Can NGOs cultivate supportive conditions for social democratic development? The case of a research and development NGO in Western Uganda.

  • Sophie King

Student thesis: Unknown


AbstractThe University of ManchesterSophie KingPhD: Development Policy and Management2013Can NGOs cultivate supportive conditions for social democratic development? The case of a research and development NGO in Western Uganda.There is an emergent consensus that the 'poverty reduction through good governance' agenda has failed to meet expectations. The capacity of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to cultivate the political economies and state-society synergies that might be supportive of more pro-poor development trajectories is contested. Advocates of inclusive liberalism identify increased political space for NGOs focused on popular empowerment and policy influence within the participatory spaces created by the good governance agenda. More radical critiques cast NGOs as apolitical brokers of neo-liberal development resources which distract from or are disinterested in more fundamental questions of redistribution. This thesis explores the potential for Ugandan NGOs to cultivate supportive conditions for a more redistributive development process amidst a semi-authoritarian, patronage-based, political regime and within a predominantly agrarian economy, using the lens of a single case study organisation situated in the Western region of the country. The findings suggest Ugandan NGOs should move beyond strategies associated with inclusive liberal governance towards a closer engagement with the politics and political economy of progressive change. Micro-enterprise and economic associational development emerge as more effective enhancers of political capabilities among the poor than strategies aimed solely at promoting inclusive liberal participation because they can tackle the socio-economic power relations that curb political agency in such contexts, and begin to undermine patronage-politics. In contrast, strategies for enhanced inclusive liberal participation engage with the formal de jure rules of the game in ways that either sidestep or re-enforce the de-facto patronage-based political system and fail to tackle the power relations that perpetuate ineffective forms of governance. Creating new cross-class deliberative spaces which engage with grass roots perspectives, can facilitate the emergence of new ways of thinking that promote a more pro-poor orientation among development stakeholders.Triangulation of qualitative primary data and relevant literature leads to the overarching conclusion that NGOs operating in such contexts are more likely to enhance the political capabilities of disadvantaged groups by adhering to a principle of self-determination. This focuses energy and resources on non-directive facilitative support to disadvantaged groups. This enables them to a) make socio-economic progress; b) become (better) organised; c) develop the necessary skills and knowledge to advance their interests; and d) cultivate opportunities for direct engagement with power holders and decision-makers. This approach requires a high level of what the thesis terms 'NGO political capacity' and a far more open-ended and programmatic approach to the provision of development aid than currently prevails.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSamuel Hickey (Supervisor) & Admos Chimhowu (Supervisor)


  • good governance
  • fragile states
  • semi-authoritarian regimes
  • inclusive liberalism
  • political capabilities
  • development
  • political economy
  • Uganda
  • neo-liberalism
  • farmer associations
  • rural producer organisations
  • non-governmental organisation
  • co-operatives
  • NGO
  • democratisation
  • social democracy
  • participatory development
  • participatory governance
  • state-society relations
  • civil society

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