On "Bestowing the Gift of Development"

In opposition to the development policies pursued by non-Western states, international NGOs focused on alternative grass-roots models of development. This approach is explained by David Korten, a former worker for the United States Agency for International Development:

The widespread belief that development is primarily a task of government has legitimised authoritarianism and created major barriers to true development progress in the [global] South and over the past four decades the people have been expected to put their faith and resources in the hands of government. In return governments have promised to bestow on the people the gift of development. This promise has proved a chimera born of a false assessment of the capacity of government and the nature of development itself.

As [global] Southern states were crippled by the debt crisis and later by the World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes, state provision of welfare collapsed in many societies. International relief NGOs, with Western government funding, attempted to fill in the gaps. As two Oxfam workers explained:

Gallantly stepping into the breach come the NGOs very much in the neo-colonial role. Whole districts, or once functioning sections of government ministries, are handed over to foreigners to run especially in health or social services. This process is enhanced as Structural Adjustment Programmes bite even deeper … 40 percent of Kenya’s health requirements are now provided by NGOs … The more the NGOs are prepared to move in the easier it is for government to reduce support.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), p. 33 [reference citations removed]

Today’s NGO employees are the direct inheritors of the colonial project not so much in the manner of the imperial civil services as in the manner of the religious missionaries, who were often at odds with the imperial powers in their respective mission fields, and who often provided a good measure of whatever health, education, and welfare services governments failed to provide. The religious missionaries of my parents’ (“greatest”) generation were succeeded by the secular missionaries of my (“boomer”) Peace Corps generation and the current horde of NGOptimists all over the globe—all of whom have gone to do good, and many of whom have done rather well indeed, just like the older missionary elites (or nouveaux évolués), whose offspring often ended up as area specialists in government or academia (or both). On this score, I know very well whereof I speak.

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Filed under Africa, NGOs

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