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Civil Society and economic Development

Civil society may be construed to mean the total composition of voluntary social or civic institutions and organizations which constitute the very basis of a functioning society. These organizations and institutions are strongly opposed to not only the forceful structures making a state but also to the market’s commercial organizations and institutions. It is important to note that a number of definitions of civil society have been put forth but all share a common concept of civil society being a collection of voluntary organizations and institutions that help in the normal functioning of the society.

For instance, the Centre for Civil Society in the London School of Economics illustrates civil society as an arena of voluntary cooperative action focusing mainly on common purposes, values or even interests. Further, civil society is basically a myriad of diverse players and forms of institutions and organizations e. g. women groups, NGOs, charities, community groups, religious organizations, self-help groups, business associations, coalitions, advocacy groups, professional associations and trade unions among others.

Such organizations and institutions harbour varying degrees of not only power and autonomy but also formality especially when addressing issues and problems in the society (LSE, 2004). The concept of civil society traces its origin to the 18th century’s enlightenment age besides its older historical roots especially in the sphere of political and philosophical thought.

The enlightenment thinkers subscribed strongly to the innate goodness of the human mind and often resisted the alliance of the church and state because they believed that such an alliance was an enemy to the human progress because on one hand the coercive nature of the state curbed and muzzled individual liberty and the church on the other hand, through its posting of the theory of divine origin, legitimized monarchs. In this way both the church and the state and worse still their alliance, were seen to be against the people’s will which the civil society has hitherto committed to highlight and protect.

Therefore, the idea of civil society as a representative of the collective forces towards the common human positive interests (often curbed by the state) originated in the enlightenment age. This can be illustrated through the words and sentiments of enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who put forth an argument that human beings can determine their destiny because they are rational beings.

Further, they said that human beings are peace lovers and that war was only a creation of the total powers of regimes and system formed by the civil society could help not only to watch against the single interest dominion but also check the majority’s potential tyranny (Alagappa 2004:30). It is now very clear that the state stands at one side and the people on the other hand while the civil society links the two ensuring that none goes past it mandate to a point that is injurious to the other party.

Based on this role of the civil society there is need for a high degree of objectivity from the civil society’s quarters to help it perform its duties effectively. The civil society most often links the two parties on social, political and even economic issues. It is believed that if the state creates a working synergy, overseen by the civil society, with the local communities, there is an opportunity to tap not only the local capabilities, energies and skills but also the local resources which can be used for economic development (Das Gupta et al 2000:1)

The fact that civil society can play a role in solving social, political and . even economic issues in the community is obvious. The civil society can midwife very important reforms by government of a state some of which have formidable potential to spur economic development to very high levels. A good example of reform that the civil society has influenced is the land reform. Land reform as known in most poor countries has led to substantial economic gains besides food securities in a number of the weak economies.

To achieve land reform, the civil society needs to strongly mitigate the political and social hierarchies in states. Once this has been achieved then there exists a higher and most effective communal action especially at the community level which releases the people’s energy so as to engage in meaningful developmental ventures. The . release of these peoples’ energies poses a great and formidable potential of an indirect impact on the economic growth and poverty alleviation.

A good example of land reform, initiated by the civil society, and how it affects economic growth can be deduced from china where evidence shows an increase in productivity following the issue of secure rights to farmers over the land the worked on (Lin 1992: 34-52). Further, South Korea presents the best scenario for land reform which bore on economic growth having released the people’s energies for personal development because of a number of reasons: first, the Japanese colonialists left behind large tracks of vacant and arable land.

Second, the communist revolution spurred land reform and finally, the new regime that took over from the Japanese colonialists owed very little to the elite massive land owners. In fact, the elite massive land owners were discredited a lot by the civil society because they were perceived to have collaborated with the Japanese colonialists so as to gain the massive pieces of land. It is obvious that the land reform that happened in South Korea spurred economic growth (Das Gupta et al 2000:8)

The civil society can help in economic growth through a number of decisive actions especially through to main actions namely: ? Expanded power distribution within communities as a way of facilitating collective action; this power distribution, especially into the rural areas, can be represented by an increased access to credit facilities, expanded sources of income which are not necessarily crop base and strengthened land tenants’ rights as it has been proven that productivity increases with increased secure rights to the tenant farmers tilling on lands.

? Midwife the creation of very strong alliances between the state and the communities such that there are improved effectiveness and numbers public sector organizations and institutions in the local communities These two specific actions, besides other related actions, coming from the civil society have an unparalleled potential of initiating economic growth and development. Assume you are a parent with ten mangoes to distribute to your poor family as a meal for supper. The number of mangoes is constant and therefore the number of children in your family will determine whether or not the mangoes will be sufficient for their evening meal.

Now taking the mangoes to be economic resources an d the number of children in a family to be the population in a given state, then it is common knowledge that the more uncontrolled the population is , the more poor such a population shall be. This brings us to another very central action that the civil society needs to venture into so as to effect economic growth and development. The civil society in South Korea which is perceived to be a very populous Asian state have the responsibility of ensuring that the population growth rate is monitored.

