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Democratization from Below: Civil Society in Tajikistan

Even the most elementary, basic duty of a state to provide safety and security for its citizens, failed to do. So, the local people resolve the problems themselves with the help of international organizations.

Glocal governance [emerges in] national states which are…corrupt, incapable…particularly when they’re establishing dynasties, then the local and the global will connect and fix the problems.”

Official international organizations supported the 2009 Tajik law prohibiting rural conscription and child labor for cotton harvesting. Rights and Prosperity, the Tajik affiliate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), researches public accountability and transparency, as well as the rights of refugees. (https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/partners/ngodirectory/4ea918d311/international-public-organization-rights-prosperity.html)

The rise of “glocalism” has also helped GROs benefit directly from ties with INGOs. German Agro Action, in collaboration with the World Bank, has a strong record of partnering with both GRSOs and GROs. Its affiliate, Panjaket Agro Action, grew out of  24 community support centers tied to local governments, 91 water user associations, and 10 agricultural cooperatives being trained to train other groups (Karimov, 2018-2019). German Agro Action is currently working on 100 projects in the Rashdt Valley, involving 55,000 people through local organizations.

International support is not always financial and there is, for example,  an ongoing exchange of knowledge on legal issues. The International Commission of Jurists supports the Tajik Union of Lawyers’ work on judicial transparency and the mistreatment of lawyers in detention. The Legal Policy Research Centre, tied to the International Commission of Jurists, is focused on cases in rural areas.

Another important group is the Open Society Foundation, which sponsors the Coalition for Transparency, representing civil society in negotiations with the government and mining firms. OSF has also continued its long-term support for the League of Women Lawyers, groups of parents of disabled children, and increased internet access in rural areas.  OSF initiated the idea of sending caravans of doctors and lawyers to rural areas, which the government then took over and expanded (Open Society Foundation, 2021).

The Eurasia Foundation focuses on climate change and works with local governments and GROs on women’s issues. A current project involves 20 CSOs working on local development with Mahallas and local governments. CSO/Mahalla impact assessments are followed by round tables with governments and media to lobby for rural development (www.ef-ca.tj).

The most important religious INGO in Tajikistan is the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), supported by the liberal Ismaili sect of Islam. AKF supports GROs directly, on a large scale. Its Mountain Societies Development Program operates in the GBAR and is committed to strengthening local civil society as the foundation for development. AKF has worked with thousands of GROs since 1993 to strengthen “value-based societies”, transparency, and political accountability while improving social services and economic assets.

The network represents 1.4 million people and focuses on 2600 local savings groups and Mahallas. Initial efforts based on road repair and electric connections grew into local problem-solving workshops, leading to 3600 micro projects since 2014,  demonstrating “glocalism’s”  potential to link democracy and development.

Democracy and Development

The distinction between human rights, advocacy, and political participation on the one hand, and development (sometimes called “service provision” on the other, is widespread  (Appe, 2017), although causal relationships between democracy and development are complex and move in both directions. Amartya Sen (1998) captured much of this by describing freedom as both the primary object of development and its principal instrument. Similarly,  Booth and Seligson (1978: 261) defined participation as “behavior influencing or attempting to influence the distribution of public goods…which can be supplied by governments or by local communities themselves.”

Although local organizations are rarely involved in international human rights campaigns, the struggle for basic needs is an important form of political participation that leads to socio-economic development projects or services provided by CSOs or the government. An early meta-analysis of 50 projects in the developing world found that participation was the only consistently effective development strategy, as measured by the quality of life results and low project costs. Similar findings were found in urban projects. (Lance and McKenna, 1975;  Cheema, 1986.) 

Socioeconomic benefits can also lead to participation. A microcredit program sponsored by Save the Children Colombia for rural women’s clubs led members to attend not only more club meetings but also Local Development Association meetings previously attended only by men. A corollary is that when people in an entire community receive direct benefits, the resulting participation is broader and less likely to be tied to a political ideology or special interests.

Local, provincial, and national organizations (governmental or nongovernmental) can promote participation, even when the project focus is economic development or service provision.  GRSOs play a “vanguard role” within civil society because they tend to reach out to people left out of the political system at the local level. Tajik GRSOs, however, seem to be less likely than their counterparts in other developing countries to provide the poor with vested interests through micro-enterprise development or local banks. (Fisher, 1998:13-17) INGOs have only partially filled this gap.

Tajik GRO-GRSO relationships in 2006 were focused on both democratization and development. Chasma promoted businesses that supported interactions among women who were initially reluctant to leave their homes. NGO Women Voters worked with women to make political demands on improving basic services (Fisher 2013).

Some GRSOs based on democracy and development in Tajikistan have not survived. Manizha developed 40 training modules on democracy for local organizations and helped them set up their own local technical support organizations,  but the organization did not outlast the death of its founder.

The Public Committee for Democratic Processes (PCDP), the NGO most self-consciously focused on democracy-development linkages, worked in six regions of Tajikistan. It had grown out of the Inter-Tajik Community Dialogue groups established after the Tajik Civil War, with Kettering Foundation support. The first topic chosen by leaders of the PCDP after the Peace Settlement was “the role and influence of local traditional institutions of decision making” because they wanted to assert that what they were doing was democratic and not just Western (Fisher, 2013: 170,181-185). As Ashurboy Imomov of the PCDP observed, “NGOs do best when they concentrate on local democratic traditions and institutions…Democracy is not a governmental affair.”

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