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African Regional Network


Africa Regional PhD Seminar

Deadline to apply: December 15, 2018



ISTR Africa & the Africa Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment

Wits Business School

Johannesburg, South Africa

May 14 - 15, 2019

This PhD Seminar will accept approximately 20 PhD students at all stages of their doctoral research in topics related to the Third Sector from all African countries.

The PhD Seminar is scheduled for May 14-15, 2019 prior to the first annual Conference on Philanthropy, organized by the Wits Business School’s Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment in collaboration with the Center for African Studies at Harvard University, TrustAfrica and Africa Philanthropy Forum on May 16-17, 2019.  PhD Seminar students are required to also attend the conference. 


Please read the full Call for Applications for more information and to submit your application before the December 15, 2018 deadline.




Dear Colleagues,


Warm greetings and welcome to this edition of the ISTR Africa Regional Network (ISTRAN) newsletter! We enjoyed meeting some of you at the 13th International Conference and PhD seminar in Amsterdam in July and look forward to engaging with you all more closely in coming months.


We are excited to be assisting in this publication and look forward to your contributions and feedback on this and future issues. To read the full newsletter, click here.  This edition of the ISTRAN newsletter includes:


The Africa Regional PhD Seminar: May 14-15, 2019, Johannesburg. Application deadline is 15-December.
This seminar is open to all doctoral students in the field of third sector and civil society research, in all African countries, and at all stages of their doctoral research.  

ISTRAN Reflections from Amsterdam: Vrije Your Mind, Spread Your Wings: A Reflection by Albert Kagande, PhD Candidate and Lecturer Assistant, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa.
My Amsterdam Experience: A Reflection by Titilope Ajayi, PhD Candidate, University of Ghana.

Member News: Dr. Bhekinkosi Moyo has been appointed as Adjunct Professor at Wits Business School, tasked with establishing a new Africa Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment (ACPS).

New PublicationsEbenezer Obadare, Pentecostal Republic: Religion and the Struggle for State Power in Nigeria

Announcements: Launch of EPIC-Africa Civil Society Organisations Excellence Awards


With warm regards,

Titilope Ajayi
University of Ghana, Ghana

Albert Kagande
Nelson Mandela University, South Africa 



Report from the African Regional Network meeting at the ISTR Conference in Amsterdam, July 2018: 

Chaired by Past President, Alan Fowler, 13 people attended the regional meeting. Titilope Ajayi, PhD student at University of Ghana and Independent researcher and writer-copyeditor,, and Albert Kagande, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa have stepped up to help revive ISTR’s Africa network and restart the regional newsletter.  Both were participants in the PhD Seminar, held in advance of the international conference. 


The group also discussed organizing a regional PhD seminar in 2019 at University of the Witwatersrand at the newly established Africa Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment (ACPSI).  



ISTRAN Working Papers Series - 2017
Working Papers Series - 2016

ISTRAN Working Papers Series - 2013









ISTRAN Conference: My Personal Reflections
by Jonathan Makuwira, Professor of Development Studies, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa 


ISTR Africa Network (ISTRAN) Conference

June 20 - 23, 2017, Accra, Ghana

Click here to read the Final Conference Report

Click here to read the Keynote address (delivered by Adam Habib)

Click here to read the Conference Agenda

Click here for Conference photos



Reflections on ISTR 2016 Africa Conference 

By Dr. Kenneth Shelton Aikins

As this was my first participation in an International Society for Third-Sector Research Africa Regional Network (ISTRAN) conference, the experience was both thrilling and educative. This is because the conference presented a platform to share insights and opinions on the state of civil society.... 
Read More

To read the full newsletter, please click here



University of Ghana Business School, Legon, Accra -









Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of University of the Witwatersrand

Tuesday, June 20th, at 6:00 p.m.

