Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Are NGOs weapons of state destruction?


When the 18TH century French decided to become citizens in their own country, instead of remaining mere subjects of some knucklehead of an autocrat, (king/dictator) they affected governance systems all over the world and probably for good. As a result, the very notion of ‘civil society’, which has been around ever since the state consolidated itself as the sole legitimate coercive entity in a society, also changed for good! The French revolution recognized and asserted that all the peoples of a certain geographic enclosure (nation state) are citizens; to be sure, this inclusion also had its own exclusion. The wholesome rhetoric (liberty, egality and fraternity) fell short of achieving its declared objectives, as rights were circumscribed for the majority, particularly the fair sex. The poor and women were excluded, among other things, from voting on anything that mattered. That had to wait few more decades if not centuries. Ditto the colonized and ethnic minorities!
As we enter the twilight of the prevailing modern world system, the contention between citizenry and their captured states (by entrenched interests) will intensify. To recall, the modern world system, more or less came into being after 1492. 1492 was a momentous year for western powers. Vasco da Gama landed at Cape of Good Hope on his way to India, thereby opening up the African continent for the Europeans. Christopher Columbus made landfall at Santo Domingo/Haiti while trying to sail East (to India) via west.  He discovered, by accident, the huge and virgin continent of the Americas, again for the Europeans! Therefore the urge to control all the global sea routes is not another ‘exceptionalism’ of the reigning hegemon; this strategy was also the bedrock of the two previous hegemons of the past half millennium, namely the United Provinces/Dutch and the British Empire, but we digress.
The ongoing global unrest, ‘Occupy Movement’,  ‘Arab Spring’, etc are all, to a large extent, manifestations of civil society in action, coordinated or not! These are mass movements with potentials to shatter existing orders. On the other hand, there are also NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) with insignificant human base and significant resources that can potentially shatter existing order via money power. The money power of some of these NGOs dwarfs the resources of the smaller states of our world. We can mention some of the strictly private ones; Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, (with an additional USD 35 billion from Buffett) Ford foundation, Rockefeller foundation, Soros foundation, etc.) There are also other huge NGOs almost exclusively funded by their respective governments, such as those that operate under the USAID umbrella. Since these organizations command massive resources, they tend to operate independently, thereby undermining national development agendas of weak states. As a result and at times they end up at loggerhead with recipient states.
Some countries like Ethiopia have decided to delineate the areas in which NGOs can or cannot operate on their own. For example, service delivery rather that advocacy (democracy, human rights, governance, etc) is the work that is cut out for them. The latter, the new accord stipulates, is best left to the natives. We have no objection with the general approach, at least in principle, but given the preponderance of the state in all things human (social, political, economic, etc) the pact must be made more inviting to genuine indigenous initiatives than it is now. So far it has failed to inspire much confidence within indigenous civil society organizations. Overall development, as Yash never tires of reminding us, is self defined and must be actualized by citizens themselves. The states are only organs for implementing citizens’ ultimate welfare. See his concatenation of the Busan ‘Aid Effectiveness Conference’ on page 50.
Criminalizing and terrorizing dissent by various states is now the order of the day, from Tahrir square to Zuccotti Park (New York). Nonetheless civil society has to keep its vigilance and must continue to struggle peacefully until it recaptures the state on behalf of all the peoples. The current oligarchs who run the global show and their minions within the states apparatus must be fought tooth and nail until they let go of the state. The prevailing global order, which leverages the states to steal peoples’ resources all over the world, as well as muzzle new initiatives that are determined to deconstruct its destructive narratives, be it in the USA, Russia, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc. must be severely interrogated.
As contention intensifies between the citizenry and the state, it would be wise for resource rich NGOs to refrain from meddling in the affairs of smaller nations on behalf of their captured states (by their multinational corporations). See Tajudeen Abdul Raheem’s poignant proposal for a ‘code of conduct’ for NGOs, extracted from a presentation by Campbell next column. Tajudeen was a promising young Pan-Africanist whose life was cut short tragically on the 25thof May 2010 (Africa Day). Critical analysts think these oversized institutions are ‘wreckers of nationalist ambitions’ and they pronounce: “NGOs are weapons of state destruction.” Good Day!