A more inclusive global governance? The IMF and civil society in Africa.

Author:Scholte, Jan Aart

Does engagement with civil society generate more inclusive global governance? This article examines that question in the context of relations between the International Monetary Fund and civil society organizations in six countries of sub-Saharan Africa. IMF exchanges with CSOs in this region have indeed brought some new voices into global governance. However, the overall scale and depth of these connections has remained modest. Moreover, such engagement as has developed has generally favored geographically, socioeconomically, and culturally privileged constituencies. These limitations to, and hierarchies of, access and influence in IMF-CSO relations have resulted from a combination of: personal qualities of the individuals involved, institutional attributes of both the IMF and CSOs, and deeper structures of contemporary global politics. Attention to these various circumstances could yield greater inclusion. KEYWORDS: Africa, civil society, global governance, International Monetary Fund.

MUCH DISCUSSION ABOUT BUILDING MORE DEMOCRATIC GLOBAL GOVERNANCE has focused on the role of civil society. Many scholars and practitioners have posited that civil society activities present a formidable "voice of the people" for global regimes. (1) More broadly, cosmopolitan theorists have extolled the democratic virtues of citizen mobilization in a "global civil society" of "global deliberative spaces" within a "global public sphere." (2) Other analysts have made more cautious assessments. For example, some have suggested that the degree of civil society contributions to democratic global governance depends on contextual circumstances. (3) Meanwhile, more skeptical readings in Gramscian and poststructuralist veins have argued that civil society can be a co-opted force that hegemonically legitimates repressive neoliberal global governance. (4)

What does the actual record on the ground suggest following two decades of increased interactions between civil society organizations (CSOs) and global governance institutions? In particular, how far have civil society channels provided greater access and impact in global policymaking for constituencies who have tended otherwise to go unheard such as people of the Global South, rural populations, underclasses, women, and non-Western cultures? What circumstances have enabled and/or obstructed civil society organizations to provide increased recognition, respect, voice, and influence for marginalized circles in global governance?

Surprisingly, perhaps, this key issue of more democratic global politics has received little research attention. True, notable literature on relations between civil society associations and global governance agencies has appeared since the mid-1990s. (5) Much of my own work of this period has explored the forms, promptings, and policy implications of these interchanges. (6) Yet the specific question of inequalities with respect to civil society involvement in global regulation has not gone beyond loose comment. Intuition suggests that hierarchies of civil society access to global governance could compromise what some have dubbed "associational" and "stakeholder" democracy. (7) However, systematic detailed analysis of inclusion/exclusion in these interactions has barely begun. (8)

And these matters are significant. For one thing, it is to the intrinsic good of human dignity that people should have a say in the politics that shape their lives, including through global governance. In addition, recognition and voice for marginalized groups can promote effectiveness in global public policy in terms of bringing into consideration otherwise missing or underplayed issues, information, perspectives, proposals, and critiques. Thus, for example, listening to farmers could help counter an urban bias in mainstream development policy, and empowering women could help counter disproportionate female poverty. More inclusive relations with publics can also enhance democratic legitimacy and, hence, political support for the substantial role that is needed of global regulation in today's more global world.

This article pursues these larger questions through an empirical study of relations between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and CSOs in six countries of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The study builds on earlier research on the IMF interface with civil society, although none of that work has focused on Africa or hierarchies of access. (9) During 2007-2009 field visits were made to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Malawi. Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda as well as several trips to IMF headquarters in Washington, DC. The aim was to examine circumstances of inclusion/exclusion in a marginalized part of the world (and one that moreover rarely figures in research on civil society in global politics).

Within SSA, the selection of countries encompasses broad diversity. The six are spread across central, eastern, southern, and western subregional locations. They include large. medium, and small territories and populations. The sample covers Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone countries with Belgian, British, French, and Portuguese colonial heritages. The DRC and Nigeria base their economies substantially on mineral exports, while the other four countries have mainly agricultural production. Malawi and Mali have known quite stable state institutions, while Nigeria has experienced several military coups, Mozambique and Uganda have known prolonged civil war, and the DRC remains a highly fragile state. The six countries have known different types of IMF involvement as well. At one end of the spectrum the DRC remains closely scrutinized by and substantial I y indebted to the IMF. while at the other end Nigeria has not borrowed from the IMF for over thirty years.

Civil society is understood in the present study as a political space where associations of citizens seek, from outside political parties, to shape societal rules and regulatory processes. (10) Drawing on this conception, in each country contact was sought with a full spectrum of citizen action groups, including business associations, faith-based organizations (FBOs), secular nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), peasant and worker movements, and research institutes. In addition, the research involved a review of relevant IMF documentation and discussions with present and former IMF staff working on the six countries, ranging from senior management to junior economists.

In total, interviews were held with 183 civil society actors and 65 IMF officials. Discussions were conducted on the condition of confidentiality; thus respondents are indicated only by a general title in the text (e.g., "an NGO program officer") and by a number in the endnotes (e.g., "Interviewee 183"). Details regarding date and place of the conversation are also omitted in three instances where such information might reveal the identity of the source. Also, where the text does not reference a factual detail the point has been gleaned from field observations and/or cross-checks in several interviews.

In brief, the research concludes that IMF-CSO relations in SSA have indeed brought the global financial institution into some closer contact with broader publics than was the case prior to the 1990s. However, the IMF has maintained far more links with CSOs in the Global North than the Global South, even though the greatest number and intensity of IMF interventions during this period have occurred in the South. Moreover, within SSA the connections with civil society have been noticeably skewed toward urban, professional, propertied, male, and culturally Western circles. In contrast, IMF-CSO interchanges have so far done little to provide entry into global governance for rural dwellers, underclasses, women, and people living outside modern rationalist culture. Hence the IMF "opening" to civil society has been quite uneven. Indeed, IMF-CSO relations in SSA have tended to reproduce--if not deepen geographical and social hierarchies in global politics. To this extent, then, global governance engagement with civil society has, in the case of the IMF in Africa, more usually reinforced than reversed embedded inequalities. Subject to further research, the broader lesson could be that global governance "outreach" to civil society is not a panacea for inclusion; indeed, if conducted in certain ways, the activity can actually deepen exclusion.

The rest of this article elaborates this argument. The first part briefly surveys IMF involvements in the six focal countries of the fieldwork. The second part describes in greater detail various hierarchies of access and influence in IMF-CSO relations in SSA. The main patterns of inclusion/exclusion involve North-South and urban-rural divides as well as hierarchies of class, gender, and knowledge. The third part identifies a number of circumstances that have combined to produce these outcomes. Relevant factors include personal qualities of individuals, organizational attributes of institutions, and forces connected with deeper structures of global politics. This diagnosis of the (complex) dynamics of inclusion/exclusion in IMF-CSO relations also points toward possible corrective steps.

IMF Involvements in Africa

The DRC, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda have all experienced several decades of intensive relations with the IMF. All but Nigeria have borrowed from the institution under its Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) and the successor Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). As of 2008-2009, the DRC, Malawi, and Mali continued to have PRGF programs, while Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda fell under unfunded IMF oversight through the Policy Support Instrument (PSI). In addition, all six countries are subject to standard Article IV surveillance by the IMF of their macroeconomic policies. Each of the national governments also has substantial technical assistance arrangements with the...

To continue reading