Professor Adam Habib is an academic, researcher, activist, administrator, and renowned political commentator and columnist. A Professor of Political Science, Habib has over 30 years of academic, research and administration expertise, spanning five universities and multiple local and international institutions, boards and task teams. His professional involvement in institutions has always been defined by three distinct engagements: the contest of ideas, their translation into actionable initiatives, and the building of institutions.


Civil Society and Philanthropy in Africa: Contexts, Contradictions, Possibilities


To read the full call, click here. 


3rd Africa Regional Network Conference
Held 19 - 20 April 2016, in Accra, Ghana
Mensvic Grand Hotel (Lagos Avenue, East Legon)

Final Conference Report

Working Papers Series 2016


Conference Photo Album
Conference Agenda
Conference Participation List

To read the full Call for Papers, click here


Be sure to visit the links below to read reviews of the 2016 ISTRAN Conference!

Daily Express article 'ISTR Africa Holds Regional Conference in Accra'

Daily Graphic article 'Promote Growth in Africa'


Africa Regional Network Newsletters:



ISTR Africa: African Civil Society Research Network Newsletter (Dec. 2016)


July 2014

The regional meeting of about 15 participants gathered to discuss the need for a secretariat host in Africa for the network.  There was agreement that having a host institution is essential for keeping the network vibrant and engaged.  Bhekinkosi Moyo offered to explore hosting the network at Southern Africa Trust and Ronelle Burger and Dineo Seabe from Stellenbosch University offered to continue to publish the regional newsletter.


The group endorsed holding the 2015 regional meeting in Accra at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana.  Efforts will be made to finalize the meeting and raise funds for travel grants.  There was also suggestion to add a training workshop to the meeting.


The group also discussed the need to create fellowships, post-docs, and other research opportunities within the region.





11-13 July 2013         Nairobi, Kenya       "Faith, Civil Society and Development in Africa"


Bringing Back ‘Faith’ in Discourses of African Civil Society: Views from a Convening in Nairobi 
By Jacob Mati

A Post-Nairobi Muse: Thoughts after the ISTR Africa Network Conference in Nairobi, July 2013
by Hagai Katz



Additional photos are also posted on our Facebook page.



We are very pleased to provide logistical information regarding the  2nd ISTR Africa Regional Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, July 11-13, 2013.

Venue: The Conference will be held at KIVI Milimani Hotel. 

The meeting will begin on Thursday, July 11 at 8.30 am and conclude on Saturday, July 13 by 3 pm. 

Conference Registration

The conference registration fee will be US $40 and can be paid on site.  This fee will cover the conference materials, lunches, and coffee breaks.



Accommodations have been reserved at the KIVI Milimani Hotel (

The hotel is on State House Avenue, Off Ralph Bunche Road, Milimani Lane

The hotel is KSH 5,000 per person per day (Bed and Breakfast) (US $60).

Please contact Carole Imali at to make your booking.


ISTR Membership 2013

Attendees must become ISTR members at a rate of US $50.  This can be done on site or on the ISTR website


Registration Contact: (Wilkister Oluoch) (Dineo Seabe)


Religious institutions are key structural components of civil society. The historical and future development of modern Africa is intimately tied to the forces of belief and religion with some of the most prominent manifestations of civil society on the African continent being Faith Based organisations (FBOs).[1] Faith and belief featured in both colonial penetration and in anti-colonial struggles in the continent.


Moreover, FBOs often fulfil critical functions in social service provision in areas such as health and education, in influencing government policies, as well as in advocating on behalf of poor people and marginalized.  FBOs have also featured prominently in recent African socioeconomic and political history, in human rights crusades and democratization struggles.  Framing their demands on the basis of a liberation theology, for instance, FBOs teaming with other civil society actors and opposition political parties played a huge role in organising and mobilising people to act against socioeconomic and political injustices in society as well as in the agitation for new constitutional order in Kenya.  In Northern African countries, they have recently been instrumental in electoral outcomes.  In short, FBOs are critical constituent elements of social development and in Africa’s politics. Arguably therefore, besides ethnicity, faith is a significant variable influencing governance, conflict, and the nature of the African nation-state.  


