Non-governmental organizations and land policy in Zimbabwe.
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There is widespread debate on what constitutes civil society and its importance in development and poverty reduction. The debate has been on-going since the term was coined by Aristotle during antiquity. The concept of civil society has derived much of its significance from Western political and philosophical thought; however traces of the concept can also be found in African notions of community and personhood as popularized by the concept of ubuntu. Scholars have struggled to put forward a substantive theory of civil society because it has different meanings for different people, places and historical times. The concept’s importance was relegated to the periphery of political and developmental discourse due to the rise of the welfare state in the 1950s and economics in the 1970s. However, civil society’s success, particularly in Poland and (former) Czechoslovakia,in the struggles against despotism in the Eastern bloc during the 1980s cemented its reputation as a form of ‘third way’ which can compensate for the failures of the state and the market. In the 1990s civil society became the ‘favoured child’ for driving development in third world countries. However since then national and international funding for civil society organizations has not tallied with the results on the ground, thereby prompting scholars to doubt its importance in developmental discourse, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This study argues that NGOs, which are a subset of civil society, are still important in the development of third world countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa. The study’s main line of argument is elaborated by an exploration of how two prominent NGOs, Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) and Justice for Agriculture (JAG), have been involved in land policy in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2015. During this period, the Zimbabwean government adopted and implemented a chaotic and violent land redistribution programme, thereby creating mayhem in the country’s socio-political and economic status-quo. It is in scenarios like these that NGOs become important in safeguarding the interests of the less privileged and supplementing government’s failures using different strategies. However these strategies create problems, for NGOs working in sub-Saharan Africa. It is because of these problems that resources channeled to sub-Saharan NGOs often fail to generate meaningful results on the ground.