Tag Archives | NGO

Egyptian Crack-down on NGOs a Diversion

Yesterday, Egyptian security forces raided about a dozen NGO offices.  It appears the affected NGOs worked on human rights or democracy promotion.  At least two prominent US-funded NGOs, ‘loosely affiliated’ with the Democratic and Republican parties, were targeted.

Everything about this NGO raid hits sour or contradictory notes:

There are three plausible explanations behind the raid:

1.  The military council is thumbing its nose at the US, a benefactor that contributes $1.5 billion/year to the military’s existence, sending a signal for the US to butt out of Egyptian politics or at least stop imposing itself as a referee between the military and competing political interests.

2.  The military once again took dramatic action with little thought, foresight or purpose in an attempt to frighten its domestic opposition.

3.   The NGO raid is purely a diversion, like the Israeli Embassy attack by soccer thugs or the ‘clash’ between Christians and Muslims this summer.  Nobody in a targeted NGO is going to be killed.  A few Egyptians, though no foreign nationals, might be arrested in connection with the raids.  That would compare with the thousands of activists jailed by the regime since last Spring.

It’s in the Generals’ interests to focus world opinion on a relatively soft ball conflict (that they can easily resolve) and away from the repressive tactics used by SCAF against pro-democracy groups as well as SCAF’s anti-democratic plans for writing a new constitution.

I’ll take the third.  These NGOs are no more a threat to today’s military council’s leadership than they were to Mubarak yesterday.  The only real threats to the military council is the potential of democratic forces to effectively use upcoming elections and claim legitimacy for a new government.  Forcing the State Department to respond to the NGO raids takes the spotlight off State’s ineffective demand that SCAF hold early elections and a quickly complete a full turnover of power to civilian authority.

BTW, the US government shouldn’t be funding ‘democracy institutes’ and other such groups in foreign countries. Period.  Beginning with the post WW2 Italian elections, the CIA poured huge amounts of clandestine funding to determine the outcome of elections in both the developed and developing world.  Such funding only gives credibility to the Assad’s and Qaddafi’s who accuse home-grown protest movements of being controlled by foreign forces.

Quite frankly, I’d also like to know what ‘democracy promotion’ programs the US government carries out, as well as why and how.

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New Model for Development Aid

The grave-yard of development theories that didn’t pan out and projects funded by international aid organizations that were mothballed as failures is legendary.  On example I’m familiar with is the 1980 promise by the UN to bring clean drinking water to the everybody on the planet within ten years.  It didn’t happen, not because they didn’t try but because UN projects built huge water systems that took more money and skills to maintain than what the local communities could muster. The UN had to start over and focus on smaller, less complicated community-level and even personal water treatment systems that more appropriately fitted the circumstances – and incidentally cost less.

The idea you can transfer Western models of public works and city planning directly into countries whose customs, way of life and economies are sharply different lost more credibility in the Iraq and Afghan wars.  Billions of dollars have been wasted in ill-conceived projects that had to be abandoned or even destroyed.

Development theories during the 20th century became focus points for ideological conflict as well.  How much should the government of developing countries be involved in building national economies?  What is the role of private investment?  Does ‘shock therapy‘ and economic liberalism work?  What happens when political and social realities clash with IMF or World Bank requirements for aid.

Enter Central Asian Development Group

“…the phrase cash for work doesn’t do justice to the scale of what CADG does. “That usually means cleaning up poop or doing small little things. Our program is not about that,” explained Corsten. “What we’re doing is huge. Some of the projects are digging canal systems that are bringing 10,000 hectares [25,000 acres of farmland] back. We’ve got some projects that take six months and have thousands of people working on them every day.” On the day Corsten spoke to me, CADG was employing 20,000 Afghans. The group has also been uniquely successful at employing women in nontraditional jobs like carpentry and masonry. To date, the organization has employed more than 4,000 women and more than 200,000 Afghans in total. – Maura O’Connor in Slate

The CADG bases its work on a practical model its founders developed from experience.

CADG is not a nonprofit, nor is it a charity, which makes its successes in Afghanistan—where development organizations are legion but success stories rare—even more notable. Since 2002, the private company with headquarters in Singapore has operated in Afghanistan as an engineering contractor serving clients like the U.S. and British armies, the World Bank, the United Nations, and military contractor KBR.CADG does not subcontract its projects, unusual in Afghanistan, where the system of development aid and its heavy reliance on subcontractors has been called a scandal. Some analysts estimate that 75 percent of U.S. development funding in Afghanistan is eaten up by inflated overhead costs and profits for layers of subcontractors. CADG’s development model is what they call direct implementation, which they say minimizes the opportunity for exploitation and waste. The group’s international and national staff design and manage each project down to every canal or retaining wall. They hire and pay the local laborers, monitoring each construction site (hence the daily attendance records and geo-tagged photographs Corsten receives and can view on Google Earth) until completion.

CADG hires veterans of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have lived through success and failure and exemplify the best of the ‘can-do’,  results-oriented military culture.  It gets results.  Because it doesn’t sub-contract, development dollars get more direct bang for the buck and more are delivered directly to local communities, creating local jobs to accomplish and maintain its projects.

To learn more about CADG, click here.

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