Millions of people from developed countries advocate for, and make generous contributions towards, African development every year. However, it is time to re-evaluate the Western approach to Africa. International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) have a monopoly on the civil society and social service market. If this dominance ended, what would Africa be like without its Western advocates?
At first the image of Africa without INGOs seems stark and horrible: No INGO-run health clinics, no capacity-building and education projects, and no child feeding programs.
After that initial shock, however, there would be space for African civil society, entrepreneurship, and perhaps even governments, which do not use INGO systems as substitutes for national infrastructure and jobs, to grow. Such a change could even create new incentives for people to develop themselves, exactly the aim of contemporary INGOs. Scholars have argued for years that aid does not work, that the foreign assistance infrastructure is broken and that aid only leads to dependency. So why not break one leg of the aid system — Western development INGOs — to see what happens?
I am not arguing for an Africa without human rights and social justice advocates or bilateral and multilateral foreign assistance, but for an Africa without development-focused INGOs from the West.
I want to focus on the possibilities of this new world without them:
Incentives for government — As INGO services disappear, governments will need to fill the gaps, especially in infrastructure, health, and education systems. Government will become more directly accountable to its citizens for providing such services. Any nation that decides to spend money in more corrupt ways over national infrastructure and economic growth will quickly fail without INGOs to bail it out, which is another incentive not to fail in the first place.
Empowered people — As citizens are empowered to hold their politicians accountable, especially in democratic nations, they will also become more politically active and demand new and better services. Citizens will be more engaged in the development of their own nation through civic engagement and entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship – Small businesses will be able to flourish without competition from Western INGOs, as there would be more room for local business and civil society. These organizations are also more likely to be founded within local needs and cultural context, hence decreasing waste and ensuring long-term sustainability.
The Western world did not have as much help to develop into what it has become today. While technical and foreign assistance may be important at the national level, it is critical that local citizens and society are engaged and empowered to create their own future.
This image will not be perfect, Africa is not one country and there will undoubtedly be gaps in countries’ success. The needs of the most vulnerable countries may be overlooked, and some areas may need greater human and physical capacity. But without INGOs cluttering the landscape, Africans may finally begin to look to themselves for the answers instead of to the outside world.
Photo Credit: USAID_IMAGES