Explaining the non-governmental organization (NGO) boom: the case of HIV/AIDS NGOs in Kenya

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In the past two decades, Kenya has witnessed the rapid and unprecedented growth of local, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within its borders. This trend reflects similar NGO sector growth throughout the developing world. Scholars have attributed the growth of these key civil society actors to an increasingly neoliberal orientation among international donors, an ideology which favors non-state service providers. Yet less research has been done on the state-level reasons for NGO sector growth. This article asks why the NGO sector has grown so rapidly in Kenya. Drawing on the example of HIV/AIDS-focused NGOs, an historical analysis of the proliferation of these organizations is offered. It is found that donor pressures to democratize helped lead to an environment that prompted NGO growth. It is then argued that the Kenyan government's failure to respond quickly to the HIV/AIDS crisis created the political space necessary for local NGOs to establish and grow. Also, democratic reforms increased civil liberties and reduced state harassment of NGOs. At the same time, the New Policy Agenda (NPA) adopted by major international donors led to increased funding opportunities for NGOs. This article contributes to the understanding of civil society development in Kenya by demonstrating that both international and domestic factors worked together to lay the groundwork for Kenya's active community of HIV/AIDS NGOs.