Over the past two decades there has been a rapid increase in funds for local civil society actors in fragile states. Current peace-building and development efforts strive for the recreation of a vibrant, active and ‘liberal’ civil society. In the case of Sierra Leone, paradoxically, this growing support has not strengthened civil society actors based on that liberal idea(l). Instead of experiencing enhanced proactive participation stemming from the civil sphere, Sierra Leone’s civil society appears to be largely depoliticised. Drawing on empirical data gathered over the past four years, this article offers three interrelated causal explanations of why this phenomenon occurred during the country’s peace-building phase from 2002 to 2013. First, Sierra Leone’s civil society landscape has become instrumentalised to serve a broader liberal peace-building and development agenda in several ways. Second, Western idea(l)s of participatory approaches and democracy are repeatedly challenged by the legacies of colonial rule and socially entrenched forms of neo-patrimonialism. Third, abject poverty and the lack of education affect activism and agency from below.
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- civil society
- peace building
- Sierra Leone