Home » General » The Strange Altruists in Our Midst

Sam Vaknin, in a paper titled “The Self-Appointed Altruists”, makes an interesting observation about a group that likes to call itself civil society. “Always self-appointed, they answer to no constituency. Though unelected and ignorant of local realities, they confront the democratically chosen and those who voted them into office. A few of them are enmeshed in crime and corruption.

“They are the non-governmental organisations, or NGOs. Some NGOs — like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Amnesty — genuinely contribute to enhancing welfare, to the mitigation of hunger, the furtherance of human and civil rights, or the curbing of disease.

“Others — usually in the guise of think tanks and lobby groups — are sometimes ideologically biased, or religiously-committed and, often, at the service of special interests.”

This paper, written back in 2002, springs to mind when one thinks of the revelation that there are less than five local NGOs active at Chingwizi holding camp, where thousands of families have been relocated to following flooding at Tokwe-Mukosi.

We all know that Zimbabwe has a veritable body of NGOs. Scores and scores of organisations that grew — mushroom-like — at the turn of the millennium when Washington, Brussels and London smelt blood in Harare.

Millions of dollars have been poured into these NGOs, and in the case of the United States a law was even promulgated to support their activities in Zimbabwe. Without a fail, the majority of these told the world that their main concern was the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe. Only God knows how many trees were killed to produce enough paper to churn out the voluminous reports that all, parrot-like, talked about how the good people of Zimbabwe were suffering, how they needed help, and how the best thing that could happen to them was to ensure President Mugabe leaves office as soon as yesterday.

Today, all these wonderful Zimbabwe-loving organisations are eerily silent as 3 000 families face an uncertain future. The Red Cross, Christian Care, Bhaso and the Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Association have been active and are doing their level best for flood victims.

The other 85 or so organisations who fall under the National Association of NGOs (Nango) are busy trying to make the lives of the people in Chingwizi better by shouting “Mugabe must go”.

Comrade Cephas Zunhumwe of Nango will handily tell us that different NGOs have different mandates. He also usefully informed us that Nango had carried out the very difficult task of appealing for assistance from the United Nations. Writing that memo or email or whatever must have been extremely taxing! But all fair and fine: different roles for different NGOs.

The question that arises is what mandates these NGOs have that are outside of improving people’s lives?

What exactly are the “human rights” that many of these NGOs say they are fighting mightily to aance?

These self-appointed altruists are more concerned with an elitist — nay, a detached — conception of human rights that does not extend to existential issues such as food, medicine, clothing, shelter and education, but confines itself to lofty abstracts and other high-sounding nothings that taste sweet on the tongues of the “educated”.

The inescapable impression created is that these NGOs are directed and manned by a cadre of “experts” no different from the “native elite” that Jean-Paul Sartre spoke of in his powerful preface to Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”.

Sartre said, “The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture they stuffed their mouths full of high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth.

“After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, white-washed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers they only echoed.”

Many of the people in the local NGO industry for indeed it is a commercial sector have their world-view shaped and directed by their financiers.

They cannot conceive of “human rights” in terms of humanitarian relief and only in terms of “Mugabe must go”.

Consider this: just last week, a grouping of 48 NGOs made a “declaration” discrediting the Electoral Amendment Bill that is could soon be signed into law.

Before the NGOs vented their anger and frustration, MDC-T senators had walked out of the Upper House to protest the Bill’s passage.

Somehow, the crisis in Chingwizi is not deserving of so much energy and attention on the part of NGOs and MDC-T. (In fact, to date all we have had from MDC-T is a poorly done PR gig in which Morgan Tsvangirai claimed he had been barred from visiting Chingwizi. Subsequent attempts to get him to make whatever donation he has put together for the unfortunate souls there have been met with a deafening silence.)

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that all the democratic hell-raisers who have sprouted in Zimbabwe over the past decades do not see any value in Chingwizi because there is no major election due any time soon.

Had there been a poll around the corner, Chingwizi would have been milked dry. Convoys of trucks laden with food, medicines, blankets, tents and — quite naturally — anti-Mugabe literature would have found their way to the families in Chingwizi by now.

But what does any of this matter, anyway? After all, the NGOs can do as they please and, unelected and self-appointed as they are, they are not beholden to anyone except their paymasters.

They answer to no one, and will fume when the public and the media question their motives and objectives.

They have their own interests, they set themselves up voluntarily, and mere mortals like us can never understand their “human rights”, “development” and “poverty alleviation” mandates.

Well, it is — perhaps — just good to know what kind of creatures walk in our midst.

Source : The Herald