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Civil Society and Democratic Governance in Ghana: Emerging Roles and Challenges

Seidu Alidu
Maame A. A. Gyekye-Jandoh


Though the essence of ‘civil society’ appeared in the writings of Rousseau, Ferguson, Tocqueville and Gramsci, the use of the term did not become prominent until the 18th century. Variously defined, the meaning, applicability and categorization of civil society are embedded in highly contextualized ideological debates of Tocqueville’s liberal democracy and Gramscian post-Marxist school of thought. Whilst liberals see civil society as characterized by high social capital, trust and cooperation necessary for democracy, the Gramscian conception assumes a more direct political position and considers civil society an instrument of resistance and activism that promotes challenges to political, social and economic hegemony. The use of the term civil society among Ghanaian scholars has been aligned largely with Tocqueville’s neo-liberal perspective. In as much as the role of civil society is applauded, great caution must be exercised in universalizing all civic organizations in Ghana as pro-democratic entities. This article therefore examines civil society from the Tocquevillian perspective, and its influence on the analysis of civil society in Ghana. The essay reviews the works of Gyimah-Boadi, Ninsin, Drah and Ocquaye that adopt Tocqueville’s liberalist characterization of civil society and how it has helped to shape democracy and checked the despotic tendencies of the Ghanaian state. It concludes with recommendations on how a broader conceptualization beyond de Tocqueville could enhance the analytical and empirical relevance of civil society in promoting the liberty of citizens against the encroachments of a powerful state.

Keywords: Civil society; 'alternative' civil society; Ghana; democracy; democratic consolidation

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print ISSN: 2343-6530