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Importing Democracy: The Role of NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina

Rationale for Importing Democracy

Importing Democracy book cover
Cover Illustration by EMacDesign, LLC
  • Democracy is linked toimproved economic performance, increased socioeconomic equality, political stability and good governance. Democracies rarely go to war with each other.1
  • Exporting democracy militarily, however, hasn’t worked since the United States forcefully imposed it on Japan after World War II.
  • Exporting democracy through peaceful means may produce some good results, but may also lead to local backlash against outside intervention.
  • Importing democracy is different for two reasons. The first is that people import those democratic ideas and practices that will work in their own countries. The second is that they combine these ideas with the recovery and promotion of traditional democratic practices.
  • Although the growth of civil society generally promotes democracy, one type of indigenous NGO (nongovernmental organization) has a more direct, purposive impact on democratization.
  • These democratization NGOs promote law-based civil liberties, strengthen loyal opposition, promote political participation and help develop a political culture to sustain democracy.
  • Importing Democracy tells the story of these NGOs in two struggling democracies—South Africa and Argentina, and one authoritarian regime—Tajikistan.
  • Democratization NGOs are also active in many other countries.2

1See Morton Halperin, Joseph T. Siegle and Michael M. Weinstein, The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace.
New York and London: Routledge, 2005.

2 See Appendix II, Importing Democracy: The Role of NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan and Argentina, Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation,

Praise for Importing Democracy

“Democratic practices can be imported, but not exported’ is a major theme of Fisher’s study of democratization in South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina. Fisher looks at democratization nonprofits who help to build the capacity of civil society. She conducted 103 field interviews of leaders in the three countries and presents the state of democratization in the context of each nation’s history, culture, and current political structures. These studies provide in detail the messy, frustrating and sometimes exhilarating progress toward a strong civil society. the case studies are steeped in detail about how democracies are formed.”

Virginia Hodgkinson,
Vice President for Research, Independent Sector (Retired)

“Through the combination of careful technical detail and brilliantly incisive commentary, Fisher convincingly demonstrates the link between the growth of civil society and democratization.”

Justin O. Frosini, Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies and
Democratic Development, Bologna and Assistant Professor, Bocconi University, Milan

“Democratization has been a world wide phenomenon, yet it’s theorization has largely been a western enterprise. This book is one of the few antidotes to this trend, not only because it focuses on three distinct developing world contexts – Argentina, South Africa and Tajikistan – but also through bringing alive in its reflections and theorization the activities and voices of local actors in civic life within these societies. Yet it does this without chauvinist retreat into a simple celebration of the local or the nation. Moreover, it fills an intellectual lacunae in the global literature by primarily investigating and explaining the role of democratization NGOs in the transition to democracy. Locally grounded but globally relelvant, nationally responsive yet cosmopolitan oriented, civic minded yet institutionally focused, unapologetically progressive yet intellectually eclectic, this is a must read for all those interested in democracies and their future in the modern world.”

Adam Habib,
Vice Chancellor, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

“By analyzing three countries on three different continents, Fisher convincingly demonstrates that civil society can have a determinant role in the success of democratization processses.”

Justin O. Frosini,
Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies and
Democratic Development, Bologna and Assistant Professor, Bocconi University, Milan

“Steeped in history, culture, and filled with detail about the efforts of local and national democratization NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina, Fisher does a masterful job providing a rich tapestry tracing the evolution and political climates in which citizens build democratic practices. Such methods are messy, diverse, and subject to failure, but these democratization organizations are the connective tissue of growing civil societies.”

Virginia Hodgkinson,
Vice President for Research, Independent Sector (Retired)

“From a specifically legal perspective Fisher’s study shows how the strength of the South African legal system has allowed democratization NGOs to focus on issues such as criminal justice, human rights and reforms of tribal law while in Argentina, although the legal system is unpredictable and sometimes corrupt, it is still responsive to pressure from civil society. Fisher demonstrates that even in Tajikistan, despite its authoritarian regime, democratization NGOs have been able to challenge legal constraints on civil society, police brutality and abuses against women and children.

“Finally, it will be interesting to see the reaction to Fisher’s Twelve Steps for Advancing Democracy.”

Justin O. Frosini,
Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies and
Democratic Development, Bologna and Assistant Professor, Bocconi University, Milan

Media for Importing Democracy


How Democracy is not the Same the World Over
September 29, 2015


This is a recording of talk given by Julie in 2013 at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Magazine Articles

Changing the System Within the System
Halfstack Magazine, Summer 2015
Pages 90-95

Radio Interviews and Podcasts

Greed for Ilm
Host: Walid Darab
Originally aired on June 25, 2013. Julie speaks on Episode 16. Please scroll down to find her interview.

WPTF 680 AM, The Bill Lumaye Show in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Host: Bill Lumaye
Originally aired June 11, 2013.

KKRN 88.5 FM, Unspun in Redding, California.
Host: Doug Bennett
Originally aired June 1, 2013.
Her interview begins at 2 minutes, 22 seconds.

Articles and Print Interviews

To read a recent article entitled “Importing Democracy: Peaks Islander Julie Fisher influences dialogue on world affairs” please visit peaksislandpress.com.

To read an article about Julie Fisher and her newly published book please visit peaksislandpress.com.

To read an interview with Julie entitled “Unlocking Democracy and Development” please visit The FCPA Blog: News And Views About The United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Press Releases

Combating Corruption is the Key that Unlocks Both Democracy and Development
June 15, 2012

Is There a Global Democratic Revolution?
February 27, 2012