NGO employee

NGOs, also known as non-governmental organizations (although the “non” part in NGO does not necessarily imply that state coffers are off-limits) attract a wide variety of individuals, some good, some bad, some nutcases and a lot in between with varying degrees of acceptable incompetence, especially in foreign countries. The same, incidentally applies to the UN, the difference being that this organization relies heavily on generous helpings from state coffers; its methods to recruit massively overpaid individuals with varying degrees of unacceptable incompetence should be the subject of a worldwide inquiry. It will also be the subject of another blog entry. Promise.

But back to our NGO employee. He was from an East African Nation but working in a West African One. A thoroughly pleasant individual to be around. Me and my colleague took a ride with him on an NGO truck back to the capital. I accept that this is against my principles; in mitigation I offer that (1) the nature of this trip was not journalistic and (2) the number of alternatives available was negligible.

During the long ride, the conversation turned a tad bizarre. For one, he has been living in this country for four years but every time we started to discuss the nation’s rather interesting politics and the name of a prominent mover and shaker came up, he would ask:

‘Who’s that?’

We were talking ministers here, prominent members of parliament, high up in the political hierarchy.

The talk then turned to a big bad awful monstrous entity that spreads disease, pestilence, death, destruction and bad entertainment around the world wherever it puts its jackboot. You guessed right: our NGO employee was a virulent critic of The West. Absolutely everything it did was evil. I neglected to ask him if this included paying his salary.

A memorable quote from the UK wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill mentions America as the country that can always be expected to do the right thing…after having exhausted all other options. Generally speaking, The West is shorthand for America, which is shorthand for the United States. (Nominally Francophone countries in Africa do not mention The West as the source of their predicaments but point the finger squarely at France.) Our NGO friend was, correctly, highly critical of US actions in Iraq where it fought an illegal war; Afghanistan, where it lost a war; Libya, where it helped trigger various wars… There is a long list of countries that have yet to recover from having experienced US involvement. The explanation, to me at least, lies in another dictum, this time Napoleonic: never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence.

You see, I strongly believe that most of The West, including my own country The Netherlands, is run by buffoons, clowns, jokers and idiots. I’m being charitable here, just like the American but Mexico-based writer Fred Reed, who takes an equally dim view of the people in Washington who run America’s wars around the world.

Not our NGO friend. He saw conspiracies. The West was doing this. The West was doing that. I remarked:

‘Most people in The West would not even be able to find the country where we are right now, on a map. So what is this “West”?’

‘It’s the entity that commits crimes around the world.’

‘Yes, I know that and agree. I marched against the Iraq war. Fat lot of good that did…’

‘It is a destructive force.’

‘Well, yes, and how many people actually know this?’

That hardly appeared to matter but by now it was becoming clear what the hub of The West was. America. So I said:

‘Well, you’ve been there. Half the people don’t even have a passport and have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the state next door. Let alone a foreign country.’

Further precision-targeting revealed that he meant the makers of an alleged “policy” inside the Washington Beltway. Which amounts to stumbling around in utter darkness until someone finds a light switch. And promptly turns it off again because the mess is too appalling to behold. Where the West bears collective guilt (which is what our NGO friend was implying) is in the fact that it keeps electing buffoons, clowns, jokers and idiots, who then appoint their like in the bureaucracies that manhandle the state machinery. I don’t know how to change that and neither do you.

Fear and self-loathing has been an ingrained feature of The West since the 1960s. It has grown in prominence. It’s easy because it does not require analysis. Naturally, it has seeped into the world of NGOs and equally naturally this mindset attracts the likes of our amiable East African friend. But what really shocked me was that he could spend four years living in a country on his own continent without bothering to get to know it any better.

An NGO Bubble. As a matter of fact, “shocking” is not the right word, “terrifying” is.

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2 Responses to “NGO employee”

  1. Jeroen Corduwener Says:

    Dear Bram

    Thanks for sharing this, however you simply shouldn’t have accept the lift; you mention it was not for journalistisc purposes, but the blog proofs the opposite. Secondly, public transport is pretty well organized and quiet comfortable in Cote d’Ivoire as I know from my experience. And… a INGO employee is not supposed to know the internal politics of the country he works…

    Best and good luck

    Jeroen Corduwener

  2. bramposthumus Says:

    Hm. My reply went missing. Again:
    Thanks for that Jeroen. I said “mitigation” and that’s what it is intended to do. I don’t consider this blog journalism, more like a notebook with personal observations. I can understand the INGO employee not needing to have an opinion on a country where he works, but seriously: not knowing anything at all? If that’s policy, it needs questioning. As for location: no, it was not in Côte d’Ivoire and I don’t know if you have ever been to the West of this country but travel is far from organised and even further from comfortable…

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