The Sunday Mail
The recent European Union announcement of $5,5 million funding for non-governmental organisations (NGO) calls for serious conversations regarding the role of non-state entities in Zimbabwe.
In a statement released last Tuesday, the EU said the fund is meant to capacitate civil society organisations to contribute meaningfully towards good governance and accountability.
The EU’s top diplomat in Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, said the fund was meant to “strengthen civil society organisations and local authorities in partner countries with the aim of fostering an enabling environment for citizen participation and civil society action and co-operation.”
While one bears no rancour for the EU’s largesse in feeding the insatiable NGO sector, it is telling that such generosity comes after USAID terminated its contract with some civil society organisations operating in the country over greed.
The groups that had their contracts terminated include the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), the Counselling Services Unit (CSU) and the Election Resource Centre.
The US embassy’s acting public relations officer at the time, John Taylor, said: “We can confirm allegations of misuse of US funding by local Zimbabwean partners. Attempts to divert US funds from their intended use are unacceptable under any circumstances.”
The embarrassing admission of possible fraud in some NGOs by the US calls for a conversation among citizens; why is the EU still pouring huge sums of money into some of the same truant organisations?
To what extent are the huge sums of money poured into these NGOs improving the livelihoods of the people they claim to serve? How much have the NGOs expanded the “democratic space”? Where is the evidence?
In an article in The Making of the Africa-State, Professor Mammo Muchie observes: “Since the 1980s, a global neo-liberal agenda has dominated the world’s intellectual, political, moral space and vision. One of the consequences of this unalloyed and untrammelled liberal hegemony is the double and simultaneous global construction of the ‘failed state’ and the assumption of ‘success’ in favour of non-governmental organisations and the ‘vibrant’ civil society.”
This explains the sudden proliferation of NGOs following land reform. The State was viewed as ‘failed’ and the civil society as the ‘saint’, a narrative that reveals more the benefactor’s ideological preference than reality.
Far from being “saints”, NGOs’ main agenda is to manufacture a new political economy in which the State and the civil society are perpetually engaged in tension and conflict, rather cohesion and development.
The phenomenon of NGO-dom has created space for making a living, marked by a lavish lifestyle far removed from any social cause. Civil society is no longer about service to the vulnerable and keeping government in check. It is about personal benefits.
This is why fights for power in the NGO sector are just as pronounced, if not more so, than in politics. At Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a bitter row a few years back led to the resignation of directors. An audit by Baker Tilly Gwatidzo found unremitted taxes and pensions. Last year, Job Sikhala, an MDC MP, publicly thanked Dewa Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch for being one of his major campaign donors.
The sheer duplicity of some of the leaders of the NGOs could not escape veteran journalist Faith Zaba. In July last year, she wrote: “The lifestyle of some of the people who work in NGOs, characterised by posh mansions and cars, raises eyebrows, earning them the description ‘champagne revolutionaries’.”
Zimbabweans need to start questioning what drives civil society and state relations. We must challenge the discourse that place civil society on a pedastal where they are beyond reproach.
External funders are welcome. What is needed is a reconstituted relationship based on shared values, locally rooted and informed by competent institutional arrangements that build self-reliance. Colonialism was propelled by the discourse of the ‘civilising mission’ and the ‘white man’s burden’. In the post-colonial State, the discourse has just been remodelled into a narrative of ‘development’ and ‘democracy’.
It is not surprising that Ernest Geller called civil society a “dusty term, drawn from antiquated political theory, belonging to long, obscure and just forgotten debates.”
In the final analysis, the shock therapy modus operandi of most NGOs is premised on;
make the State fail by sponsoring civil and violent disobedience and blame the State for failing
make the State look like an uncaring monster and encourage all those ‘interested’ in Africa’s development to look to the civil society for pliable partners
The US, in its revised Africa policy announced last year by John Bolton, Donald Trump’s security advisor, admits that the billions it has poured in to these “governance” projects have not yielded any results. With the US cutting aid to NGOs, the scramble for the little funding still available will get even more vicious and desperate, and our government needs to be alert. NGOs will pull stunts to draw our government and security services into needless battles where they can play victim. Caution is needed.
We must not outlaw civic society organisations. Instead, we must set appropriate parameters for those that adhere to their mandate. NGOs can no longer define and assign the country’s priority needs without including the input of the local populace.
We seem to have more NGOs registering than companies. We must deal with the situation where it is easier to start an NGO than a business. Our skilled workforce need to contribute in the revival of the economy, and not be lured by unproductive monies being poured to fund hedonistic lifestyles.