Advantages and Challenges to Diaspora Transnational Civil Society Activism in the Homeland: Examples from Iraqi Kurdistan, Somaliland and South Sudan

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Yaniv Voller
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Investment in overseas developmental projects is a multifaceted effort which involves a variety of actors. These include donor governments and their departments for international aid, international organisations, recipient governments and the societies in the recipient countries. With relation to the latter, the existence of an active civil society has been identified as crucial for the advancement of socio-political reforms (Putnam 1995; Kaldor 2003; Neumayer 2005). Certainly, aid providers have become more aware of the need to take civil society into account when supporting initiatives aiming to promote democratisation, human rights, and human security in general. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), two of the largest government-supported aid agencies, have invested resources in exploring the importance of civil society in recipient countries and the avenues for encouraging its further development (DFID 2012; Giffen and Judge 2010; USAID 2014).

More recent works on civil society have recognised, though, the fact that such actors are not confined to particular territorial boundaries. Civil society campaigns are often global, involving elements that operate at the international and transnational levels. One element, nevertheless, has been overall neglected by both policymakers and scholars examining transnational civil society, and that is diaspora communities. The refugees of previous decades, which have evolved into well-established communities in the West, have traditionally played pivotal roles in the reconstruction of their homelands. But as time has gone by, they have become involved in other aspects of state- and society-building in the homeland. As the paper concludes, while there is undoubtedly eagerness among highly motivated and talented diasporans to contribute to social and political changes in the homeland, on the ground, there are difficulties and challenges. These challenges may limit the contribution and hinder diasporan integration in, and contribution to, activism in the homeland. Aid providers and donors should develop clear strategies to incorporate diaspora communities in development programmes. Such integration would help not only to utilise the advantages that diaspora returnees possess when participating in civil society campaigns in the homeland, but could also help these returnees to overcome potential challenges that they face.
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