International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are global contractors, hired to execute the foreign policies of imperialism. They largely work without questioning the existing social system.
Surely they complain about poverty and the suffering of the world’s poor, but most blindly only look to solutions within the confines of the system of imperialism and global capitalism. This is impossible.
As Jamaicans say, they “too follow fashion.” NGOs fashion themselves in the cloak of the “left” and put on a show of resistance. But most have no vision to finance this resistance nor to accomplish their goals beyond the free surplus “milk” of the system that sustains their very existence. This is the dialectic of “poverty reduction.” Their enterprise is a contradiction in terms.
International NGOs believe wishfully that imperialism will finance them to orchestrate its own demise. They fail to understand that the system derives its wealth and surplus exactly because it imposes poverty on the people of the world.
Capitalist economy requires poverty
Under the current economic system, poverty may be reduced in one place, but then it must be reproduced equally somewhere else.
If a larger middle class is to be produced, either wealth must be taken from the rich or blood must be sucked from the poor.
With very little power to protect themselves, we can be sure that blood will more easily be sucked from the poor than the swill of the hogs taken away.
NGOs have been co-opted into imperialism’s anesthetic projects of hope and are now used to make that blood sucking process less painful and less obvious.
In all fairness, many NGOs work hard at what they do and they do it well. They do exactly what they’re supposed to be doing: putting foreign “aid” money to work.
They fill a niche and provide a very valuable service for governments who wish to dispose of various sums of foreign “aid.” Without international NGOs it would be difficult for these governments to efficiently inject sums of this “aid.”
The only other choice would be to give these funds directly to the receiving government, and indeed this is done. But money given directly to governments is not intended for development. It is given to coerce and entice government leaders, curry favor with local people, or to further place these governments in debt.
The recent bold confessions of “economic hit men” and the leaks of diplomatic operatives have shown clearly how the seeming lifeline of “aid” money can so easily be transformed into chains of obedience.
By adding carefully crafted conditions and invoking well-placed threats when necessary, the real magic of foreign ”aid” and its potential use as a political wand become evident.
Foreign governments fear that by handing this money directly to the receiving governments, a portion of this money could be squandered and siphoned off in corruption. If it is squandered away then it cannot be effective as a political tool.
NGOs deliver the appearance of forward motion
When donor governments really need this foreign “aid” money to amount to a physical showpiece that looks like development on the ground, they point to international NGOs.
Within the cogs of the system, NGOs act as the worker bees which catalyze electronic foreign “aid” monies into a sweet substance and help to demonstrate its potency as an effective, albeit addictive, fuel for development.
However, literally unable to bite the hand that feeds them, NGOs become locked onto a financial treadmill and find it a complex task to challenge the system that replicates the very poverty and misery they supposedly go in to mop up.
As implementers of predetermined foreign policy and the proscribed political outcomes of international donors, non-governmental organizations are in a sense not very non-governmental at all.
Betraying the notion of being autonomous and far from being the independent thinkers and actors we may think they are, they essentially rely on the steady stream of foreign “aid” available from the governments of developed nations.
Their almost exclusive reliance on government funds renders the term “non-governmental organization” an oxymoron.
They may act independently of the governments in the countries where they work, but they are essentially a long arm for the foreign policy objectives of the donor governments they rely upon almost exclusively for financial sustenance.
The reputation from the 1940s and 1960s of NGOs as civil society activists has now been betrayed and they have morphed into mobile mop rags of unsightly poverty that fit neatly into the pockets of donors. They are mercy for hire.
Although a few innovative international NGOs try to seek a balance between government funds and donations from private individuals, most simply do not.
Doctors Without Borders stands as an anomaly
Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders (MSF/DWB) is an exception amongst multi-national NGOs and is perhaps one of the most forward thinking.
Over time, MSF has achieved an intake of up to 90 percent of their funding from private sources. This has allowed MSF to act outside of the box by deploying immediately anywhere in the world where there is a medical emergency whether or not it is politically acceptable to the most important government donors.
They are able to involve themselves in advocacy that lies outside the prescribed Millennium Development Goal (MDG) boxes set aside for NGO activism.
As a result, within the NGO world MSF stands as an anomaly.
For the rest of the NGO players, the most common and most important donors in the world of emergency relief are the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and United Nations (UN) organizations such as UNICEF, WFP, and UNHCR.
This UN funding is itself sourced once again from the annual contributions of governments with the largest of these contributions coming from the most developed nations.
These most developed nations are also some of the most powerful and most aggressive nations with complex and far-reaching agendas to fulfill. Amongst them there are warmongers and military-industrial predators. Not surprisingly, international NGOs are also now an integral part of their war equation.
As seen in the war on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, there is a new war policy of total obliteration from the air with an already predetermined plan to rebuild both physically and politically in the likeness of the aggressor.
This orchestrated reconstruction plan typically includes a long list of infamous private sector contractors, a host of expatriate consultants, a scattering of multi-national corporations, and a plethora of international NGOs.
Contractors, consultants, and corporations act as the inner organs of the beast being constructed while the NGOs act as its soft underbelly; comforting the misery and foulness which accompanies warfare.
This reliance on the dirty money and bloodied spoils of warmongering governments also means that the ideological positioning of these NGOs must, at least outwardly, conform to that of their donors.
It is by no surprise then that there are no international NGOs pushing for what would seem to be extreme or radically different development approaches such as socialism. They simply wouldn’t’ get any funding.
NGOs don’t have African-centered mission or vision
More importantly for African people, no international NGOs have any vision for the African poor that is Pan-Africanist and African-centered. None have a vision for African people to arrive at a firm unity. None have a vision for Africans to truly understand imperialism.
I am not aware of ANY international NGO that has a vision for African people to achieve their true greatness. None of them have a vision for African people to restore and utilize their culture as an arm of resistance and upliftment. Yet these NGOs speak of resistance.
