The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in collaboration with the Kofi AnnanInternational Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) and the InWent Capacity BuildingInternational organised a lecture for 23 government officials from sub-Saharan Africa onSeptember 16, 2008 in Accra, Ghana. The training was part of the KAIPTC/ InWentDevelopment Diplomacy Programme. The overall objective of the course was tointroduce the trainees to the concept of civil society, the role of civil society in WestAfrica and the relationship that exists between the government and civil society.The training session blended theory and practice to enhance the
understanding of the core concepts of civil society, functions of civil society, therelationship between civil society and government, the role of civil society in WestAfrica. The lecture also capitalised on the contextual experiences of the participants.The session was participatory and encompassed a comprehensive overview of theconcepts and themes under discussion. Participants were encouraged to draw on theirexperiences to raise questions or issues on the topics under discussion. This facilitatedexperience sharing and the exchange of lessons learnt.
THE CONCEPT OF CIVIL SOCIETY
Civil society is a complex concept. Although the term is widely used, there is nocommonly agreed definition. The Centre for Civil Society, UK defines civil society as asector on its own vis-à-vis the three other main sectors
state, business and family. Someresearchers use a different and more sophisticated segmentation, distinguishing forexample between the political (state apparatus, political parties and parliamentarians),economic (companies and markets) and private spheres, and define a space where thesespheres overlap. Thus, some actors do not belong just to one sector but operate in variousspheres. In summary, Civil society is the sector of voluntary action within institutionalforms that are distinct from those of the state, family and market, keeping in mind that inpractice the boundaries between these sectors are often complex and blurred; also, it isindependent from the state, but it is oriented toward and interacts closely with the stateand the political sphere.
Concerns/questions/comments from participants
Questions and comments posed centred around two themes: the definition of civilsociety, the role of civil society vis-à-vis the government. The discussions on these issuesare expatiated below:
Civil society can be described as a group of elite intellectuals coming together for acommon purpose.
Civil society can be described as a social movement.
Civil society is essentially an opposition party that are antagonistic towardsgovernment. They do not collaborate with government.