n Journal of African Elections - Civil society organisations, incompetent citizens, the state and popular participation in Tanzania




Civil society organisations have played a vital role in the relationship between the state and society. In Africa they have come into existence for different purposes, ranging from 'self-help', where the state has failed to help its citizens, to human rights, as the wave of democratisation has peaked, and economic rights, when a country's economy has crashed and governmental capacity declined to the extent that the population has had to take care of itself without help from the government. In Tanzania CSOs have had to play a more extensive role because many citizens are not politically competent and CSOs have had to take the lead in strengthening the demand side of the political equation. But this role is questionable in cases where CSOs have taken to speaking for and representing people in many forums without the consent of those they claim to represent. In the process CSOs, like NGOs, have compromised their autonomy, becoming close allies and partners of the state. The dilemma is that if they do not do this they cannot help the people they purport to help and if they do they are seen to be usurping the power of the people. The way forward is to empower citizens to assume their role as citizens and to ensure that the relationship between CSOs and the state remains beneficial to all.


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