Summary and Conclusions
Relationships with government at all levels are potentially of great importance to environmental NGOs. In theory, government could be a significant source of much needed resources, including funds, expertise, assistance, and legitimacy, but it can also become an impediment, denying the NGOs resources or cooperation, or even blocking their efforts or harassing or intimidating them. Unfortunately, the potentially positive outcomes of relationships with government are often realized to only a limited extent. Financial crisis, structural adjustments, and the accompanying shortfall in government revenues have left the Cameroonian government with few monetary resources to assist environmental NGOs, and there are many competing priorities. The centralization and inefficiency of the Cameroonian state, widespread clientism and corruption, and a history of quasi-authoritarian rule and suspicion of alternative power bases also make government a problematic partner for environmental NGOs, albeit one that usually cannot be completely avoided.
In this context, it is not too surprising that government appears to play a relatively minor role in the world of many of the NGOs, neither interfering much with their work nor providing them with much assistance. Interviewees cited their relationships with government as either a strength or a weakness of their NGO relatively infrequently, rarely received government grants or contracts, and did not often describe government as interfering with their activities, causing their failures, or attempting to dictate their goals. The difference among the types of NGOs once again proved important in this context. Type II Cameroonian NGOs typically had less well-developed relationships with government. They were less likely to report that government had an impact on their goals, successes, and failures, that government provided them with assistance, or that government interfered with their projects. This is likely both a cause and a result of their scant resources and marginal role in environmental protection and politics.
These findings suggest that government is, in general, neither a strong supporter of the environmental NGO sector nor a heavy-handed opponent—except perhaps in instances where NGOs criticize it harshly and directly. Many NGOs are dependent on the state in some ways, and government does provide assistance to some, often in the form of technical assistance and consulting, but rarely in the form of funds or more concrete material help. Moreover, even NGOs that receive little or no assistance depend on the state for legitimacy and tolerance. Although outright intimidation, harassment, or repression are rare, this dependence probably contributes to the NGOs’ propensity to work within the system rather than function as SMOs. It also helps to account for occasional comments that criticism of the government had to be made politely and discreetly.
The majority of NGOs report being relatively satisfied with their relationships with the state. This may occur partly because they do not expect much help and government generally leaves them alone and partly because reporting poor relationships with government might suggest insignificance or low standing. Nevertheless, a significant minority report only fair or poor relationships with government or mention problems in at least some aspects of their relationships with the state—the most significant being government corruption and inefficiency. Some NGOs also complain about lack of assistance from government, about government’s distaste for civil society, or about being simply ignored, and a few report outright intimidation or harassment. Where these problems exist they limit the ability of the NGOs to play a full role in civil society and incline them to avoid criticizing government or engaging in more confrontational social movement tactics.