Civic Space

A recent OECD Report details and affirms in-depth that a freer and better protected civil society improves every aspect of a society. It dispels the old argument that a government needs to be released from external civic critiques in order to concentrate efforts on reform. In short, governments who restrict civic space spend the “political dividend” too often on corruption and personal power politics.

The report is well written and researched and its analysis has broad application. As a thought experiment, try substituting “political space“ for “civic space” and the conclusions seem equally as valid. A symbiotic relationship exists between the civic space granted to NGOs and the political space more grudgingly given to opposition parties.

The takeaway is clear: as powerful an argument as the OECD’s for civil society’s space should be made for political party’s space. The challenge is that the defence of political space appears more self-serving and prone to disturb incumbent political figures.

Even authoritarian governments are keen to point out how “independent” are their civil society organizations. Few governments take pride in the outspokeness of the political opposition, if indeed they acknowledge they even exist. That’s too bad. The strongest governments, one could argue, have the strongest political oppositions.

Political Space could be the topic of an OECD reportworthy of the institution.