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Transnational networks of influence in South African AIDS treatment activism

Year: 2008
Working paper number: 222
Author: Grebe, Eduard
Unit: ASRU

It is often asserted that civil society participation contributes to successful HIV/AIDS policy formulation and implementation. However, the relationship between civil society advocacy or activism and the broader societal response is complex, under-theorised and probably varies significantly between countries. Any analysis of AIDS activism must therefore employ deeply contextual and rich empirical description.

One of the world's most prominent AIDS activist movements, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), emerged in South Africa, where the scale of the epidemic and the government's resistance to evidence-based responses (such as antiretroviral treatment) resulted in the disease becoming highly politicised. The TAC is widely credited with the dramatic policy turnaround in South Africa. This study draws on a range of conceptual and theoretical frameworks — among them the sociology of social movements, the political philosophy of civil society and the study of 'transnational advocacy networks' to investigate the TAC's operation and the source of its apparent success. It proposes a conception of transnational networks as 'networks of influence', including (but not limited to) the actors normally referred to in transnational advocacy networks. The study relies on extensive interviews with key TAC leaders, and offers a detailed account of the TAC's building and leveraging of networks of influence to affect HIV/AIDS policy.

These informal but robust networks have been built and maintained largely by a small group of key individuals within the organisation, and are often (but not always) built on strong ties of trust (sometimes predating participation in the TAC). Network participants include AIDS activists (particularly in the US), local and international scientists, individuals within allied civil society organisations, members of South Africa's political elite and individuals within state institutions. It is concluded that these networks of influence are key to explaining the TAC's success.

Publication file: WP222.pdf