Backlash Against Democracy: The Regulation of Civil Society in Africa

"Among the many forces which contributed to the political liberalization of African nations, civil society formations played a pivotal role in dismantling authoritarian one-party rule and opening public space for wider political participation. However, democratic gains achieved during the 1990s have slowly begun to erode as conflict has resurfaced across the continent and many hybrid democratic regimes have adopted repressive tactics to maintain political power. The increasing regulation of the civil society sector indicates a return to autocratic practices and a backlash against democratization. Yet, despite this trend several countries have also adopted enabling frameworks for civil society, recognizing the contribution of this sector to national development. The existence of these simultaneous trends invites a re-examination of the current state of African civil society and its relationship to democratic consolidation. The first section of this paper provides a brief overview of the recent history of state-civil society relations in Africa. The second section examines the current trend in repressive NGO legislation in Zambia, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, which include: (1) barriers to entry; (2) barriers to operational activity and free speech; and (3) barriers to resources. The third and final section frames this trend within the history of democratization in Africa and identifies new directions for research and analysis."