the research department "Governance and Societal Peace" at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and member of PRIF's executive board. He teaches at Goethe University Frankfurt and Kassel University, and is a frequent contributor to EDP Wire, the blog for the External Democracy Promotion network.

Pieter-Jan Hamels
Pieter-Jan Hamels is currently the Policy Officer for Central Africa at 11.11.11, a coalition of NGOs, unions, movements and various solidarity groups in Flanders, where his current work focuses on Burundi. Previously he was a project manager for the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.
Twitter: @PJHamels

Filip Reyntjens
Filip Reyntjens is Emeritus Professor of African Law and Politics at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp. His most recent books are The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006 (2009) and Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda (2013). Professor Reyntjens has also written hundreds of scholarly articles on law and politics in Sub-Sahara Africa, with a particular interest in the Great Lakes Region.
Twitter: @freyntje

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