Civil society is not necessarily good in itself. Sometimes civil society has contributed towards destruction of societies and played a negative role in conflicts and peace building. But in most countries civil society plays an important role both as a provider of services and with an important watchdog function constantly challenging those in power.
For many years formal African civil society organisations, both the agenda setting and financing, have been the domain of external actors. Often indigenous organisations have been established and financed to implement policies of international civil society organisations.
This is now about to change. In the future, the trend is that local organisations approach foreign organisations for cooperation, not the other way around.
African governments have welcomed foreign NGOs when the main focus has been service delivery. They are now, however, increasingly skeptical to external political/human rights involvement. There is no doubt that the shrinking space for many NGOs in Africa often is caused by the use of external funding to influence domestic decision making. It is easy to be fatigued by constantly being advised and influenced from outside.
One reason may be that international NGOs often are surprisingly disconnected from newly established indigenous organisations and movements now gaining influence in many African countries. The new wave of associations seems to be based on the importance of maintaining local legacy. They are open for cooperation with foreign NGOs, but not to be dominated by them. They would fail in their mission if they were to concentrate on designing log-frames and writing reports to donors.
But to be open for ideas from outside is a good thing for all!
Photograph: http://www.theafricareport.com/East-Horn-Africa/ngos-blessing-or-curse.html (Mark Anderson)