Monday, January 5, 2009

NGO Paternalism and the Politics of Soft Racism

On December 12th the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo published its latest installment in a continuing series of reports on the financing of rebel groups in the eastern part of the country. Much like previous reports, it found that the myriad rebel groups obtain financing from a variety of sources to include taxation, protection rackets, renumeration from abroad and the trade in various minerals.

Three days later Global Witness issued a press release calling on governments to take “strong action” on the findings of the UN report, in particular the trade in minerals. The interesting thing about Global Witness’ statement is that they don’t call on the government of the Congo to do anything, but rather on the international community to do something about the problem.

This typifies not only Global Witness’ attitude towards Africa, but of the international aid community in general. The international aid groups absolve African governments and their leaders of the responsibility for good governance and instead adopt a paternalistic attitude towards them. Africa suffers from the legacy of colonialism, goes the argument. They are too poor to help themselves. The mantra of the NGO Jet Set is it’s the fault of the rich developed Western world.

The last sixty-three years of aid to Africa and the rest of the developing world has resulted in – well, not much. Building dams, roads, schools, clinics and donating clothes may seem like a good idea but in the long term it has had negligible, and possibly negative effects. The net result of all those donated clothes to Africa has resulted in a decimation of the textile industry in sub-saharan Africa, putting countless thousands out of work.

Certainly, the abrupt end of colonial rule caused much havoc in the developing world. But fifty years on one has to ask the question – when exactly will the international community start to hold African governments accountable for their actions? Only through good governance and good economic policy decisions will African countries be able to launch themselves into self-sustaining economic growth. This has been proved time and time again – Chile, Singapore, China, India, Thailand, and Malaysia to name a few. Kenya was the darling of the World Bank during the 1970’s when it achieved continuing and impressive economic growth rates under President Jomo Kenyatta. Only after he was succeeded by Daniel Arap Moi, who proved to be a corrupt and inefficient ruler, did things begin to go downhill. That, perhaps not coincidentally, coincided with a massive increase in aid to Kenya – which continues, despite its failure, to this day.

Global Witness and the rest of the NGO community indirectly support failed African leadership through their social programmes and activism. Their programes alleviate the host government of those responsibilities, and thus, accountability, to the people they are supposed to serve. Patrick Alley of Global Witness calls the mineral wealth of the DRC an “engine of conflict” – as if the mere presence of mineral wealth causes armed groups to greedily rise up. Global Witness ignores the fact that the richest province in Congo, Katanga, is not mired in insurgency, nor are other minerally rich areas of the world. The “engine of conflict” is not the mineral wealth of the region, but rather the failure of the Congolese government to address underlying issues of the long simmering conflict. The various rebel groups all have their own political goals, and use whatever methods they can to raise funds to achieve those goals – be it gold smuggling or (don’t tell anyone) taxation on NGO aid convoys.

Neither Global Witness nor the UN cite the direct failures of the Congolese government to deal with the conflict. The Congolese political maneuvers to deal with the rebel groups have been an unmitigated failure, and its army is ill-trained, ill-equipped, and unpaid; leaving little threat of force to back up any political resolution to the conflict. Why doesn’t Global Witness advocate for a more effective and professional Congolese army as a means to end the conflict?

The UN, and Global Witness ignore the fundamental political aspect of the conflict altogether and call for amorphous action by the international community. Only through political measures by those directly involved can the conflict be resolved. Apparently, governments in Africa cannot be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. One has to wonder if the apostles of the international aid community aren’t engaging in the politics of soft racism.

1 comment:

MrK said...

" The international aid groups absolve African governments and their leaders of the responsibility for good governance and instead adopt a paternalistic attitude towards them. "

This was written a long time ago. However, it is obvious that African governments rely on NGO's because they are not allowed to tax their natural resources.

If they do so, they don't live very long. African 'post'-colonial history is rife with discarded 'dictators', who no longer would do the bidding of the corporations, and were killed and replaced their second in command (John Garang and Salva Kiir, Patrice Lumumba and Mobutu sese Seko) or overthrown by their opposition, which was suddenly supported and armed their former corporate backers (Milton Oboto to Idi Amin to Milton Obote to Yoweri Museveni, etc.).

So any paternalistic attitude towards African governments (oh, why can't they be independent from aid) is completely missing the mark.

Think: Anglo-American De Beers, Royal Dutch Shell, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold, ...