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NGOs pursue agenda of Western governments
Posted: Friday, August 2, 2002

By Wanjiku Ngugi

A few years after the attainment of independence in most African states, it soon became clear to the majority of the people that the neo-liberal policies advanced by the ruling class were in complete contradiction with what they had struggled for during colonialism.

For instance, the land question, which had been the driving force for most of these struggles, remained unresolved.

The non-reversal of the ownership of the means of production meant that the people’s economic status did not change even after independence.

The people, therefore, felt provoked by these policies.

In Kenya for instance, people started regrouping in order to challenge what they perceived as continuation of colonial injustices.

The government, not happy with the new developments, responded by placing most people in jails, detention and putting them through other daunting experiences.

Around this time, a few Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) started sprouting all over the developing nations purporting to back weak government policies in order to enhance them.

They also portrayed themselves as advocates of the poor and marginalised, and denounced human rights violations and dictatorships, largely supported by Europe, the United States and international NGOs.

This created a rather favourable image of NGOs, which explains today’s confusion regarding their political nature, because then, they had successfully manifested themselves as advocates of the underprivileged.

These international NGOs went further to complement their new-found role by establishing strong links with liberal national NGOs in various countries.

What is interesting is that even in their denouncement of human rights violations, these NGOs never explained to the people they supported the relationship between their government policy and Western states.

Indeed, they refused to recognise the historical context of the issues they criticised and supported.

Of course, by virtue of their being funded by their imperial governments, it was naive of us to think that they would have pursued our genuine struggles.

Having noted their limitations and hideous intentions, we are able to see that these NGOs could not therefore halt or manage the increasing dissatisfaction among the people who still wanted land and socio-economic issues resolved.

Today, these issues are still at the centre and as pressure from the people mounts, so do NGOs increase.

Zimbabwe is a case in point. As Zanu-PF, war veterans, Government as well as the citizens demanded correction of past injustices, so did the NGOs multiply.

These NGOs can be linked to imperialism as they openly pursue the agenda of the former colonial masters under the guise of the people’s struggle.

What then is the relationship between radical social solutions and the so-called NGOs?

It is important to note that most international NGOs, despite their claim to be non-governmental organisations, are in fact aligned to their governments.

After all, their funding is from Western governments. As we all know, all governments have local and foreign policies and they will not give money to any NGO or social movements or organisations that seek to promote policies or issues that are in direct contradiction with their foreign policy.

We, on the other hand, have allowed these liberal funds to penetrate our countries without much checking and created avenues through which those in direct conflict with us have room to interfere with policies in our society.

We need to ask questions like who is funding these NGOs? What are they preaching? What are their short-term and long-term objectives?

In other words, people must question NGOs in much the same way they question motives of say political parties or donor agencies. We must have a politically conscious approach to NGOs.

In most cases, international and local NGOs are entities that will rarely, if ever, align themselves with a genuine class struggle or with the struggle to control the means of production.

In most instances and very recently in Zimbabwe, the NGOs subvert issues like the land policy by creating and fabricating issues to sway the people’s focus.

Instead of supporting the poor as they claim, they instead undermine issues of national importance meant to subvert the hand of imperialism.

It is rather sad that these NGOs have managed through monetary means to lure activists whose once revolutionary zeal has since been tamed.

These organisations, packaged as "people based" or "participatory" are, in fact, meant to and do replace radical ideas.

They will not get involved or align themselves to issues such as education, overhaul of IMF policies, and will not campaign against structural adjustment policies whose outcome every African is aware of.

They, instead, tackle issues from very simplistic and superficial angles. For instance, they will not take up real issues affecting the population. A case in point is the women’s struggle (a favourite of NGOs).

They only embark on sectors of women’s concerns, usually by setting up self-help projects, or approach women’s concerns only at a cultural level, which at the end of the day leads to misunderstanding of women and their real concerns.

In order to empower women one has to empower them not only culturally but also economically and politically. The women’s struggle has to be seen in whole, as a struggle against sexism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and located within a class struggle.

An NGO purporting to advance women’s rights has to situate women within a global framework and fight the continued monopoly and dominance of countries over others.

The agrarian revolution taking place right here in Zimbabwe is an area that NGOs, if genuine about change in women’s social status, should have embarked on.

There is also the problem of dependency being created by these NGOs. They do not teach people how to fish so that tomorrow they can be able to fish for themselves but provide fish so that people are continuously dependent on them.

By the nature of their structures, they cannot provide long-term services to communities. We have witnessed NGOs claiming to support local initiatives but withdraw development assistance in the middle of programmes, leaving the people they sought to help in dire straits.

Usually it is not a problem with the way the project is being carried out but rather a shift in funding priorities.

The beneficiaries and their projects are usually dumped after scanty evaluations meant to justify and arrive at already drawn conclusions.

In other words, NGOs are less accountable to the poor people but rather to their governments, the source of their funds.

In most instances these projects are set up in such a way that a pullout of funds results in collapse. One wonders why international NGOs would rather spend billions on self-help projects rather than spending the same on building institutions which would in turn be self-sufficient.

In countries such as Kenya and Uganda where NGOs enjoy a rather enthusiastic haven, one notes that the radical social movements have decreased as the conservative NGOs have increased.

Their training programmes and workshops have depoliticised people and turned their once genuine concerns into self-help projects and "killed" movements that would have had a larger and more direct bearing on people’s predicaments.

As pointed out earlier, these NGOs have cast themselves as alternatives to radical change. They have adopted the language of genuine revolutionary movements and ideas and reduced them to a marginal level.

By failing to paint the larger picture, these organisations have failed nation states and their citizens who are struggling to fight imperialism.

We really ought to re-assess this NGO dependency syndrome and continue to raise radical consciousness and find real solutions.

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