In Dahana, the local GRO built a greenhouse to grow vegetables that would combat iron deficiency anemia among local women. Despite its success, “it proved unable to continue getting international funding, perhaps because it was not officially registered. We tried to help with that, but the organization closed down in 2015.”
However, the ideas and activities linking democratization and development continue in other organizations. In the Chignon District of the GBAR, for example, with AKF support, an elected local chair supervises micro-loans, harvesting, and other development projects, while promoting democratization. (https://www.akdn.org/where-we-work/central-asia/tajikistan)
The linkages, led by Mahallas and other GROs, between public talk (deliberative participation) and what Boyt (1996) calls “public work” have led to tangible development projects in many Tajik localities. In some cases, villagers return after becoming educated and increase both participation and development. One individual born in Gharabdara returned and sought election as chairman of the village’s development committee union. Under his initial guidance, drinking water supply lines were constructed and repairs were carried out at the school. His next step was village meetings, including women, that led to regular workshops. As women learned to participate more regularly, they were able to “demonstrate to the government representatives what active and well-organized women we have.” With government funds, the village organization bought a tractor used for crops, constructing a bridge and a medical center. The tractor is also leased to neighboring villages, thus providing a good income for the village. This village combined two ingredients of participation, broad decision-making, and demand-making, which led to a sustainable income for further development.
Indeed, causal relationships between democratization and socio-economic development seem to apply mainly to the grassroots level, since democratization NGOs in Tajikistan are not likely to establish partnerships with other intermediary NGOs focused on development.
A related question, not explored in detail here, is the relationship between development and state-building, based on accountability. Zharkevich (2010, p. 5), for example, contends that GRO-government ties can play a strategic socio-political role that promotes state capacity. The latter can, of course, further democratization. The legal restrictions against sex trafficking passed by the Tajik government over 20 years ago were the work of the democratization NGOs, but if Mihr (2022) is correct about the focus on glocalism, then state capacity may be a more elusive goal.
State capacity could also develop from sustained demand making, as GROs become political advocates for social services. As Toepler et al (2020:654) emphasize, there is a need for “remaining sensitive to the blurring of boundaries between social service provisions, advocacy and support for the state and the status quo”. On the other hand, without outside civil society support, GROs are limited in impact, and funding for government-funded local projects is often corrupted. Alliances and cooperation among different kinds of CSOs are important. As Karimov observed, “Tajikistan has reached a point where… the further development of the country, the consolidation of peace and stability depends largely on the degrees of activity of broad sections of the population in building and strengthening civil society.”
Recommendations and Conclusions
Perhaps the clearest and most common recommendation pertaining to both INGOs and GRSOs, in Tajikistan and elsewhere, is the need to strengthen ties with both GROs and local governments to help them focus on both development and democratization from below, even in the face of the national repression of human rights. CSOs and local governments can learn from each other if they are supported in their interactions. Civil society can even have a national impact. An NGO called Ghamkori got village women from a local group to testify at parliamentary hearings, leading to the passage of legislation against domestic violence (Freizer, 2015).
The intermediary level of civil society in Tajikistan is comprised of markets and a sphere of public debate, in addition to CSOs. These three components all need to take much more advantage of the spread of the internet in rural areas. This could translate into either economic development, through support for new businesses, or support for GROs. Tajikistan’s embattled media could also increase the number of positive stories about GROs without fear of official disapproval.
Whether civil society can impact democratization in a wider sense is, however, a difficult question. Local democracy promotion over 25 years in Tajikistan by the EU and the US has apparently had some success, especially with young people, despite anti-western bias in some Mahallas (Munday: 2018) One example was a 2001-2003 democracy summer camp funded by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Civilization, a Tajik GRSO. In 2006 an IFES staff member observed that they kept up with the students, who have specialized in journalism, political science or sociology.
Whether civil society can impact democratization in a wider sense is, however, a difficult question. Local democracy promotion over 25 years in Tajikistan by the EU and the US has apparently had some success, especially with young people, despite anti-western bias in some Mahallas ( Munday: 2018). One example was a 2001-2003 democracy summer camp funded by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Civilization, a Tajik GRSO. In 2006 an IFES staff member observed that they kept up with the students, who have specialized in journalism, political science, or sociology.
The long-term strength of any CSO depends on a self-conscious commitment to autonomy that is not always present among intermediary NGOs in Tajikistan. Often they do not diversify their financial support, consistently improve technical or management expertise or gain experience in training government officials, all of which can contribute to autonomy. They do seem, however, to have acquired two other basic ingredients of autonomy and, therefore survival vis a vis the state— advancing women and building ties to GROs, which sometimes even includes bringing ordinary people into national campaigns such as combating sex trafficking. (Fisher 1998: 78-79, 158-159).
Tajikistan also demonstrates that the autonomy of GROs themselves not only contributes to a potential mass base for intermediary NGOs but may also be the single most powerful factor keeping civil society alive, especially in repressive contexts. The contrast between top-down authoritarian rule and grassroots democracy at the local level in Tajikistan is remarkable, but probably not unique, given the emerging potential of the internet and the natural ties between democratization and locally-inspired development.
Appe S. 2017. Civil society organizations in a post-aid world: new trends and observations from the Andean region. Public Administration and Development 37( 2 ): 122-135.