African NGOs: The New Compradors?


  • My thanks to the participants at the annual workshop of the Political Studies Association Development Politics Group, University of Bristol, January 2006 and those at the International Relations Seminar Series, University of Sussex, January 2007 for their feedback on this paper. I am grateful to Mark Duffield, Chris May, David Moore and the anonymous reviewers for their written comments on various drafts.


In the course of the last twenty-five years, Africa has witnessed an astounding growth in the number and influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in general, and more recently of African NGOs in particular. Initially, the literature on this was dominated by the concerns of the policy-making and NGO communities, drawing on liberal pluralist theory. Lately, an independent, critical literature has developed based on substantial empirical research. Its findings make for uncomfortable reading. They document the essential lack of autonomy of local non-state actors and their very close relationship to Northern governments. This essay argues that the position of NGOs must be theorized within the wider context of the global political economy of the continent. With this in mind, it investigates the rationale for using a comprador perspective to understand the contemporary role of African NGOs.