A wave of political change has recently swept sub-Saharan Africa. The collapse of authoritarian governments across the continent has been accompanied by a vocal popular repudiation of personal rule, elitist domination and official corruption. The encouraging boldness of political opposition in Africa should not lead us to impute unlimited democratic potential to the societal realm. Moreover, the central institutions of civil society are quiescent and fragmented in most African countries. This chapter discusses the civil society in theoretical and historical perspective, focusing upon the liberal model of civil society and its relationship to the democratic process. It traces the ways in which African realities diverge from the historical model of civil society. This is followed by a capsule history of state-society relations in sub-Saharan Africa, illustrating two potential historic "moments" of civil society in Africa. The second moment leads to an analysis of state-society relations in the current situation, with an emphasis on patterns of political participation.