"Civil society and the public can be powerful allies in a reform process, generating demand for reform and helping to maintain pressure on politicians...By contrast, an uninformed and uneducated civil society can be a dangerous obstacle to reform"
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
(Source : Reforming the Unreformable)
The Nigerian Finance Minister is spot in that quote from her new book. She is absolute right to point out that civil society can sometimes exert negative energy. Not every voice is productive. Indeed, often African politicians thrive in getting uninformed NGOs a seat at the table because it legitimises their actions.
Even worse, sometimes civil society can be directly captured by political parties. During the Banda administration we saw the emergence of political NGOs (PONGOs) and Government NGOs (GONGOs). These PONGOs and GONGOs had no vision or direction. They were created just to sing public praises of Mr Banda's government. PONGOs and GONGOs gave a false impression that our civil society was growing, when in fact it was shrinking in substance.
One hopes the MMD has now learnt it lesson. It now needs real civil society more than ever! More importantly we all need to realise that it is not good enough just creating NGOs to fight for the public, we need public voices that are informed and educated. We need quality as well as volume in our civil society.