This paper presents new evidence on citizen perceptions of NGOs using survey data from Cote d'Ivoire. I find that 55 percent of respondents believe NGOs in Cote d'Ivoire are partisan. Such popular beliefs are, in fact, inconsistent with the depiction of these organizations either by the theoretical literature or by international donors. Those individuals who support the governing party are less likely to view NGOs as partisan than the opposition, while those who view NGOs as partisan are more likely to hold negative views of NGOs and the government in general. They are not necessarily less likely to participate in citizenship practices, such as associating with others to demand government intervention or contacting the media, but they are less likely to desire to vote in the 2015 elections. This paper contributes to our understanding of the normative contribution of NGOs, in which the literature has neglected to consider the reality of citizen perceptions of NGOs as well as the impact of these perceptions on the ability of NGOs to function in society. These findings could have implications for the work NGOs are able to do among skeptical populations and suggest that the literature on civil society promotion should be reassessed to take into consideration the variation in perceptions within populations these NGOs serve.
About Justine M. Davis
Justine M. Davis is pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, with a focus on comparative politics and political behavior in Sub-Saharan Africa. She is a Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow as well as an American Political Science Association Minority Fellow. She holds an M.A. in International Affairs, Conflict Resolution and Civil Society Development from the American University of Paris and the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a B.A. in International Studies from Elon University. Prior to pursuing a PhD, Justine was a Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow in Côte dIvoire and worked at the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club in Paris.