Civil society: a revived mantra in the development discourse

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

There is an assumption that the inclusion of civil society in governance processes promotes democratic performance and contributes to ‘good governance’, in the sense of pluralism, accountability and transparency. This paper refers to the governance process of the water utility in Accra involving the private sector, and examines the validity of the assumed roles regarding the inclusion of civil society in the governance process. For the purposes of this study, civil society is defined as ‘non-state and non-market organisations that can, or have the potential to, champion democratic governance reforms and act as agents for political and socio-economic change’. Contrary to assumptions made about the inclusion of civil society, the analysis herein shows that the inclusion of civil groups in the governance process of the water utility led to hostile and undemocratic processes and to weak indicators of ‘good governance'. The main concern of the key actors was centred on how to build consensus around the privatisation programme of the water utility. ‘Managing consensus’, however, is an inappropriate planning measure. It is argued here that the focus should rather be on how to design governance structures and arrangements, mobilised by legitimate and committed political leadership, to build and enhance the capacity of governance processes.

Keywords: Accra, Civil society, Governance, Public, Private, Water utility

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