While street protesters demanding democratic reforms make headlines in the international news, Importing Democracy: The Role of NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina, written by Julie Fisher and published by the Kettering Foundation Press, focuses on a quieter movement led by democratization NGOs. In South Africa, the Good Governance Learning Network shares participatory tools to make local governments more responsive. In Tajikistan, Jahan teaches local police about human rights. In Argentina, seven democratization NGOs sponsor public deliberations in local communities and have organized a nationwide citizens network to combat municipal government corruption.
The book is organized around three chapters for each country, South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina. The first chapter of each country’s section begins with the historical, political, and economic context and continues with a discussion of the general contours of civil society. The second chapter in each section deals with the role of democratization NGOs in promoting both loyal opposition and law-based civil liberties. The third chapter focuses on their role in promoting political culture and political participation. Loyal opposition and law-based civil liberties help define democratization at the national level, whereas changes in political culture and increased political participation often occur throughout society. Following the nine country chapters, the book concludes with a comparative overview and implications for international policy.
Fisher, a former Kettering Foundation program officer, writes that the idea that democracy can be exported has lost credibility in recent years. In many countries, however, democratization NGOs are importing democratic ideas and recovering local democratic traditions.