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Interesting article in yesterday's Telegraph Magazine about President Kagame of Rwanda in which he relates the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide.
Some 200 humanitarian NGOs arrived in Rwanda to help rebuild it and whilst Kagame was grateful for the goodwill, the money and the services, he rankled at the mixture of naivety and entitlement that came along with their cultural baggage, and threw 80 of them out because they refused to register.
"Of the rest, you would be lucky if five in 100 are doing it altruistically. The others will choose for you where you should put their money, and try to control what you do in other areas. They come here knowing almost nothing, understanding almost nothing, and they judge and criticise and tel you what you should do. A big part of the misunderstanding is that they expect us to be a normal country, like the ones they are from. They do not understand that we are operating in a very different context."
My Wife and I are spending a year in Africa working for Charities in 2013
So if anybody has got ideas on where we should go, please put them forward.
We are already committed to 3mths at an orphanage in Uganda, and another 3mths at one in Ethiopia, so we have 6months undecided. We will start our trip Cairo to Capetown next month and will be visiting different potential projects along the way. So as I said if anybody has any ideas or suggestions let me know.
Tim, I was traveling in that area just after the genocide and I passed through Rwanda. It was the worst NGO circus I've ever seen, with clean-cut NGO professionals whipping around town in their brand new Land Rovers and Land Cruisers (and in at least one case a Jeep Wrangler), competing viciously for press coverage....which translates to donations and therefore job security.
No doubt many NGO workers are highly motivated for all the right reasons, and I'm quite certain many of them do good work, but what Kagame says is also a completely accurate reflection of what it's like in the immediate aftermath of a major, marketable and photogenic catastrophe. It was a circus, and profoundly depressing for me.
Of course I have no answers, and no real alternatives aside from prescribing a major dose of humility for any and all. What if no one stepped in to help out in such situations?
I heard that Haiti was the ultimate NGO nightmare, huge nunber of NGOs, little coordination and the city clogged with white SUVs.
Kagame is right and the growing awareness is a good thing.
edit - around 10000 NGOs in Haiti this spring - - - 1,4 million in the US means one for every 228 Americans. Does anyone think we need more NGOs?
What Africa need is fair trade and less corruption. NGOs are not the solution.
I see this long dead thread has been recently revieved. Unfortunately, I guess that many of the former combatants here have long since lost interest/forgotten about the interesting arguement that was going on here.
I've worked as a volunteer (read: for food & lodging), NGO's, namely one that involves doctors not restrained by sovereign territories. UN contracts & commercial companies working in Africa solely for the purpose of making money.
Yes, you will find crack pots working in charities who believe thery're doing the right thing by removing local children without proper authority & other righteous wrongdoers. There's no end to the embarassments.
Having said that, there are countless people who have actually given up the comforts that people in Antwerp take for granted to go a live in a grasshut in Africa, doing emergency surgery by car light, fixing generators with #8 fencing wire + a coal miners sock. And equally importantly, running a set of accounting books that are transparent & balance out.
The thing is, many of the doctors could earn megabucks doing breast implants in LA, but they don't. They do it for $1000 a month and 3 squares a day.
Yes most expat NGO workers make several fold more than local staff. If you paid less for international workers no-one would do it for more than a few months. Who wants to come home to 2 years of mortgage repayments & bills to pay? If you pay more to local staff, who usually earn very good salaries in local terms, it starts to skew the economy.
Anyway, I could go on, but I'll wait and see if anyone gives a damn about this topic anymore. And yes I still drive a white Landcruiser, not fond of Rover's, but that's an entirely different conversation.
One final point to make to the haters out there. It's too easy to sit in Antwerp and criticise the situation. Why don't you tell us all how it should be done?
Well, a surgeon in Antwerp doesn't really make that much in global terms, around 26.000$ a month.
In my view his best contribution would be to keep cutting open Belgians but to use part of his profits to help a few (5-10) talented local kids in and through (local) med school/nursing school.
am confident that in the medium term 5-10 locally trained docs have more impact than 1 hard working lad, even if these 5-10 docs defect and migrate to new jersey, they'll be sending far more cash home for investments, which have again a wider impact than the lone surgeon struggling in da bush.
Alternatively, start your business, fight to make a profit and try to raise the productivity of the (people in the) place.
I combined it, using the profit (mainly extracted from NGO/int. organisation staff ) of a business to train a number of students, also in med school.
It's in fact a smaller investment than obtaining & operating a Landcruiser in Yei.
Good to see you're still passsionate about this issue after a long pause in this thread.
I re-read my own thread and I think I need to clear up the fact that I no longer work for an NGO, in fact now work for a commercial company that is only working in this region because it can make a profit. I have worked for a medical NGO in the past in West Africa. In my opinion, the business model (including replacing charitable aid with investment) must replace the development model for any significant development to take place in Africa. Unfortunately, succesful businesses have a habit of being nationalised around these parts.
