The Book in the Context of Past Research
Researchers have responded to the growing importance of environmental NGOs with several lines of research. There are numerous studies of international environmental NGOs (e.g., Wapner, 1996; Markham, 2011; Doherty and Doyle, 2014), but most have little, if anything, to say about the operations of these NGOs in individual countries.
The only large-scale study with comparative data for numerous environmental NGOs across sub-Saharan Africa appears to be the one conducted by Brockington and Scholfield (2010b). Although useful because of its breadth, the study covered only nature protection organizations—a subset of all environmental organizations. It also emphasized larger and more internationally visible NGOs. Unlike our study, it relied primarily on documentary sources and responses to a brief written questionnaire rather than long interviews and did not attempt to analyze factors that influence NGO goals, strategies, and activities. An earlier study by Cherrett and his colleagues (1995) of 45 NGOs in five countries was unfortunately reported in only a cursory way and does not contain much information about individual NGOs. Several other studies cover NGOs of only one type. These include Vivian’s (1994) study of sustainability- focused rural development NGOs in Zimbabwe, Dierig’s (1999) study of urban-based environmental NGOs in Addis Ababa, and a major study of NGOs that work in the area of sanitation and waste disposal in Kampala, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam (Tukahirwa, Mol, and Oosteveer, 2010, 2013, 2014). These studies look at some of the same topics as our research but in much less detail and for a limited range of NGO types. We also made use of Fonjong’s (2007a, 2007b) extensive research on NGOs in Cameroon’s
North-West Region; however, his study covered only one region and included both environmental and non-environmental NGOs.
The study most similar to this one is Beer’s (2012) unpublished doctoral dissertation, which provides a detailed statistical description of the goals, activities, funding, and other characteristics of 70 Kenyan environmental NGOs based on interviews with their leaders. It differs from this research in that (1) it focused only on well-established, officially registered NGOs operating in urban areas and (2) explaining NGO goals, strategies, activities, and success was not its primary focus. Somewhat surprisingly, we were able to locate only two comprehensive case studies of specific environmental NGOs, one in Senegal (Roberts, 2000) and the other in Cameroon (Van der Waarde and Ischer, 2007).
Additional information about environmental NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa can sometimes be found in research focused primarily on specific environmental problems (e.g., Mvududu, 1991; Djoh and van der Wal, 2001; Jones, 2001; Rutagarama and Martin, 2006; Doe, 2008; Goldberger, 2008; Parrot, Sotamenou, and Dia, 2009; Buchy and Maconachie, 2014) or environmental disputes (e.g., Carr and Ogbonnaya, 2001; Thomas, 2003; Child, 2009; Taylor, 2012; Ekhator, 2014). Unfortunately, NGOs are only a secondary topic in these studies, not objects of study in themselves. Most contain only limited information about our research questions and lack a sample large enough to allow generalizations. Moreover, variations among the studies in methodology and level of detail about particular topics make generalizations based on comparisons across studies very difficult to formulate.
Regrettably, the development and use of theoretical models in such research has been quite limited (Anheier and Salamon, 1998; Igoe and Kelsall, 2005; Heyse, 2006). Most studies are either atheoretical or fail to use theoretical models suitable for analyzing the goals, strategies, activities, and structures of environmental NGOs and the effects of external factors on them. The most relevant work concerns NGOs and civil society and environmental movements of the poor.
Literature about NGOs and civil society is summarized in chapter 2. Although useful in some respects, this literature’s primary emphasis is on civil society and the NGO sector as a whole—including, especially, the sector’s role in society or politics—not on the NGOs themselves. Moreover, much writing about civil society is normative rather than descriptive or analytical; that is, it is full of statements about how NGOs and civil society could or should function but falls short on analysis of the constraints and influences that real NGOs face; how these influences shape the NGOs’ goals, structures, strategies, activities, successes, and failures;
and how NGOs actually function and contribute to civil society—or fail to do so (Child, 2009).
Another set of studies of environmental NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries (see chapter 2) interprets NGOs as social movement organizations (SMOs), that is, as organizations formed to mobilize people who are negatively affected by environmental problems to participate in organized collective action. Social movement activity can, of course, employ a wide variety of strategies; however, research about environmental movements in developing lands has most often focused on confrontational, populist struggles against environmental threats to local livelihoods and health stemming from government or business projects and policies. This is hardly surprising, for such cases are more dramatic and more congruent with the theoretical orientation of the social movement literature, but emphasizing confrontational movement activity shifts attention away from other types of NGOs and provides somewhat limited insight into when and why environmental NGOs adopt or avoid confrontational tactics.
This book undertakes to fill some of these gaps in previous research. It includes a larger number of environmental NGOs than most previous studies, casts the net broadly to include NGOs of various types operating in various ecological and social contexts, and rests on both documentary materials and in-depth interviews. It focuses both on the goals, structures, strategies, and activities of the environmental NGOs themselves and on the factors that affect them without invoking preconceptions about their “proper role” in society or their participation in confrontational movements. We believe that a deep knowledge of these topics is a necessary condition for addressing broader questions about the role of the NGO sector in society.
Although we reserve elaborate theoretical discussions for chapter 2 and the final chapter, our research is guided by theory throughout. As befits the topic, our theoretical base is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on political science, sociology, environmental studies, third sector studies, public administration, African studies, and, especially, theories of management and administration. More specifically, we use insights from theory and research about public interest groups, social movements, civil society, and, in particular, theories of organizations. Our reliance on organization theory, especially as it pertains to the NGO sector, parallels that of well-received recent studies of British, US, and German environmental groups (Jordan and Maloney, 1997; Bosso, 2005; Markham, 2008) and is a key feature of the book. Open systems models, resource dependence theory, and institutional theories proved particularly useful for addressing our research questions. Their strength is that they emphasize how organizational goals, structures, strategies, activities, and successes and failures are shaped by the preferences of the groups on which they depend for key resources, by competition and cooperation among similar NGOs, by the influence of government and local communities, and by the NGOs’ own institutionalized goals, traditions, and ways of doing things.