None have a culture of historical truth in their orientation and none orient African people towards the truth. Not one.
In fact, many of the development worker expatriates working in Africa do not hold a true picture of African history or know very much about African culture and politics beyond the archaic versions in their high school textbooks.
A lot of the expats that I’ve come across in my own work within the international NGO sector are downright racist and spiritually ugly people with very little to offer development in general or the African struggle in particular.
Although there are some I can count on my hands who are genuine and good-hearted people that have actually managed to fully shake off their chains of racial superiority, in my experience, the majority are ideologically void.
Most are straight-up adrenaline junkies seeking extreme travel experiences.
Others are social misfits who deeply question the meaning of their mundane existence within the gleaming but empty material prosperity of their home countries and now seek an outlet for their inner pain.
Many are simply clients of the development tourism afforded them through their globetrotting NGO work.
The global NGO system offers such development tourists and misfits an outlet to work off their inner pain and social guilt. They are able to do so without threatening the system at home through possible protest and anarchist activities aimed at provoking fundamental change within the system. Through their guided tours of charity they are perhaps led to believe that they can instead heal the system from within by being a soldier of mercy and hope rather than a mercenary of truth and radical change.
As global contractors of the system, most international NGOs are led to miss the point completely and focus mainly on addressing symptoms of perverse global capitalism.
By focusing solely on symptoms they render themselves inert. It is their focus on the material condition of the poor rather than the ideological condition of the poor that leads to their irrelevance as agents of fundamental change.
In this mainstream approach to development there is no consideration given to the understanding the poor have of the system, of themselves as Africans, or of the cultural resources they have to combat their own poverty and exclusion.
With this typical development approach there would apparently be more development work to be done in materially underdeveloped Liberia or DR Congo than the glossy but warped capitalism of South Africa.
War of ideas would support development in South Africa
Indeed there is more work of pity and swollen, hungry bellies to feed amongst the poorest nations of Africa but there is equally important work amongst the super-capitalism of neo-apartheid.
In South Africa, production within the economy is still largely owned by descendants of European settlers despite the economic arrangement negotiated by the African National Congress (ANC) near the ending of apartheid aimed essentially at creating a buffer class of wealthy Africans who would buy shares in European controlled industries.
Despite this class of cash takers and share buyers there still remain millions of Africans who have never been rescued from apartheid-induced poverty and who perhaps never will.
These millions of black people still live in shacks and violence-filled ghettoes. Their grandchildren will also most likely live in the same conditions.
These African people comprise at least nine different ethnic groups, kept apart and hating each other during apartheid, they generally still despise and are suspicious of each other today.
Essentially, there is a plethora of ideological work to be done in South Africa and for an African centered approach to development. There is much more work to do in South Africa in that respect than in Liberia or DR Congo.
African identity is key
Even in those parts of Africa that are torn by ethnic strife, an obvious part of the solution would be the promotion of African unity and a binding African identity. However, not one international NGO in Africa does this. In fact, they perhaps have no clue that they should.
Amongst them, there are programs for food security, water and sanitation, shelter, entrepreneurship, health, education, and even gender equality, but none dare touch the hot potato of promoting unity amongst African people.
If, for example, one could be so intimately involved in a huge social undertaking such as the brokering of gender equality how could one then be completely oblivious of the equally important need for the mainstreaming of a Pan-Africanist identity?
This is because the possible areas of activism and knowledge production are already circumscribed for international NGOs by their donors even before those NGOs begin to write their proposals.
With a more African centered approach to development, what Africa and Africans would need are not global contractors who self-censor development possibilities but our own global contractors of radical change.
We would need forward-thinking, multinational organizations that respond to the aspirations of private African donors both at home and in the Diaspora.
Experience has shown that our own African NGOs, which have also gotten onto the foreign aid treadmill, are soon misdirected from their natural path and neutralized. African resources in African hands
If Africa was able to harness the donor power of both its old diaspora of African descendants in the Americas and the new global diaspora of African emigrants abroad there would be no need for the contractors of the system to manage the development affairs of Africans.
Remittances sent home by Africans now represent 50 percent more than net Official Development Assistance (ODA) (foreign “aid”) from all sources, and, for most countries, the amount also exceeds Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This speaks volumes. It indicates clearly that Africa has its own dormant development financiers.
Once awakened and reoriented, this consolidation of private African donors will need their own international implementers and their own African centered development organizations to which they can donate. As such, our donors will need international actors but not international NGOs.
African implementers must therefore not structure their identity around being non-governmental because the need to operate outside of the foreign “aid” system of governments is painfully obvious and clear.
Our implementers must learn lessons from the experiences of international NGOs and rather orient themselves around being liberated and independent, innovative and relevant, non-conformist, and conscious of their potential agency to write a new development history for our children and grandchildren.
Author statement: I am a staunch African-Centered, Pan-Africanist. I am African-Caribbean and was born on the island of Barbados. At 10 years old my family moved to Toronto, Canada. I completed my education there and obtained a degree in civil engineering (water resources) at the University of Waterloo. Within weeks of graduation I was already on a plane for my first trip to Africa. My first job after school was in Ghana where I worked for a Canadian planning consulting firm on a resettlement project. After working in Ghana for six months I backpacked throughout West Africa (Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali). I returned to North America and settled in Atlanta for three years working in the field of land development engineering. I left Atlanta to pursue a Masters in Development Studies at the University College London. Since then I have worked in both the development consultancy sector and the NGO sector and I have had the pleasure to live and work in DR Congo, Uganda, South Africa, Haiti, South Sudan, Liberia, and Zimbabwe, where I am now based. I am married to a Zimbabwean architect/artist and I am the father of two daughters.