NGOs are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa


I sparked a storm two years ago when I was asked to make a presentation on Journalism and Non-Governmental Organisations at the African Investigative Journalism Conference at Wits University two years ago.

This was not deliberate. It wasn’t even my opinion. I was merely quoting from the respected Columbia Journalism Review.

The quoted that raised all the hell said: “Aid organisations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa, but that’s not how reporters see them.”

This was from a story entitled: Hiding the real Africa- why NGOs prefer bad news. The story said that ten of the most read newspapers in the United States carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa but only five mentioning gross domestic product growth between May and September 2010.

The same story said the National Bureau of Economic Research had just reported that poverty rates in Africa were steadily falling much faster than previously thought.

Lancet had reported that the death rate of children under five was dropping.

McKinsey Quarterly had said Africa was among the world’s most rapidly growing economies.

So why the negative reporting? Because, “when you are fundraising, you have to prove there is a need. Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.”

The NGOs had roped in the media and the media swallowed the bait.

Dina Siegel went a step further. She said NGOs first create a problem and then they capitalise on the moral panic.

Civil society in Zimbabwe has created one problem already, violence. The problem started surfacing even before the government had finalised the draft constitution.

No one, then, knew the date for the referendum. And no one right now knows the date for the elections. But there are already reports of assassinations plots, arrests of civic leaders, deaths and even a ban on short-wave radio receivers to stop people from tuning in “to popular independent radio stations like Radio Voice of The People, Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa”.

Someone ought to define what independent means. If the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation is not independent, how does Studio 7 become independent when it is owned by the United States government and is a propaganda radio station which is barred by law from broadcasting to American citizens in the United States itself?

How true are all these reports? Is it a question of trying to show who is “badest” to get funding?

Author and Guardian columnist Blessing-Miles Tendi says in his book, Making history in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: “There is competition between activists in civil society over who gets more badly treated, beaten or imprisoned by the state. The greater the degree of one’s history of ill treatment at the hands of the state, the greater one’s legitimacy as an actor in civil society.”

He should have probably added, the more the funds will trickle in.

Is this is what is happening in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe right now?


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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