Wednesday 19 February 2014

NGOs - the new missionaries?

While many NGOs in Africa see their work as closely tied up with struggles against poverty and inequality and in favour of a more just, equitable world, critics of NGOs argue that they often end up undermining rather than furthering struggles for justice in Africa. This view has, for example, been expressed in a much-debated article by Firoze Manji and Carl O’Coill. Pambazuka published a summary of the article in which they describe it as follows:

“Development NGOs operating in Africa have inadvertently become part of the neo-liberal global agenda, serving to undermine the battle for social justice and human rights in much the same way as their missionary predecessors, argues a paper in the July issue of International Affairs. The paper says that the contribution of NGOs to relieving poverty is minimal, while they play a "significant role" in undermining the struggle of African people to emancipate themselves from economic, social and political oppression. In this compromised position, NGOs face a stark choice: They can move into the political domain and support social movements that seek to challenge a social system that benefits a few and impoverishes the majority; or they can continue unchanged and thus become complicit in a system that leaves the majority in misery.”

Firoze Manji (pictured left) will be participating in the 2014 Thinking Africa colloquium on ‘NGOs and Social Justice in Africa’ where he will be discussing the role of NGOs in furthering (or hampering) struggles for social justice in Africa.

The summary which appeared in Pambazuka is available here:
More information about the upcoming colloquium can be found here:,104671,en.html

Monday 17 February 2014

NGOs and Social Justice in Africa

2014 Thinking Africa Colloquium

Thinking Africa is a project of the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa. Thinking Africa integrates teaching and research on Africa in the Department with an aim to encourage both teaching-led research and research-led teaching. We hold annual colloquiums on a range of topics relevant to Africa. Previous colloquiums have discussed the legacy of Frantz Fanon, the idea of ubuntu and the work of V-Y Mudimbe. This year’s colloquium focuses on the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in achieving social justice in Africa.

The NGO sector in Africa has grown considerably over the last few decades. The term NGO covers such a broad range of organisations – from huge international organisations with large budgets and high profiles to small, locally based organisations with very particular mandates. It is therefore very difficult to make generalisations about their role in any particular country, and certainly in the continent as a whole. Nevertheless, there has been much debate about the increasing presence of NGOs in Africa with some seeing NGOs as essential players who help alleviate poverty and improve the lives of Africans while others accuse them of eroding the power of the state, creating dependency and facilitating imperialism.

Many NGOs in Africa claim to be doing work that will bring about greater social justice in that they claim to be working to eradicate poverty or bring about greater equality, democracy and accountability. Their goal appears to be to bring about a situation of greater justice, equality and freedom. However, critics counter that while these may be the stated goals (and even the honest intentions) of many NGOs, the actual effect of their presence in Africa is not conducive to the achievement of greater social justice.

This colloquium will bring together academics writing on the NGO sector, people actively involved in NGOs, and activists involved in social movements in order to have a robust conversation about the role of NGOs in Africa. The intention is to reflect carefully and collaboratively on what role NGOs do and should play in Africa and to go beyond sweeping statements about their role towards a more nuanced and detailed picture of their contribution to the achievement of a more just and equitable Africa.

The colloquium will be held from 27-28 September 2014 at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. The colloquium will consist of academic papers, panel discussions and open debates. Those interested in participating can email Sally Matthews (