Despite increasing recognition of faith – for good or ill - as an inescapable factor in the continent’s development, in social scientific analysis, faith has not been accorded adequate attention.  To redress this relative neglect, at a conference to be held in Nairobi in 2013, the ISTR[2] Africa regional network conference shall be examining manifestations of faith and its influence to civil society, governance and development in Africa.


Specifically, we seek papers that address the broad question of how faith has affected group and individual relations, civil society, governance and the process of development on the African continent. Papers should broadly focus on the many, often contradictory, roles faith plays at both national and transnational levels with a view to addressing the following subthemes and questions:

·        Faith and governance in Africa. How has and does faith affect the mechanics and trajectories of governing in Africa?

·        Religion/faith and democracy in Africa.  How is faith influencing the processes of democratization either positively or negatively on the continent’s states? Does faith add to or mollify the suppression of the individual needs of social groups (e.g. women and immigrants) and dissenters in the public and political sphere?

·        Faith and conflict in Africa. To what extent has faith contributed to social cohesion and integration or been a source of conflict and divisiveness in Africa?  How has faith induced challenges to state stability, equality and development in Africa? To what extent have conflicts in African countries including but not limited to Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, and Sudan been influenced by faith and religion? How has faith influenced the generation, responses and resolution of conflict and attendant humanitarian crisis on the continent?

·        Faith and the political economy of development: How has the political-economy of faith based development aid in Africa shaped patterns of social organisations and development in Africa?

·        Faith and values in Africa: How has faith shaped values in civil society and society in general? What does a faith lens reveal about the nature of civil society in African countries?

·        The relationship between Faith Based civil society and secular civil society in Africa.  What is the nature of relationship(s) between FBOs and secular civil society in Africa? What determines the nature of the relationship?  Are there differences in development outcomes driven by religious based civil society and the secular civil society?

·        Faith and social capital in Africa.  How has faith contributed to social capital in both its bonding and bridging forms and what are the implications for state stability in Africa?

·        Faith and class formation in Africa. How have beliefs and faith been mobilized in the interest of class in Africa?

·        Faith and the public sphere in Africa. Obadare (2007)[3] has observed an uneasy and unstable relationship between religious forces and the public spheres as religious forces simultaneously complement but also undermine the public domain. To what extent do observations made of Nigeria cascade to the rest of African nation states? Is faith marginal even in the so-called secular states in Africa?

·        Faith, philanthropy, giving and volunteerism in Africa. Does faith inspire and inform patterns of giving and receiving assistance between Africa’s populations?

·        Faith and service provision. What would access to social services look like on the continent if it were not for the presence of faith based organisations and why?


Abstracts of between 500 and 700 words should be submitted to Dineo Seabe at by 28 February 2013.



Reflections of a First-timer on the ISTR Africa Civil Society Research Network Conference
3-27 August 2011 
By Fundi Nzimande, National Labour and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI)  

