Questions Africans have about NGOs

After noticing our shared critical perspective of NGOs I and Eunice Tossy from Tanzania decided to jointly pen this. We did our brief research for a blog not an academic paper, and this is what we managed to come up with on Non-government Organization in Africa our home.

NGOs, it’s a common a phrase in Africa!

We never sat down to discus as Africans. We never sat down to decide what development looks like to us. So do we even know where we are going? Do we even know what development is to us? Looks like to and for us? Or if we become like Europe then we will be developed?

Everyone wishes they could work for Non-Government Organizations. We crave to get to their payrolls even when we know they don’t offer employment security. There are a number of definitions for NGOs that various scholars have come up with. But I will point one that is central to this write-up. So, the United Nations defines NGOs as “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interest of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic needs, social services, or undertake community development”. Now, these am very critical to.

What we cannot downplay though, is the contribution of NGOs in the past. But we also have to look at the other side. For example, why do they exist in the first place? How long will it take them to accomplish their set out objectives? If they are in place, for instance, to eliminate poverty then what is the time frame. In the Western world, NGOs are set up for recreational activities like administering festivities however in Africa they do the opposite. And the only reason why that prevails, is that the Western world has functioning governments with working systems that have been put in place. In other words, in Africa NGOs are in place because the governments have failed.

Governments are supposed to provide basic universal education to their citizens but they have failed, governments are supposed to provide access to basic health facilities but again they have failed creating this huge pool of operations that NGOs take up. One would say African governments have been made to fail so that NGOs can stay in place. But that is not for today.

Just to think about it; Do we really need NGOs? Lately I have been thinking that we don’t.

Let us face this, some of these new NGOs deliver so little in approximation to Governments. In fact, most of them rely on the state where they operate to second them for foreign donations. This scarcity of financing means NGOs can only do little in relation to the known aid agencies of old. How then will these many new NGOs help to bring about Industrialization and any form of economic growth, because this is what they sell as their obligations in the end?

A case in point, currently there are cases of how Non-governmental organizations have handled their funding and other facilitations and logistics they receive and manage to raise. It is common knowledge that NGOs use most of the funding on sparkling publicizing campaigns and administration costs which explains why their employees seem to earn a lot instead of them aiding people in the developing world, about 30% of their appropriations put up are spent on such costs.

Non-governmental organizations are modeled and used as attachments of the everyday foreign policy means of developed countries and groups that provide them with funding. This is the main reason why their assistance can easily be misguided in ways it can do havoc in times of social and political dilemmas.

I also see how crippled all the countries with foreign NGOs are for example Haiti, countries in Asia and in Africa too.

The fact is that I don’t remember Africans sitting down and deciding what development is to them and how they can bring it for themselves, ourselves, in an African context. I just know that we were made to believe that we can’t develop without loans, grants and funds and definitely we can’t do it without these international aid organizations full of non-Africans working to develop Africa. In other words, we have been to believe that development in Africa can only be brought by non-Africans, foreign loans and it can only be westernizing Africa.

Every year Africans graduate from college and therefore we do have skilled labor ready to contribute to their respective African countries, but raised with the notion that only white people can do things, only white people can develop Africa.

It is funny that the only time Africans were involved in building Western countries was on forced, free labor, slavery. They were not involved in decision making. But in building Africa, westerners are decision makers and highly expensive paid labor. White people are even paid more in these international organizations than the locals.

This got me asking questions like; Is it true that we really can’t do it ourselves? Are NGOs damaging Africans’ contribution to developing their own countries? Are NGOs enforcing negative stereotypes and white supremacy in Africa? Are NGOs damaging us more than they build us? Can we really develop with NGOs and on international aid and loan? How long will these organizations work in our countries? Is there a time limit?

In addition to the above, it must be noted that in their campaigns to solicit for funding and grants, NGOs go on to depict Africans as starving and helpless in a bid to cultivate sympathy. This immortalizes the notion of Africa as a dead place which is not true.

And there is something I think about, I worked with an NGO in 2019, a traumatic experience. I Googled them and they have been in my country since the 60’s. Like we got independence and they stepped in. Great!

“So, you wanted to end poverty in my country, thank you I guess, so for 50 + years you haven’t achieved your goal?” I wondered. I could not help it but deep down in my heart I asked this organisation questions like; When are you leaving? Are you planning to leave or you are just changing with the seasons and having new mission and problems to solve every day?

Finally, I look at NGOs and international aid as a trap. No one bleeds for Africa like Africans do. I don’t believe someone can have a passion to bring development to Africa than Africans, but NGOs are an employment opportunity, it is an ego satisfying duty that can make you seem like a good person for working in Africa and as Christian missionaries like to put it; “it gives you a sense of calling or purpose in life.”

So here we are trapped between the need to control and steal from Africa by the West, people’s own selfish egos and a search for meaning in life and our own internalized white supremacy thanks to Colonialism.

Issa G. Shivii one of Africa’s leading experts on law and development issues as an author and academics. His critique on Non-governmental organizations is found in two essays. “Silence in Non-governmental organizations discourse: The role and future of Non-governmental organizations in Africa”

Eunice is a Tanzanian writer in love with honest conversations, ice creams and books. She blogs at She is also a Mechanical Engineer who is passionate about community development.

8 thoughts on “Questions Africans have about NGOs

  1. I was discussing something called the aid trap, whereby the more aid we get the more we don’t do things for ourselves, waiting on handouts.

    Instead of teaching us to fish they hand out the fish
    even governments aren’t motivated to fix up their shortfalls because some NGO will probably step in and do the things they should be doing while potentially pushing their agendas on us.
    Small wonder some NGOs are named as being responsible for fueling antigovt rhetoric.

    Liked by 4 people

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