On Non-Governmental Organizations
To prey upon the poorest of the poor once must invent an ethical pretext. I now will explore the relationship between non-governmental organizations and this great crime from the standpoint of our ethical development theorists. From Port-Au-Prince to Kigali; people must know the truth.
Poverty is a form of genocide. To disguise its vast and incorrigibly destructive effects a vast architecture has been erected in all sectors to carry out a massive & distracting scheme. It has perpetrators, beneficiaries and collaborators. I wish to briefly explore instances and dynamics of such collaboration within the global system illustrating their role in incredible structural violence (Galtung, 1969)(Farmer, 2003). Paramount to the maintenance of both dependency and ensuing extractive atrocities are both plausible deniability and diffusion of responsibility. The role and utilization of the NGO within the scheme of the development enterprise meets both ends.
In 1876 King Leopold of Belgium called a grand congress of scientists, explorers, cartographers and dignitaries to Brussels to found the International African Association. Its stated purpose was humanitarian intervention and the propagation of civilization in Central Africa. In 1884 the USA recognized his claims and later that year at the infamous Berlin Conference, all of Europe followed suit. By the 1908 an international movement lead by Roger Casement & E.D. Morel had helped expose the truth and strip Leopold of his territorial claims. Under the guise of humanitarian imperatives between 5-10 million Congolese had been systematically butchered in a gruesome wholesale rape of the nation (Hochschild, 1998). Rubber cultivation for bicycles harvested via a barbarous slave enterprise owned by one man. The very worst crimes against humanity have always occurred in plain sight but they are always obscured under the pretexts of some civilizing mission or police action.
Horton & Roche begin their ethical analysis dividing the NGO world into four distinct but increasingly overlapping Sectors; Emergency Relief, Service Delivery, Development & Advocacy. A series of complex political-financial configurations have thrust these rapidly proliferating actors into the heart of every former colony under the ethical pretext of poverty alleviation or humanitarian imperative. While seemingly issue based and independent; the majority of NGO funding comes from OECD countries that each have national interests (Dambisa, 2009). There are far more nefarious issues than ‘the pornography of poverty’. The vast deficits of coordination, accountability, fundraising, corporatization and cultural harm are just a starting place (Horton & Roche, p.8). The highest indictment is that not only are NGOs inefficient at all of the four sector objectives; they are a mangy carrot to a robust military intelligence stick. Paul Ronalds may speak of some liberal notion of ‘ethical responsibility of wealthy states; but in the Cold War context; their aim (and that of aid in general) was to keep a developing world nations from going Communist (Rostow, 1960)(Easterly, 2002). Not because of the ideological justifications but because every single nation that aligned with Russia & China was (regardless of one’s ideological imperative) being pulled out of the traditional world economic system (Wallerstein, 1991).
The Cold War is supposedly won; but the core nation status are shifting from the temporary hyperpower U.S.A. & E.U. to a new more multipolar economic alliance of Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa.
What was always more straight forward about doing business with the USSR and in post-Cold War era with China is that they were/are less concerned with the pretense of ethics. Developing national leaders then and today realize the flagrant hypocrisy of former Colonizers that continue the colonial extractive process under the veneer of human rights and democratization. Economically speaking the proof is in on the Washington Consensus; sustained GDP growth occurred only in 4 micro-nations of South-East Asia largely under strict military rule, Chile which was subjected to a CIA backed coup and direct supervision of Chicago School economists and Poland. The real development ‘miracles’ occurred in Vietnam and China (both still lead by the Communist Party) and India (non-aligned) which all completely rejected neoliberal theory (Rodrik, 2002). The ‘ideological war’ was not a contest of objective and belief it was for economic dominance over the world system core; the flow of commodities and trade back to an oligarchic collective. The Russian oligarchy as it is understood today was merely defeated in imperial intention and has diversified its trade systems from central planning to extra-legal trafficking and sale of oil and natural gas to Europe.
Chris Roche writes on ‘donor accountability’ but the macro issue is that money from OECD states have funded global NGO operations that not only failed alleviate poverty; in Sub Saharan Africa it worsened. Realist principles dictated that only nations with market economies could receive aid and direct foreign investment. But that aid was just the basis for dependency. Neo-colonialism as such was about using development aid to buy the loyalty of foreign governments and NGOs to fill the structural void that followed as nation after nation privatized their civil services, sold of state run enterprises to foreign nationals; and marshalled their populations often at gunpoint to fulfil economic imperatives of the ‘North’ in the name of comparative advantage. It is not that the donors were unethical, it was that they were utilized unethically. Adopting children, building orphanages, handing out malaria nets; this substitution effect takes the immediate imperative of welfare off corrupt foreign governments while still providing highly questionable social services. As Chris Roche stresses welfare is a right, aid is not. Which is say states are duty bound to provide social services to their own citizens but not to foreign populations (the Right to Development was voted down by the U.S. and not supported by 8 critical OECD countries.) Das asks if aid agencies are harmful. Not on their own. But regardless of what core power is re-organizing a developing national economy, or how corrupt a developing government is, Cold War over, or not; the effect of NGO proliferation has been to field an entire sector of so-called change agents that simultaneously shield political intent and perpetuate under-development.
