2016 CSO Sustainability Index For Sub-Saharan Africa

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The Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) was first developed by USAID in 1997 for the emerging democracies of the Europe and Eurasia (E&E) region, and expanded its coverage to include sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, and Asia in 2014. This year’s reports cover 2016 trends in a total of 69 countries.

CSOSI serves as an important resource regarding civil society trends across regions (comparatively) and over time (longitudinally). It is used by local civil society organizations (CSOs) to undertake assessment and analysis of the CSO sector in their countries, both to increase their capacity, as well as to engage in policy dialogue with their governments and the private sector. The CSOSI is also useful for governments, donors, academics, and practitioners to understand trends and key aspects of CSO sustainability in Middle East and North African countries.


The CSOSI measures the sustainability of each country’s CSO sector based on the CSOSI’s seven dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image. This seven-point scoring scale mirrors those used by Freedom House in its publications “Nations in Transit” and “Freedom in the World.”

The CSOSI’s implementing partners in each country lead the process of organizing and convening a diverse and representative panel of CSO experts. Country panels discuss the seven dimensions for the year being assessed and reach consensus on the scores corresponding to each dimension. The scores are organized into three basic categories representing the level of development of the civil society sector: Sustainability Impeded; Sustainability Evolving; and Sustainability Enhanced. All scores and narratives are then reviewed by a Washington, D.C.-based editorial committee, assisted by regional civil society experts.


Despite sub-Saharan Africa’s enormous size and diversity, countries in the region experienced common trends in 2016 that greatly affected the work of CSOs. While some countries experienced strong economic growth, many economies were damaged by falling commodity prices, sizable currency depreciations, and harsh climatic conditions. The worst drought in decades shriveled farmland in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe, causing widespread food scarcity, the loss of livelihoods, and famine. Several reports in this year’s index also single out corruption as a persistent drag on economic performance. Coupled with ongoing constraints on donor funding, the challenging economic climate posed acute financial hardships for CSOs, even as demand for their services escalated in many countries because of the humanitarian needs driven by drought and armed conflicts.

The security situation in sub-Saharan Africa was mixed in 2016, with instability caused by ethnic, religious, and political divides. These and other dangerous security situations throughout the region in 2016 caused enormous hardship and sometimes limited the ability of CSOs, governments, and donors to provide food and other basic services to populations in need.

National elections took place in 2016 in nine countries covered by the index: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Uganda, and Zambia. In nearly every country holding elections during the year, CSOs played a vital role in educating voters, hosting discussion platforms for candidates, monitoring the voting process, and preserving the peace, which often helped boost CSOs’ public image.

Among the most pronounced trends affecting civil society in 2016 was the continued upswing in social media use throughout many segments of society. As the internet becomes more widespread and more affordable, and smart phone use increases, new communication platforms are changing the ways many CSOs work.

Last updated: January 30, 2019

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