Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, January 18th, 2019

Our Overgrown and Wasteful NGO Industry


Our Overgrown and Wasteful NGO Industry

Afghanistan has been a ground to a flooding of International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in the years following the ouster of Taliban in 2001. These INGOs have always been an indispensable part of Afghanistan and more so over the past decade. As far back as 1970s foreign NGOs began operations in Afghanistan channeling foreign governments' money and aid to far-off corners of this land and in the process, satisfying their governments' urge to a show of compassion.

Afghanistan's tryst with NGOs has perhaps never been as bleak as the years after the Taliban when unprecedented armies of foreign men and women descended upon the country, awash with humanitarian dollars and vague, mostly unrealistic assumptions about a country, society and culture they barely knew. The NGOs industry of Afghanistan – and yes it has indeed become a thriving industry – was quick to establish itself firmly on the political, economic and social scene of the country functioning as the only channel for the delivery of desperately needed western aid and money. Hundreds of NGOs, some foreign and international in reach and many more local, sprang up throughout the country each competing with one another to grab a larger share of the aid pie.

The NGO industry of Afghanistan has fuelled a frenzy of corruption, waste and broken promises over the years and no one has been in a position to at least make a dent in this mindless theater of the absurd. There have been major problems with how, when and where the money in the possession of NGOs is spent. More often than not, the projects undertaken and the issues that money has been spent on have had little to do with the real and pressing needs and the country and people. Time and again, the armies of NGOs have been more interested in satisfying their donors and money bosses rather than satisfying the needs of impoverished Afghan masses.

Post-Taliban Afghanistan's experience with its sprawling NGOs industry stands as a classic, quintessential example of Western capitalism's philanthropy at its best. It has been a prominent example of the infamous "trickle-down economy"on display at its best being practiced not in the alleys and lanes of impoverished areas of London and New York but here in the land of Afghans. "Trickle-down economy" is what the most die-hard proponents of neo-liberal capitalism are ready to invoke and embrace; those from the Republicans of GOP in Washington to the political masters of African National Congress of South Africa to our very own brand of free market zealots in Kabul.

From once great America to the troubled Europe of today to the host of Nouveau riche countries of Asia and Latin America, the dominant economic and social thinking has long been that wealth and money need to be created at the top of the social and economic ladder and the downtrodden unfortunates who fall under will gradually receive the fruits of progress as it "trickles down" to them. Today's America and large parts of Europe are witnessing the futility of this assumption that at this times of great peril, ever concentrating wealth at the top hardly "trickles down" to the millions of poor and destitute who have fallen under. The 45 million Americans – one in six Americans –who live on government food stamps, are a testimony to the mendacity of this neo-liberal treachery.

Afghanistan of today lies at the bottom of the international political and economic order. It has had no other choice but to be dependent on this "trickle-down" effect –Western money trickling down to its streets and villages to fill the empty stomachs of its denizens.The indeed bloated and yet thriving NGO industry of Afghanistan certainly carries over many features of a predatory capitalism that it has originated from. There should be no surprise that more than what is spent on the impoverished masses of Afghanistan is finally returned to the original countries by way of exorbitant salaries of international staff, house rents of staggering heights and the black hole of so-called administrative costs which suck into it the lion's share of whatever money that comes in. Do not even mention the many billions that are lost to corruption and usual wheeling and dealing in its Afghan style.

Therefore, even the philanthropy-cum-NGO industry that originates from the prevailing predatory capitalism retains many features of its parent predatory and ruthless capitalism.In other countries of the third world, NGOs have always flooded in after the rapacious military wars to in fact "mop up" the profits. The story of Iraq remains a tall example. Hundreds of NGOs that poured in after the invasion, far from pursuing a strictly humanitarian vision, in actuality went after the money frenzy unleashed by the Bush-Cheney combine. They were more eager in grabbing a share of the billions in American aid that flooded the country; magical salaries, posh accommodations and the prospects of fraud and siphoning off of money was more tempting to them than feeding and clothing the poor and orphaned. The same has been true in the case of Afghanistan. The NGO industry and its hundreds of large and small money-making machines that go as non-governmental organizations have largely been concerned with satisfying themselves and their over-bearing donors rather than satisfying the real needs of millions of destitute Afghans.

Perhaps, we should not be complaining since the story of NGOs anywhere and anytime has been a story of waste, misuse and squander. We have to be content with what "trickles down" to us and to our poor and hungry with the NGOs always being the first. At the end of the day, it is again peace and stability and genuine economic and social progress that have the power to free us from the excesses, misuses and abuses of this irresponsible NGO industry. After all, we have never been able and nobody will be in that position to command these NGOs to do what is really needed to be done. As long as there is war, conflict and this cycle of destruction and violence in our country, our dependence on the Western wealth to "trickle down" to us will only grow.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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