Lenneberg examines the dichotomy of ‘local’ respect’ v. ‘radical social change’ in the ethical performance of NGOs; but again subjectivity dominates. Local respect for culture or governmental authority? Propagating radical social change inside the former Soviet Union has been a favorite activity instanced explicitly in Color Revolutions & Open Society Empire. Horton writes about definitions of Cosmopolitanism; which at best is liberal fantasy of globalized New York City and at worst a rose colored lens to project deluded solidarity via increased charitable giving. Wheeler asks if humanitarian aid and intervention is violation of popular sovereignty. Brown replies that those governments that violate human rights have forfeited full sovereignty. Rawls writes on the subject of ‘distributive justice’ but frankly most of the developing nations are run by military dictatorships, plutocrats and leadership that has stolen billions from their population into Swiss banks without batting an eye. The vapid liberal rhetoric such as that of Bull calls for ‘moral concern with the welfare on a world scale’ but all of the liberal development economists live in developed nations, bellies full and secure off resources pillaged by their host governments right hand, while the left introduced a legion of NGOS.
We are in full agreement with Pogge; that poverty is an institutional arrangement. And so is aid and NGO development. Manufactured inefficiencies aside on the operational level, collaboration with vile regimes. If Linklater posits do no harm and cosmopolitanism I retort that what makes an NGO Class so nefarious is that they are middle persons between the carnage and beneficiaries; used in this context to mean the citizens of the developed nations that are the proven monetary beneficiaries of aid. Measured against the often far less than 0.7 % GDP pledged by developed nations they make a lion’s share in interest debt, commodity transfer and favorable access to resources. Singer’s utilitarian maximalism is another useless and offensive impetus. While I agree that maximizing good for the greatest number is clearly a wonderful liberal theory; all of these ethical practitioners ignore the scope of devastation and point blame to components not systemic parts. The nearly criminal collaboration of Stiglitz and Sachs informs us that ‘clinical economic’ neoliberalism tailored is a way forward. But, Shiva takes a more forward approach perhaps further than Pogge; globalization is inconsistent with justice; it is a ‘war on the poor (Shiva, 2005). It may well be that the theorists have been living too many days in the developed world, benefiting off its security and forgetting that cosmopolitanism is vain self-serving liberal paradigm, at its realistic best a cocktail. At its worst globetrotting development practitioners paying lip service to rights and capabilities but openly colluding with tyrants and exploiters.
The rise of the BRICS will mean that aid as such will shift from NGO meddling technocracy and international welfare; debilitating dependency to a new dependency. China’s rise especially means that developing nation oligarchies do not have to pay lip service to human rights. They do not have to allow meddling structural adjustment. Hardin’s lifeboat ethics will set in deeper in the so-called Global North as China consolidates. More Euro-Americans will doubt the efficacy of NGOs and call for limits on the already meager aid. Shue’s ethics over nationalism; its call for achieving basic rights in a structural way is not enough. Human rights discourse is unknown still to vast segments of humanity and when needs are not met there can be no talk of rights. Nussbaum has her short list. As does Sen. In varying ways theses are pathetic cop outs and pedantic simplifications. The Human Rights treaties are unenforceable and the lip service they are paid is still grim mockery. Kieran Donahue writes that collaboration amongst NGOs is the exception not the rule (Uvin, 2002)(Slim, 2002). Uvin demonstrates in a careful case study of the Rwandan genocide that the NGOs were aware of everything. That full genocide planning went on in front of all the biggest players and right up until the genocide the IMF was calling Rwanda a poster child of development (Uvin, 1998).
Roche talks about factors that inhibit organization learning, why in place like Haiti with more NGOs per capita (10,800 +) than any state besides India dependency thrives and the poor remain extremely poor; belief perseverance, conformity, vivid/pallid dimensions, and wishful thinking dominate. Congo, Rwanda and Haiti are perhaps extreme examples; in other places the NGO class is more or less subtle, more or less deceptive, more or less embracing monitoring and evaluation. More or less aware of the world system changing hands. Lenneberg writes of a cultural relativism; the rights of the North and the culture of the South. But there cannot be any rights without meeting needs. The likes of Sen and Nussbaum and their desire to articulate capabilities, or underlying values that transcend this enforced relativism are frankly offensive. Kelly gives us three brands; the missionaries, the liberal technocrats and the bright eyed cowboys all heading out into the wilderness of poverty and conflict ready to save and make change. In the end, history will and has already passed judgement.
As the poorest of the poor become self-aware and empowered, as needs pass to capabilities, pass to rights and pass to emancipation the unwritten history books will declare; while the collaborators of the NGO class tried to clear their conscience with talk of ethics: we confined them to obsoletion, we called them out as the middlemen of our devastation & dependence; and those simple things they lorded over us; their development, professionalism and privilege; these were things called rights we grasped intuitively. Once the iron heel was off our necks, once the bellies of our crying children were made full; we asked the questions: who asked you to come here? And what was it that you left behind that added value? I suspect the ethical question of the highest regard is; do people, any people have a right to come making changes, dangerous changes to place they have the ability to flee.
History will ask each and every citizen of developed nations and certainly every development practitioner; how did you leverage your privilege? For Leopold’s Ghost will whisper things you do want to hear; that in the name of humanitarian values and rights worth the paper they are printed on; “we participated in a holocaust.”