NGOs are Commies, Women are Terrorists (1/7/2003)

[ If you want to sign on to the Open Letter to Bush... The Greens have changed the URL!
On Tue, 1 Jul 2003 [email protected] wrote:
the letter can be signed by clicking on the link:
It's now:
http://greens-efa.org/pdf/events/LabelGMFood/index_ENfinal.php/ ]

For more on Bush's anti-NGO initiative and the involvement of Monsanto's former head of Public Affairs, see 'Bush to NGOs: Watch Your Mouths'
NGOs are Commies, Women are Terrorists
The Daily Nation (Kenya), June 30 2003
It's official. Bush doesn't like civil society. Very shortly, this writer may have to go into hiding - though I'm not sure I'd fancy sharing the same metaphysical space with male chauvinist pigs like Osama and Saddam...

Last week, I received the report of a conference convened earlier this month by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think-tank. The conference was entitled "Non-Governmental Organisations: The growing power of an unelected few."

A range of like-minded academics and research institutes attended the conference-from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies to the Institute of Public Affairs of Australia to professors of political science from the American University, Cornell University and George Washington University.

Their message was simple: That NGOs are pursuing an "anti-corporate, liberal, internationalist" vision. And that this vision is "not congenial to the ideas of [the Bush] administration."

They claimed that the long-term work of NGOs on international policy is "anti-free enterprise" and "callous."

They gave two examples. First, NGOs' opposition to the use of DDT (a pesticide still banned in many countries) in the fight against malaria. And second, NGOs' resistance to the now vigorous attempt of the United States to ensure the use of genetically-modified food in relief efforts.

Reading between the lines, NGOs are now responsible for people dying! I laughed out loud at the idea of NGOs being revolutionary. Proper "leftists" will tell you NGOs actually prevent "revolutionary change" with their piecemeal, temporary solutions.

At this point in time, I have no problem with being "uncongenial" to the Bush administration. Not just because of its belligerent behaviour in Iraq and elsewhere. But also because, at the international level, no matter what issue we are talking about - from reproductive and sexual rights to international trade and investment - the US unfailingly takes the most backward and reactionary positions.

This year's session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, for example, ended with no agreed conclusions on how states should address violence against women. Why? Because the US ended up supporting the last-minute prevarication of Iran - a state that it has now just put on the alert as part of its so-called war against terrorism. Talk about strange bedfellows.

Back to the report. As an African, I would not support the use of a banned chemical in the struggle against any disease. I applauded Zambia's flat-out refusal to accept GM foods as part of the relief efforts against famine. Just because we are beggars doesn't mean that we cannot be choosers.

In any case, the problem with relief efforts is more one of distribution than supply. When Zambia was starving, we had a surplus of maize. What needed to be untangled was the political web behind the economics of sourcing relief supplies.

But even though I found the NGO-bashing report so hilarious, some people in this country share the sentiments that inspired the conference. We have already seen our trade union umbrella demonising Kenyan human-rights and legal-aid NGOs working on labour rights in the export processing zones and the horticulture industry.

Many politicians share these sentiments. They have repeatedly asked what business "this animal called civil society" has trying to usurp the role of "democratically elected representatives."

The implication is that it is perfectly all right for NGOs to dig wells or run micro-credit schemes. But woe to any who question why wells need to be dug in the first place. Or why there is no access to regular credit. No, no, no. That simply won't do. Deliver services. Full stop.

Unfortunately, NGOs no longer exist solely to plug the leaks in a boat of development policies gone wrong. They exist to constructively critique those policies. That's what the Americans - and the NGO critics here - will have to learn to live with.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki isexecutive director of the African Women's Development and Communication Network (Femnet)

2003, Nation Media Group Ltd. All rights reserved.

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