Making African Civil Society Work: Assessing Conditions for Democratic State-Society Relations in Rwanda Dissertation

(2018). Making African Civil Society Work: Assessing Conditions for Democratic State-Society Relations in Rwanda . 10.25148/etd.FIDC006571

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Bienvenu, Fiacre


  • This dissertation offers a single case in-depth analysis of factors precluding civil society from democratizing African polities. Synthesizing existing literature on Rwanda, I first undertake an historical search to trace the origins and qualities of civil society in the colonial era. This effort shows, however, that the central authority—commencing before the inception of the Republic in 1962—consistently organized civil society to buttress its activities, not to challenge them. Next, using ethnographic research, I challenge conventional economic and institutional accounts of civil society’s role in democratization. I show that institutional change and the economic clout of organized groups are marginal and transient in effect, and hence possess considerable limitations to democratize state and non-state-groups relations. I argue that the Genocide and its historical materials, social and economic precariousness, and neo-patrimonial power configurations have erected a prevailing political culture that still conditions how Rwanda’s state-society relations are imagined, realized, and challenged. Conversely, just as that political culture has lengthened the reach of the state into society, limiting the potential autonomy of civil society, it has also been the basis for rebuilding the society, restoring the state’s authority, and enacting major state-building oriented reforms. Consequently, for CSOs to induce a liberal democratic order in domestic politics, subsequent activism will require long-term strategic and organic investment of actors into the dispersed, parochial strands of democracy first, not into ongoing confrontational, yet fruitless, political warfare that hinders social capital formation and that civil society is not yet equipped to win.

publication date

  • April 26, 2018


  • Africa
  • Civil Society
  • Democracy
  • Democratization
  • Political Culture
  • Rwanda
  • State-Society Relations

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)