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Thread: NGOs in Africa: Assets or Liabilities?

  1. #1
    Council Member bourbon's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Boston, MA

    Default NGOs in Africa: Assets or Liabilities?

    NGOs in Africa: Assets or Liabilities?, by Abdul Ghelleh. African Executive, May 2013.
    I came to the conclusion, however, that the overwhelming majority of the NGOs do more harm than good to livelihoods and sustainable development in Africa. Here is my charge sheet: NGOs artificially sustain a false economy whereby they push huge amounts of cash into the pockets of corrupted local African partners while taking most of the cash back to their private bank accounts in Europe and elsewhere. Yes, they do pay the salaries of a few people here and there who support their families. But thatís not my point. The NGOs actually work against home-grown developmental strategies in Africa.

    The NGO operatives donít want the recycling of aid operations Ė which creates chronic dependency and corruption within the receiving societies Ė to end. For example, NGOs are not prepared to cede some power or train local people to take over in the future, and they donít give the confidence necessary to carry out the work to local government personnel of the countries that they operate in. Africans have the experience and the expertise to own the operations of the NGOs, but actually the foreign bosses of the NGOs want to retain power in order to continue the dependency culture that they have created.
    I donít know anything directly about the subject, but the broader theme of how perverse incentives can infect even the best of intentions is something that I find both fascinating and tragic.
    ď[S]omething in his tone now reminded her of his explanations of asymmetric warfare, a topic in which he had a keen and abiding interest. She remembered him telling her how terrorism was almost exclusively about branding, but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteriesÖĒ - Zero History, William Gibson

  2. #2
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Mar 2006



    Not my area, but by coincidence I came across the website of a leading UK charity, Oxfam just and this blog by Ed Cairns, a policy adviser might help:

    Another writer from Oxford University is Paul Collier, an economist whose book 'The Bottom Billion' is worth a read; his home page is:

    We keep on hearing this is Africa's decade, time etc and then 'The Dark Continent' appears again - which is fascinating and tragic.

  3. #3
    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Dec 2006


    A bunch of good NGOs are suffering from being successful. Sounds strange, but if you show any sort of progress, your funds end up dwindling.

    With our donations, and lack of child related deaths, we face the same axe.

    Agree, there are some out there that have to deal with African dictators, and most of those donations never reach the intended recipients. Part of doing business and most of those NGOs know that.

    If they fess up to what is real, the cash is gone, if they accomplish something the cash is gone, if they do nothing, the cash is gone. Some hard choices await all of us.

    As for my pathetic thoughts, we have starving people too and I see no good reason to support a dictator hell bent on self destruction.
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

  4. #4
    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Nov 2005
    Denver on occasion


    It is getting to be a long time ago but two of the things that had the most beneficial big picture effect on things in Congo Kinshasa were commercial enterprises, the cell phone companies and the Russian Anotonov operations. The cell phones had a huge effect and the piratical, occasionally suicidal Russians were the ones who had a real economic impact by tying together some pretty remote towns to the rest of the country.

    The most important thing the UN did was airport operations and development. Everything else they did seemed useless but the airport development seemed to have some beneficial economic benefits to everybody in the country in addition to giving me decent places to land.

    It always seemed to me that the most pressing need that was not being filled in the country was that a lot of the right people needed to be killed. No NGO was going to do that but if one could ever be got to wipe out the FDLR that would have done more good than all the conflict resolution trainers and regional workshops they were so fond of.

    The thesis of the article has been covered by several books but that doesn't make it any less true. The book I read (the name of which I forgot) says the dilemma goes all the way back to the Crimean War with Florence Nightengale, do you do things to help people immediately and thereby relieve the govs of responsibility, or do you accept immediate harm so the govs will step up. I don't know. What I observed is commercial enterprises did the most good, international aid did good if it help commercial development and somebody needs to kill some people but they won't.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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