This can be achieved by sensitizing people against their cultural believes that child is a child whether male or female. In South Korea just like in China, there is preference for male children because they believe that these children will take care of their parents at old age. This therefore means that a family with female children will continue to get children until a son appears and this has a far reaching impact on population growth and consequently on economic growth and development.

Besides the family bearing the economic burden of catering for its numerous members the state and the community as a whole shares the economic impacts of rapid growth. If the family was the only party at the receiving end then the society would have no business controlling population but this is not the case. The unfortunate tragedy that befalls this exercise of population growth check is the fact that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1967 describes the family as the basic unit of society and has the right to freedom to decide the number of offspring it brings forth (Garrett 1968).

This challenges the campaign that the civil society requires to wedge but there appears to be an opportunity in South Korea in that the state is also involved in a similar campaign evident through the adverts it runs on TV urging parents to bear only one child (National Academy of Sciences 1971: 143). Up to this point can realize the importance of the civil society in the growth and development of the economy. Most of the programs initiated by most NGOs aim not only at improving the living standards but also to alleviate poverty among the marginalized and rural population in the second and third world countries.

The fact that the idea of civil society impacting positively on the economy was witnessed in European countries did not limit this phenomena to these countries alone because we have witnessed the growing popularity of civil society concept (often supported by the European countries) all over the developing countries world over in the recent years. A good example of the initiation of the civil society concept into the mainstream of economic growth and development is seen in Africa especially in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Zaire, Tanzania, Nigeria and Uganda (Harbeson et al 1994: p1-5).

As stated earlier, the civil society is more often in opposition with the state and the market. It has been witnessed that both the state and the market have failed to solve some common pooled resource interest issues and problems in areas such as land, community irrigation schemes, fisheries, HIV/AIDS pandemic, fisheries, etc. all of which have an express impact on economic growth and development. It has been the intervention of the civil societies especially the NGOs and CBOs which have which have achieved plausible milestones in addressing these issues.

It is therefore for this reason that a nation can not credit economic growth to the business and the state only. Despite the fact that the state and the market contribute to the economic growth of a country, the civil society claims and indeed deserves a larger stake of any credits given for that reason. Therefore the civil society represented by institutions and organizations has evolved over time to claim a formidable authority in influencing collective action in an effort to alleviate the economic and social issues and problems bedevilling the general society or population of any given country (Ostrom 1990: 67-69).

Civil socie3ty has hitherto fought to empower the common man and at the same time protect him against the excesses of the state and the market. , It is this empowerment which over time has been construed to be the civil societies’ efforts to afford democracy to the common citizens of any given country. It is indeed common knowledge that most powerful economies in the world such US, turn out to be democracies.

There is some magical attraction between democracy and economic performance an issue which has attracted many scholars to delve into their minds and bring forth arguments most of which have shown consistence with the fact that the richest and peaceful countries in the world are also democratic (Chan 2002:234). Judging from the foregoing paragraph, it is therefore imperative that the civil society, through their fight to afford democracy to citizens in totalitarian states has powerful economic connotations (Putnam1993:52-7).

It is witnessed from past experience that the countries under authoritarian state are synonymous to civil strife and needless to say that the common citizens in such countries face starvation, a condition which over time has come to denote high poverty preference. When such countries shift from authoritarianism to democratic ideals, mostly though the unyielding efforts of the civil society, peace reigns and there follows a period of rapid and energetic economic growth.

In conclusion, the boundary between the civil society, the family, the state and the market is clearly defined only ion theory but in practice, the civil society has become especially difficult to divorce from the state. Most states have become overly dependent on the civil society to solve problems especially those affecting common resource pools and social issues among other problems which the state cannot objectively handle because of its vested interests enshrined in the problem.

The civil society has immediate touch with the situation at the ground and often has a liberated potency to give solutions which are not only timely but also long term and competitively effective. Most of the issues and problems hover around the economic domain of individual, group of people or even the state as a whole or if not the case, they are social issues which also have an economic connotation i. e. an economic issue begets a complex social or political problem.

Timely and effective solutions that the civil society has been seen to offer to these problems has economically emancipated many citizens in various countries. It is for this reason that there is need for a complex and highly coordinated cooperative synergy between the state and the community, state and civil society and civil society and community to create one democratic and economically enabled society. References Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990

Putnam, Robert. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton: Princeton University Press,1993, pp52-7 Alagappa, Muthiah. Civil Society and Political Change in Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Liverani, Andrea Civil Society in Algeria: The Political Functions of Associational Life, Routledge publishers, 2008 London School of Economics, What Is Civil Society? , 2004 Retrieved 11 January 2009 from http://www. lse. ac. uk/collections/CCS/what_is_civil_society. htm

Das Gupta et al State-Community Synergies in Development, Washington DC: World Bank, 2000 pp 1-8 Lin, Justin Rural Reforms and Agricultural Growth in China American Economic Review 82(1): 1992: 34-52 Garrett, Hardin. The Tragedy of the Commons, Science 162: 1968:1243-1248 National Academy of Sciences Rapid Population Growth: Consequences and Policy Implications, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971 pp143 Harbeson et al, Civil Society and the State in Africa, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994, p1-5 Chan Sylvia Liberalism, Democracy, and Development Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp234-5

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