Democracy Day and a Newly Released SU Press Book

Last Sunday, May 29, was Democracy Day in Nigeria. Democracy Day commemorates the restoration of democracy in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which took place in May of 1999 when a newly elected President of Nigeria took office, ending multiple decades of military rule.

To celebrate Democracy Day and to remind us that democracy is a work in progress we present one of SU Press’s latest releases: Civil Society, Conflict Resolution, and Democracy in Nigeria. In it, author Darren Kew offers a deeply comprehensive account of Nigerian civil society groups in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Kew blends democratic theory with conflict resolution methodologies to argue that the manner in which groups—and states—manage internal conflicts provides an important gauge as to how democratic their political cultures are.

A short excerpt from the book is below:

“The dramatic wave of democratic revolutions that swept the globe in the late 1980s and early 1990s lionized the reputations of the civil society groups that helped to lead them, and thereafter inspired movements worldwide in the new millennium. Stunning images of trade unionists, human rights activists, student leaders, community associations, and other civil society organizations facing down communist dictatorships in Europe, military juntas in Africa, and authoritarian governments elsewhere raised expectations among many democracy advocates regarding the roles these groups could play. Western donors channeled increasing funds for civil society groups in authoritarian or transitional countries in the hope that they too could rise like Nelson Mandela or Vaclav Havel to lead their nations down the democratic path.

But what exactly is the contribution that civil society groups make to democratic development? Robert Putnam’s pathbreaking 1993 book, Making Democracy Work, caught the prevailing Western donor perspective and framed the academic debate on civil society’s contribution when he reached a straightforward and appealing conclusion: More is better. Putnam argued that, regardless of the make, type, or orientation of a nation’s civil society associations, the denser the number of these groups, the deeper and more effective a country’s democracy will be.

Nearly thirty years since the revolutions of 1989, however, scholars and activists alike have grown less enamored of the contribution of civil society. Western policymakers have become particularly impatient with African civil society partners, who appear to have had little success at breaking the neopatrimonial lock on politics that predatory elites retain in many countries on the continent, Nigeria most of all. A growing body of evidence and scholarly analysis has led to increasing skepticism with unqualified portrayals of the democratic contribution of civil society groups. They point to the need for more nuanced approaches to civil society both as an analytical concept and as an object of democracy-promotion policies.

This book seeks to contribute to the search for a more precise understanding of the contribution of civil society to the democratization process. Do some civil society groups promote democratic political development more effectively than others, and if so, which ones and why? I provide extensive evidence from Nigeria that the answer to this question is indeed yes, and that the civil society groups who are themselves more democratic are more effective democracy-promoting organizations. Consequently, donor agencies seeking to promote democratic development through civil society groups are advised first to encourage these groups to “practice what they preach” by democratizing themselves.” (xi – xii)

To read more, consider purchasing a copy here.

civil society cover


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