The paper examines the challenge of rehabilitation from complex political emergencies (CPEs) and identifies a strategy that is characterised as a civil society rebuilding approach. It focuses on Somalia and a case study of a CARE project that aims to build the capacity of local NGOs.
The paper argues that civil society in CPEs is simultaneously being undermined and contested by warring parties and emerging after state collapse. It finds that international agencies have tended to focus on civil society institutions simply as conduits for aid money and that this has tended to create organisations which lack downwards accountability, are dependent on donors and are not addressing the wider roles for civil society envisaged in the approach.
Rebuilding civil society does hold out the promise of giving non military interests a stronger voice and starting a process of changing the aid delivery culture. Achieving these objectives, however, will be a slow and largely indigenous process and there is a need for lowered expectations about what outside assistance can achieve. Civil society rebuilding is not a magic wand for the problems faced in today’s CPEs, but it does suggest a strategy that could enable agencies to address some of the failings of past humanitarian assistance.