of the new Greeks bearing gifts
A couple of weeks ago fellow columnist Rajpal Abeynayake took to
task "NGO wallahs" for their pretentious claims to supreme
wisdom and moral legitimacy.
rightly he did not put all the NGO eggs in one basket. His barbs
were directed at the bad eggs and surely there are some whose outer
shell hides more than a yolk.
colonialism was paraded before the western world as civilising missions,
traders and proselytisers followed in the steps of the foot soldiers.
In this neo-colonialist world the new proselytisers do not come
with bible in hand to turn the heathens into heavenly souls. They
come in the guise of benign foreign-funded organisations scattering
dollars and kroners all in the name of international goodwill and
to lend a helpful hand to solve our many problems.
there are no petty traders following colonial armies. Instead multinationals
and corporate businesses rush in to sell their wares and exploit
an increasingly consumerist society.
gather when carrion is seen. In an increasingly conflict and poverty-ridden
world where literally thousands die each day, do-gooders backed
by international donors gather to proffer friendly advice and help.
and conflict-prevention and resolution: this has been the growth
industry for many years as AIDS has become today with NGOs scrambling
to get into the act. Some of these NGOs are headed by individuals
who think they are Zeus descended from Olympus. It is a pity that
responsible sections of civil society, not to mention the government
itself, do not examine closely the role and operational techniques
of some of these NGOs that have proliferated like mushrooms in Sri
Lanka in recent years, particularly those that parade as promoters
of reconciliation and makers of peace.
spent a month or so in Sri Lanka recently one could quite understand
Abeynayake's anger at the attempts of some NGOs and their leading
figures to vigorously whitewash the actions of the high and mighty
in our society or wipe away with the gloss of innocence the terrorism
and violence returning to haunt the country after what was hoped
would be a continuing period of quiet.
are becoming apprehensive about the number of foreign-funded NGOs
operating in the country. There are some who are truly sceptical
of the intentions of some of these organisations that have sprung
up, especially those who appear to have inveigled themselves into
the upper crust of our society and into officialdom on the back
of the peace process.
there are both government and non-government organisations that
deal with issues that have no obvious political implications. If
organisations wish to hone the professional skills or the educational
levels of one group or another, I doubt whether one could seriously
object to that, unless an insidious intention is hidden behind a
benign public face.
danger comes largely from those foreign-funded organisations that
appear in the lily-white garb of peacemakers and the harbingers
of international goodwill and aid.
know that well-known multilateral institutions that are in fact
in the hands of big and powerful nations, have been publicly indicted
for interfering in the internal affairs of nations, sowing the seeds
of dissension and conflict, of corruption and abuse, all in the
who have not read former "Economist" journalist Graham
Hancock's book "Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige and Corruption
of the International Aid Business" should do so if they could
lay their hands on this classic critique of what he calls the international
aid business - and business it truly is.
data might be dated - the book was released some 12 years ago -
but he does make us question the true nature of aid and charity.
He makes one wonder at the disempowering effect this so-called charity
and aid have on those who are the recipients of such international
years ago Michael Maren who spent many years in Africa wrote the
"Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid & International
Charity", citing specific cases and highlighting the hypocrisy,
corruption and sheer ineptitude behind aid and charitable work in
the developing world.
recently David Rieff, who spent many years with several humanitarian
organisations, wrote a damning book titled "A Bed for the Night:
Humanitarianism in Crisis," that also held up to public scrutiny
much of what goes on in the humanitarian care industry.
these exposes lift the mask off much of the hoopla and spin that
surround international aid and 'humanitarian' help. But it is not
just the corruption, the misguided and inept use of aid by multilateral
institutions and NGOs that trouble writers and those who have personal
knowledge of them.
is also the involvement of foreign-funded organisations in internal
political disputes and conflicts in the name of peace making and
conflict resolution that has, in several instances, exacerbated
might recall the involvement of a London-based but Scandinavian
funded organisation "International Alert" that was first
headed by Martin Ennals, a one time Secretary-General of Amnesty
before the May 1997 military coup that ousted President Tejan Kabbah
of Sierra Leone, a poor African country but still very rich in mineral
resources such as diamonds, gold and radio-active substances, he
wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, accusing International
Alert of meddling in the country's internal affairs and actually
supporting the rebel RUF. During the peace negotiations, President
Kabbah accused International Alert of advocacy on behalf of the
rebels instead of the facilitator it claimed to be.
president named in particular two individuals, who he said, "embarked
upon sabotaging all efforts at implementing the peace." This
same organisation closed its Colombo office after firing its Colombo
programme manager for writing articles critical of the LTTE, though
it seems to have accepted without demur articles critical of the
Sri Lanka Government and its military.
one closes down others step into the breach. At times the same individuals
keep emerging under new organisations and generally funded by Scandinavians,
notably the Norwegians.
who know of the activities of Redd Barna, a Norwegian NGO operating
in northern Sri Lanka some 25 or 30 years ago, might wonder why
we still let such organisations set up base in the country without
a proper scrutiny of their antecedents, their funding, their objectives
and the individuals who run them and monitoring their activities.
would object to genuine humanitarian organisations that keep their
fingers out of explosive and highly sensitive domestic issues, particularly
ethnic and religious conflicts. But now in the name of peace, even
Trojan horses appear to be welcome, especially when the White man
is astride the horse and the native walks faithfully by its side.