This forum lived up to and beyond its expectations. The first day was dedicated to professional development and it was ably facilitated by Professor Alan Fowler and Bev Russell. The idea of civil society in the African context was presented in a refreshing way with the caveat that we consider whether there is an African civil society or there is a universal civil society with an African complexion. The second discussion was one which asked the question of whether there is a norm-full or norm-free qualitative research. The last presentation focused on the challenges of capturing the core dimensions of civil society in a quantitative framework. All the discussions on this day showed me that there is a need for a certain level of activism within the research community. It is important for civil society researchers to play a role in the generation of knowledge and in influencing the methods and challenging underlying assumptions that all researchers use in this noble pursuit. I found this important as it helps in improving the quality of the knowledge generated, it minimizes gaps and it broadens the paradigms within which researchers work. In  a context where most research on and about Africa is done by outsiders, it is critical especially for African researchers, to begin to create knowledge and to write research and hopefully through this exercise the African perspective will shine through. 
Papers presented at the plenary sessions were extremely eye-opening. It was such a thrill to have the scholars of that calibre present their papers to us. One of these esteemed scholars was Adebayo Olukoshi. His input was truly inspirational. What found resonance with this author was his reference to a demobilised and depoliticised civil society. In his input, there were also echoes of a civil society that has been whitewashed, "my term” into abandoning any relationship with political rights and political activism or any claim to the political space. Considering that almost everything we do or do not do relates to access to power or lack thereof, it is one area where I feel African civil society may be failing. The very idea that you can abandon political space is a political one. This was a critical input for us at a period when political appetite amongst the continent’s elite seems to be waning fast and the media seems to be advancing a message of amnesia relating to the atrocities that Africans have experienced in the hands of their colonisers. Another paper presented in the plenary session was delivered by Adam Habib. He reflected on the contradiction between the massive growth of organised civil society and the concurrent growth in inequality. To this author, the idea mentioned in Olukoshi’s paper of a depoliticised civil society explains this contradiction. Habib also reflected on the tensions between the global human rights movement and progressive nationalist governments on the continent. The case used was that of South Africa’s role in the Security Council when it comes to decisions taken around some countries e.g. Myanmar. This presentation suggested some innovative moves that could have been considered in dealing with these matters without denting South Africa’s record on human rights. This author felt that there are severely constraining factors to the role of progressive nationalist governments that limit creative interventions in responding to human rights abuses across the globe. The third paper presented in plenary was delivered by Alan Fowler. In this paper Fowler explained that his motivation for writing the paper was located in the "lack of a critical mass of African scholars…” which resulted in "making Africa a battleground of …foreign ideas and prescriptions”. This further emphasised for this writer the need for improving the role of African researchers in knowledge generation to better inform the understanding of relationships between state and society in the African context, public and aid policies, and the correct interpretation of African data.  The other sessions had a powerful, dual purpose of introducing new or fledgling ideas and at the same time strengthening the emergence of a critical mass of researchers on the African continent. This session helped us first-timers or others who are PhD students to fill in the gaps in the projects that we are working on.  There were reflections on uprisings and protests in different parts of the continent, not the least Egypt.  Whilst the private sector in ICT is rushing to claim a role in the transformation taking place in Egypt, civil society organisations still take a different view. 
Other sessions reflected on the role of religious organisations within the civil spaces. The discussion on this topic revealed some suspicion that the research community has of the religious community. This author feels that a lot of power resides in the religious community leadership. The research community needs to find ways of enhancing this power for the benefit of communities instead of being wary of it.  The session on the media was very informative; it became clear that organised civil society formations are beginning to use social media for organising, mobilizing and for "electronic toyi-toying.”  On established or traditional media though, it became clear that civil society is still under-represented. This is still a space for powerful interests such as ruling parties and business. Evidence presented from Cameroon introduced a very new concept of Samaritan migrants’ contribution to the development of local communities. From a South African perspective, this was an interesting and creative way of dealing with the needs of poor communities in the context of a similarly impoverished state. Whilst this may be a scary new concept, it may prove a better tool in the future with more ideas on how to improve it. The discussion on women and gender was informative; to this writer, however, it showed that a lot of work still needs to be done even amongst Africa’s intelligentsia to ensure women’s development and the eradication of gender and economic inequality that women face. There was an admission that women are not a unitary organism but diverse actors within society with differing views about how the women’s question needs to be dealt with. This author is of the view that it is this divergence that allows the exploitation of women to thrive. 
The ISTR Africa Conference in Stellenbosch was fruitful and a great space for individual and collective growth. Not all the wonderful (and weird) ideas floated in the Conference have been covered here; but for people looking to improve their research skills and expand their knowledge horizons, ISTR is the space to utilize. ISTR Africa has outdone itself in putting together such a conference. Perhaps more pan-African gatherings under the auspices of the ISTR could contribute to the entrenchment of "One Africa, One Love.”  All kudos go to the conference organisers. 