Your idea is an interesting one, but not without precedent here in Africa. Usually this kind of unmonitired funding you describe often gets turned into a Landcruiser as well. I've seen many such incidents where an overseas 'investor' like a charitable group/rotary club/concerned individual sends money to build a church/school fees/hospital. After 6 months the 'investor' comes to see how the project is getting on, only to find no well/school/church/community center, but the local bigman has a new house. Coincidence? Perhaps. Also crucial to this idea is people at home coughing up more money to train somebody in Africa. As pointed out earlier in this thread, that kind of unrestricted funding is the holy grail for NGO's and extremely difficult to come by. Still, give it a go mate!
Another point to consider: lack of infrastructure. Friend, there are few places to train people in this continent. Indeed, I'm unaware of any surgical school in Southern Sudan. In fact there is no Baskin Robins, Juliper on tap, traffic lights, landline telephones. Neither are there good roads (5 hours to travel to Juba, the capital, 160kms away) electricity, a functioning government & clean drinking water. If my log lines are cut, I've got 3 days until I too, will be drinking from puddles of water formed in the pot-holed road. Maybe it will be a few more days for me, because our Landcruisers will be filled with Perrier water and cucumber sandwiches.
You seem to think that there are scores of qualified and experienced locals just hanging around being stepped on & ignored by jack-booted expat tree-huggers who are only here to advance their political career back home in Europe. The truth is: Anybody who was able, got the hell out of here when they could. Yes, you will find Sudanese doctors in London. Probably more than you will here. Along with a largely non exsistent infrastructure, Africa suffers from an acute shortage of skilled people willing to work here.
I'm a little bit confused by something you said:
"Alternatively, start your business, fight to make a profit and try to raise the productivity of the (people in the) place.
I combined it, using the profit (mainly extracted from NGO/int. organisation staff ) of a business to train a number of students, also in med school. "
Does that mean you have done this already?
My final point is, what about the big scale tradgedies going on in the world? Darfur for example. Thousands upon thousand of people rely on the self centred, money grabbing & bereaucratically bloated evil NGO's. You might find that the good people of Belgium will start to suffer from donor fatigue quite rapidly when faced with the bill inherent in running a large scale refugee camp.
Thanks Cam for making me aware that this thread, apparently, still creates some emotional reactions... and emotional they definitely are - often not hindered at all by any real knowledge...
Maybe to put a few things in perspective (and my former fellow townspeople will surely find enough reason to speak with authority about the work we do or not do): I used to work in private business, for blue-chip companies, back home and in Europe, making LOTS more money than I make now - and before you reply with a smart-ass remark asking if I should now earn a medal or something, no, I don't - I just love the work I do and I love being here... no altruism there from my side... but at least I have seen both sides, unlike many others here...
Secondly, the time of expat doctors, teachers, builders etc is long past, apart from emergency situations where most victims don't really care about who saves their lives, as long as someone is there. Right now I manage a staff of about 200, with zero expat doctors, zero expat teachers, zero expat builders - yet we're working in about 700 villages and serving a bit over one million beneficiaries in health services. I still do have quite some expats working here but all of them either with a specific technical knowlegde (public health, coordination, complex logistics, international finance and donor regulations, ...) - but if I have the chance to find local capacity, trust me, I will - expats are only a pain in the ass to manage, not to speak even about the costs (although, again to put things in perspective, especially for all those who so perfectly know what it is all about, and how things work, the expat salaries here are on average about 3 times higher than local manager positions). Of course, all the experts here can without doubt come up with many examples where countries like Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, CAR, South Sudan and Congo-DRC showed good management skills, due diligence, and the right competences to get things work in a decent way (that is probably why the suggestion to increase local productivity - as an expat of course...)
Thirdly, whether you like it or not, donors (not only institutional ones, but also private donors) still have more confidence in INGO's than NGO's - although I am sure that the good people in Antwerp will love to give their money rather straight to a local Congolese NGO that they have never heard of and are not capable of following up instead of to a well-known organisation like MSF who, indeed, spend money on expats and overhead just to ensure that the money is well spent... Fair? I don't know, but the question is irrelevant since it is the reality...
Fourthly, but this is of course something that definitely the good people in Antwerp will care less about, in a lot of countries (Sudan, Chad, Congo - just to name a few), expats serve as well as a safety for national staff. An international NGO has far more opportunity to be critical of governments (while at the same time trying to keep the balance because after all we need to continue working) than local NGO's - even Bashir will think twice before arresting an expat staff and therefore creating an international scandal, whereas local staff without the backup and protection of expat directors and therefore governments are literally often free game - if you don't know what I'm talking about, just look at what happened in Congo in June...
Finally, and then I will rest my case: of course there is abuse, mismanagement, lack of coordination, wrong type of programs etc... you will find very few (if any) experienced NGO or humanitarian workers who claim the contrary... the same like there are overlanders who travel without any respect for of knowledge of local culture and environment - but does that mean you say all overlanders are bad? Or that you even question the fact how it is looked by locals who have to survive on 1 USD per day when you pass by on a bike that costs with everything included often 10,000 their day income? And after all, even if all those horrible expat arrogant and greedy NGO workers earn too much, at least it's often spent on local restaurants, shops etc... or on businesses set up by real altruistic Antwerp people, so nothing lost, is there?
But must important, for all: enjoy your travels, enjoy local cultures, keep a critical spirit - and drop by for a (luckily with my huge salary I got an amazingly well stacked fridge - at least if the power keeps working)...
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