Much was made of the global associational revolution beginning in the 1980s, as civil society organizations (CSOs) increased in number worldwide. Since then, a paradox of competing trends has emerged. On one hand, considerable stock is held in the promise of civil society whereby CSOs are recognized as critical actors in economic, social, and democratic development. Governments have sought ways to enable vibrant and diverse CSO sectors through regulation, reflecting a diffusion of pro-CSO norms globally. Deviating from this trend, an associational counter-revolution has arisen whereby governments use regulation to constrain the space for CSO operations.
Advancing CSO accountability is a key rationale for many intensified forms of both enabling and constraining state regulation, and self-regulation. Theory suggests there is a trade-off between state and self-regulation, from which cycles of regulatory waves unfold.
This dissertation contributes to the CSO regulation literature, which has tended to focus on high-income countries, by developing and applying a conceptual framework of regulatory change drivers to a lower-middle income country, Kenya. Beginning in the late 1980s Kenya was the first African country to significantly address CSO regulation and self-regulation, and has since undergone four phases of CSO regulatory change, sometimes more, sometimes less enabling of the sector. The dissertation draws from primary data in the form of 63 interviews, legislation, regulation, and media sources. Its conceptual framework can help anticipate state and/or self-regulatory change; the state and self-regulation interaction; their relationship to accountability; and the associational counter-revolution paradox.
This dissertation finds that the most important driver of regulatory change in Kenya's lower-middle income context is government's political agendas, hand-in-hand with the types of activities CSOs engage in. Donor country governments are also an important direct and indirect driver of regulatory change. While regulatory change occurs in 'waves', rather than interplay between state and self-regulation, it is the drivers of regulatory change and their interplay that move and shape the waves. Regulatory change may be turned to as a technical solution to various issues reflected in the drivers, even as it may not necessarily be the best, the only, or sufficient means to address them.