Foreign NGOs: Achievers or Deceivers {1-3}

By Deng Mangok Ayuel

October 22, 2013 (SSNA) — Mr. Graham Hancock, in his book, Lords of Poverty criticized nearly all the UN agencies and NGOs working in Africa, Asia and accused them of corruption. However, Lord of poverty is a case study in betrayals of public trust. That’s not what I am going to do in this piece. I am here to explore the impact of aid and the acceptance of aid agencies’ projects by local communities. I am also urging NGOs to study and analyse the impact of their assistance.

It’s hard to generalize about the performance and integrity of many NGOs operating across South Sudan. What might be true of one NGO can’t inevitably be true of another. Western aid agencies might have constituted distinct benefits to western business. These foreign agencies have had provided better employment to their sons and daughters, “expatriates.” They are also promoting their western companies’ market by importing projects materials and produces, even easy to grow produces like okra and tomato seeds that can be found in Malualkon village are sometimes imported to the villages instead of buying these seeds from local people. These agencies are really helping our people but there is a degree of ambiguity.

Aid workers for these unique organizations have been risking their lives to operate in unstable areas during conflicts to provide absolute services to poverty stricken people. Their success isn’t paucity; they are more accountable than government agencies. This is why they’re the best mouthpieces that our people feel good about them in term of relief and development in South Sudan.

I hate some of the international aid workers’ criticalities and mindsets of glorifying themselves as the most knowledgeable and experienced people. Where on earth can a person claim of knowing everything? All of us have limited knowledge because nobody’s education is finished. These smarter western aid agencies workers are known for a quick response but remained doing little thing for long time. They are like Aweil’s train. When journeying from Aweil, South Sudan to Khartoum, you will learn and experience that Sudanese train is the slower means of transport in the world. The train management usually spends time praising Allah and you can’t question them for wasting time.

On the other hand, NGOs don’t like to be accounted locally. They wanted to be answerable to donors than beneficiaries and partners. When aid workers become defenders of their work and the image of organisations, aid itself is reduced to fraud or corruption. Have you ever heard any Country Director from any NGO addressing journalists of have done less than expected in particular year? The game of public money and aid in Africa has interesting and tearful stories, believe me!

If donors’ money isn’t properly managed, what will the donors enunciate? Public money is like holy water; everyone help himself with it, according to Italians. In my own opinion auditors should consult the government or form a team where Relief and Rehabilitation Commission{RRC} should be included in the team of auditors because the commission members know the amount of work NGOs have had been doing for decades in South Sudan. There are local NGOs in South Sudan that should also be tried by giving them some funds to establish projects in comparison to international NGOs.

These agencies have become part of life in South Sudan. They are our employers; also seem to be like civilian branches of their home governments, which give them money. Foreign NGOs enjoy the support of their governments, their embassies, and companies from their own countries. This wealth and support gives them a lot of influence, and put them above the community groups and local NGOs in foreign soil where they work, especially in South Sudan.

Huge number of skilled and qualified South Sudanese has lived in the west, where they do unskilled jobs with better wages. At the same time, western NGOs send skilled, sometimes “white” professionals to work in South Sudan, where they receive unexpected salaries and living conditions that are sky-scraping by South Sudanese standards.

Wouldn’t it be better if NGOs employ skilled South Sudanese and pay them the same high salaries, instead of sending foreign employees? By doing this, they would bring back a larger group of well-educated people. In South Sudan, we have well-educated people like Dr. Adwok Nyaba, Professor Taban, Atem Yak who can be consultants or “experts.”Where are their consultancy offices in Juba? And if they have, do you think they will be marketable?

If there were no NGOs and foreign aid workers, what do you think would have happened to millions of people who were starving at IDPs camps in Sudan? They would have died in silence without a witness. At least NGOs are serving witnesses to crimes we are doing in Africa if I am not wrong. Aid workers are like Jesus’ disciples who preached the Bible to people all over the world. These aid agencies workers have been the information disseminators from Africa to the West. They usually report disasters, either natural or man-made, cases of corruption and lack of accountabilities in a specific country or region. I have worked for NGOs, and interestingly, many NGOs I know did a great job and few of them did a very little one. NGOs should at least meet their expectation because they have funds, and if they are not meeting targets, they should be held responsible by donors and affiliated bodies.

Who is perfect in this world? In south Sudan, there are briefcase companies. Some of these companies don’t have offices, legal documents but managed to fish huge amount of money from government in 2008. I used to call these company as “Dura Saga cross barriers” because many of these companies claimed to have had transported sorghum in tons to some states in South Sudan and took the money from government. These companies are now in trouble. However, some of these companies CEO will be the victims of fraud if law takes its cost.

This isn’t how NGOs have been doing their work and decision-making on “aid business” like our local companies. I can’t also trust every organisation and aid workers in term of fund management and service delivery. Besides, aid workers, their management and projects are like the Bible. In Bible you can’t correct anything. It is not easy. If you tell the congregation that God created the earth and heaven in 10 days, the Sunday or the church will erupt into debating club with invincible discussion.

Why do people collect data and fail to give feedback? Last year, when the flood invaded us in Aweil town, I laughed at shameless individuals who have been registering the flood victims since 2010 and failed to give feedback or deliver assistance as promised. I also blamed the town surveyors who didn’t know the seasonal conditions of the land they surveyed and allotted to dwellers as plots. Our town surveyors didn’t put in minds that sending town to people is not allotting pool, pond and water pathways to people as residential without exceptional mapping.

Flooding affects people in multitude of ways. People kept suffering from anxiety on multiple faces, not just as flooding arises, but also in the anticipatory and recuperation phases. Flooding can damage properties, destroy homes, create financial burden and cause emotional destitution. The upsetting impact of flooding can be felt on many stages. Some of the negative effects are immediate, while others have more prolonged effects. The degree of devastation depends not only on the meteorological stipulation of the flood and rains but also on the demographic and socio-economic vulnerability of those involved.

As a matter of fact, victims of flooding versus victims of corruption when coming to issues related to land and its allocation to dwellers. A man told me he has 5 plots of surveyed land in the town and still aspiring to get more plots in the town. I didn’t ask him how he got these pieces of land but he wasn’t boasting. People used to buy cars and have no houses to sleep and secure parking areas for his vehicles. 

The same man told me he sent his kids to school in Uganda. He really has money. He earns less than what I earn from an NGO, but where did he get this huge amount of money?

There is bribery, fraud and corruption everywhere! They keep saying – do as Roman when in Rome. Last week, I had a lunch in Aweil with a friend of mine from UK. In Africa people tell stories when they are happy. This friend of mine has been in South Sudan for 3 months and, was concerned about development progress, expensive ministers and their children abroad. When he asked me where our people get huge money, I failed to satisfy him because I can’t accuse others of corruption without substantiation. I told him they are working and get paid every month besides doing other businesses. He thought I will tell him that our people do pocket public money and own resources. Is he also clean as an aid worker?

Life is expensive than before. There is high price of food commodities and services in the local market for 2 years now. Business people kept pricing and selling their goods over our financial capacities in the names of high taxes and austerity measures. What do you think should be done?

Our custom officers or tax collectors shouldn’t behave like the ones of Roman Empire during the time of Jesus Christ. Custom offices shouldn’t be use for freewheeling lifestyle, riches. It is now our collective responsibility to take care of ourselves and manage our resources. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Deng Mangok Ayuel lives in Aweil, South Sudan. He can be reached via [email protected]

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