Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Advocacy and the democratic process

Chris Blattman has a great piece highlighting the potential danger of unconnected, external advocacy groups disrupting the necessary discussions and negotiations guiding development. Advocacy groups and NGOs can play an important role but they don't represent all voices or perspectives, particularly when they are outside the situation. Advocacy groups often think of themselves as speaking for or on behalf of the 'victims' or 'the poor' but they're often very loud voices without a direct stake in the situation. On a related note, View From The Cave talks here about the missing voices in global conversations about development.

Taking the point to a situation with which I'm more familiar, what happens when the majority of the population is dependent on government programmes - grants, infrastructure programmes, social spending - but only a small (rich) group pays the taxes and has access to media? South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world but an awful lot of the media coverage prior to the recent local government elections in SA was focused on the outrage of car owners over potholes in Johannesburg roads. Advocacy groups in the country play an important role in national discussion but are they really representing everyone's voices? Even the powerful trade union group, COSATU, represents a particular constituency - the employed in a country with unemployment over 30%. Is there a way for NGOs to stop speaking out on behalf of 'the poor' and find a way to make it possible for 'the poor' to take part in the dialogue themselves?

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