The Global Fund and the re-configuration and re-emergence of 'civil society': Widening or closing the democratic deficit?

Published: January 13, 2012

The past decade has witnessed a tremendous growth in the scale and policy influence of civil society in global health governance. The AIDS ‘industry’ in particular opens up spaces for active mobilisation and participation of non-state actors, which further crystallise with an ever-increasing dominance of global health initiatives. While country evaluations of global initiatives call for a greater participation of ‘civil society’, the evidence base examining the organisation, nature and operation of ‘civil society’ and its claims to legitimacy is very thin. Drawing on the case of one of the most visible players in the global response to HIV epidemic, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, this article seeks to highlight the complex micropolitics of its interactions with civil society. It examines the nature of civil society actors involved in the Fund projects and the processes through which they gain credibility. We argue that the imposition of global structures and principles facilitates a reconfiguration of actors around newer forms of expertise and power centres. In this context, the notion of ‘civil society’ underplays differences and power dynamics between various institutions and conceals the agency of outsiders under the guise of autonomy of the state and people.

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