Accepted paper:

Development NGOs and Authoritarian Regimes: The Story of Sudan


Hamid Khalafallah (British Council)

Paper short abstract:

NGOs play an integral role in the development field. However, this role is severely challenged by authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian States have limited tolerance for autonomous centres of powers, hence they feel threatened by NGOs and the wider civil society. This paper explores the NGO-State relationships in Sudan, a country that has been governed by an authoritarian regime for the past three decades. The perspectives of different players in the development sector in Sudan will discussed, to examine how their interactions affect the development process in this complex context.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on investigating the role of NGOs in development in authoritarian states. It explores the nature of NGO-State relationships, as well as the effectiveness of NGOs’ operations in authoritarian contexts. More precisely, the case study examines the interactions between the government and NGOs in Sudan during the development process, specifically in the context of the authoritarian regime that has been governing the country for almost three decades. The study is based on a qualitative analysis of various secondary sources, coupled with primary data collected from the field. It is observed that, historically, authoritarian rulers have shown hostility against NGOs. Although the levels of hostility varied, it is safe to say that authoritarian contexts have always been harsh for NGOs. Generally, democracies provide healthier environments for NGOs operations and development programmes. In particular, the environment in Sudan has been exceptionally harsh for NGOs under the current regime and it is described to be one of the toughest environments for NGOs’ operations. The Sudanese regime has been using multiple strategies to control and suppress NGOs, yet the NGOs law remains the greatest obstacle in their way. Nevertheless, aside of the regime’s redundant firmness, NGOs and the civil society in Sudan have been suffering from complex internal deficiencies that prevent them from fully utilising the limited space allowed by the authorities and potentially expand it. These deficiencies are harder to address in such restraining conditions. Overall, the study finds that development NGOs have a considerable role in Sudan, albeit the strictness of the regime and other unfortunate circumstances.

panel C3
Unravelling, unfolding and unsettling NGOs' work, role and methodologies