Excerpt of Editorial (ISTR Africa Newsletter) 
Is Africa Destined to Remain Dependent? Ideas, Domination, and Developments on Past, Present and Future African Civil Spaces 
By Jacob Mati, University of the Witwatersrand  
What is the future of African Civil Society? 

I am aware the challenges are many. But if the conversations in Stellenbosch last month are anything to go by, there are possibilities of critical self-reflections in the way knowledge is produced- by whom, and for what purpose- that may be evolving, at least in the area of research in civil society. Specifically, there was a solid intellectual leadership emerging in the continent that recognizes that civil society is a contested space that may allow for alternative hegemonies to emerge. We are refusing to just ‘sidonluk!’ This is the message we took home from that conference. It is the message that the three reflective pieces in the third issue of the ISTR Africa Newsletter stresses.
In this issue, we bring reflective pieces from three participants who attended last month’s (August 23-27) conference at the University of Stellenbosch. Paul Okumu’s piece titled "When Activism Meets Knowledge: Reclaiming Africa’s Civic Movement” moans the apparent disconnect between civil society in Africa and its citizens, as well as the compartmentalisation of society.  As a result, civil society- especially after the events in North Africa and the Arab world since January 2011- ‘the verdict from the researchers’ assessment is that civil society in Africa has been killed and buried by the very thing intended to have made it stronger-AID and Professionalism.’ He concludes, however, on a positive note the need to work closely together to confront our collective challenges: "I’ve got to use what I have to get what I need.”  Fundi Nzimande’s piece "Reflections of a first-timer on the ISTR Africa Civil Society Research Network Conference” reflects mainly on the take aways from the plenary sessions as well as other key themes during the conference.  She concludes that the conference was enlightening and useful from a wide variety of viewpoints. In her article, "I loved every moment of it” Maryanne Iwara reports that "the conference represented an unparalleled opportunity to encourage regional commitment to indigenous and context based research, promoted interdisciplinary understanding of development theories, CSO’s and created the access to interact with academics, local and international donor communities on issues in the broadest sense.” Enjoy reading them.


Of course the conference would really never have taken off without the financial support of four key funders who trusted us to deliver. These were: the University of Stellenbosch, the Southern African regional office of the Ford Foundation, Southern Africa Trust, and Trust Africa. As those of us who have been behind efforts to fundraise will attest, it was no walk in the park. Despite numerous promises, by multiple would be donors, there would always be a last minute disappointment. We thank you most sincerely for believing in us. 
One of the conference outcomes was the need to continue building the network. As some fresh blood has been ejected into the steering committee, we hope to tap on their energies in developing the network further. 

Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
23-27 August 2011

Conference Program


July 2010

The conference workshop organized by Trust Africa and ISTR, kick-started discussions on actions needed for African civil society scholars and practitioners to come together and take forward ideas on strengthening and expanding the ISTR African regional network. A volunteer steering group – made up of Ronelle Burger, Stellenbosch University; Victor Isumonah, University of Ibadan; Jacob M. Mati, CIVICUS and the University of the Witwatersrand; Ebenezer Obadare, University of Kansas; Richard Wamai, Northeastern University; and Alan Fowler, University of KwaZulu-Natal – was then constituted and is exploring various initiatives for the future. These include training, workshops, scholarly communication including publishing and a virtual library of civil society research. The idea is to expand on the capabilities and horizons of researchers and activists of African civil society as well as promote collective efforts and agendas on the continent. 
The aim of the network is to help advance knowledge of civil society in Africa in all its ramifications through cutting edge research. Previous efforts to create such a network stalled because of limited interests from researchers on the continent and funding. We therefore believe that if these ideas are to come to fruition, we will need the support and participation of each of us (researchers and activist) engaged in African civil society research and practice to come out of our individual cocoons and network in order to support each other in our individual and collective endeavours. If you would like to join us and share in these endeavours, please email Ronelle Burger at
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