07 January 2009

Local NGOs in national development: The case of East Timor

Author Hunt, Janet. Institution RMIT University. Abstract: This thesis explores the roles and experiences of local East Timorese non-government organisations through the multiple transitions which accompanied East Timor's process of independence in the period 1999-2004. It explores how NGOs attempted to influence the changing environment in which they were operating, particularly in the development of the new nation. In doing so, it examines how the actual experience of these local NGOs relates to theories of civil society and NGOs in the various phases of transition to democracy, state and nation building and post-conflict peacebuilding.

After reviewing literature relating to the role of civil society and NGOs in democratisation, development and peacebuilding, and identifying some key issues to explore, the study turns to the particular context of East Timor. It summarizes the colonial history, with a particular focus on governance, development and the emergence of civil society and NGOs in that territory, and the phases of the transition. It then focuses closely on six leading East Timorese NGOs, which between them reflect different organisational origins and sectoral interests and which were perceived to be playing significant roles within the NGO community.

The case study chapters describe briefly the history of each NGO, then trace their stories over an approximately five year period. They explore how the visions, strategies, programs and organisational systems of these NGOs changed as the context changed. The case studies show how adaptive these NGOs were, how excluded some of them were by the huge influx of international players after the ballot, but how, in the absence of a legitimate government, they were included in various processes in a number of important ways during the UNTAET period. These studies also reveal some of the challenges the NGOs faced as the new government took over in May 2002.

The study concludes by summarising the changing roles and capacities of the NGOs, highlighting the many roles which local NGOs played throughout the study period, and the way in which they met new demands placed upon them. It identifies capacities critical for these NGOs' survival and development, and identifies some strategies which the NGOs themselves identified as useful in helping them attain these. It also identifies some areas which they found challenging and where more capacity development may have been valuable.

Finally the study reflects on the actual experiences of Timorese NGOs compared to theory and experiences elsewhere relating to democracy, development and peacebuilding. The findings, which emphasise the changing relationship of the new state to its citizens, suggest that the civil society and development practice, which has been strongly based on de Tocqueville's approach to civil society, is not particularly helpful in a post-conflict setting. Instead, an adapted Gramscian approach, viewing civil and political society as interrelated sites in which a struggle to embed non-violent means of apportioning power are being waged, could be of greater analytic and practical value. Full thesis text available here...

East Timor Law Journal
- Towards the rule of law in Timor-Leste!

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