Beautifully Imperfect: Applying the Western Civil Society Model to Africa

Mustapha Hashim Kurfi


The thrust of this paper is to show how theories of civil society may be altered by the inclusion of the case of Africa. In order to have a nuanced understanding of the subject matter, the article first traces the concept to some classical scholars, illustrating its dynamism by presenting postulates on the subject matter, and operationalizing it for discussion. It then provides some background to the African civil society, describing how it differs from the global North’s, thereby having the potentials for altering the crude Western model when the case of the continent is included. Citing examples from Nigeria (West Africa), Egypt (North Africa), Somali (East Africa), and Zimbabwe (Southern Africa), the paper posits that the theories of civil society that are historically Western secular are beautiful and best fit in the societies where they were embebbed; yet, they alter by inclusion of the case of Africa. This is due to a number of factors including differences in history, nature of the states and their role, regime type, value-orientation, worldviews of the citizens, autonomy of the civil society, and the living conditions of the people. The essay concludes by demonstrating how expanding the study of civil society beyond Europe and North America changes how we look at African contexts and why it matters for societal outcomes. Thus, while studying civil society in the global South, we need to recognize multiple modernities, complexity of the target society, as well as differences in histories and cultural values.

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