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AfricaMoney | June 28, 2017

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The Expert Explains: Why is there sudden need to regulate NGOs in Africa?

The Expert Explains: Why is there sudden need to regulate NGOs in Africa?

Over the past two years, a new development has come to the surface in a number of capitals across continental Africa and it is one which has generated a great deal of interest both in Africa and elsewhere. The issue is the trend – one which appears to be developing growing momentum – to regulate the behaviour and activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that operate across vast swathes of the African continent. So, why is there suddenly a need to regulate the activities of NGOs in Africa?

For those who wish to dig deeper, here’s the explanation, straight from the desk of our expert guest contributor, Simon Nayyar, a reputed professional consultant in the financial services sector:

Over the past two years, a new development has come to the surface in a number of capitals across continental Africa and it is one which has generated a great deal of interest both in Africa and elsewhere. The issue is the trend – one which appears to be developing growing momentum – to regulate the behaviour and activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that operate across vast swathes of the African continent.

The key questions are: Why is there suddenly need to regulate the activities of NGOs? and, Is there an underlying foundation, in fact, that justifies the noise the NGOs have been creating which has generated public policymakers’ interest and concern in the first place?

Africa is a continent rich in resources and one currently experiencing unprecedented levels of economic growth and opportunity. On the other hand, it continues to experience worryingly high levels of poverty, starvation and infant mortality. That dilemma and structural dynamic is, of course, a natural and legitimate issue for all of us who are determined to see the peoples of Africa enjoy the benefits of growing prosperity in their everyday lives. But it also talks to the equally sensitive issue of how NGOs communicate to their funders (in the region and elsewhere) the structural problems which they perceive in a responsible and proportionate way.

Unfortunately, there are sometimes perverse incentives at work. As Mauritius has experienced to its own cost in recent years, NGOs will not hesitate to attack well-run jurisdictions, like Mauritius, if they think that it is in their interest to do so. In the case of Mauritius, a number of internationally well known NGOs, who many feel ought to know better, have claimed that the business-friendly environment that the pro-enterprise policies of successive governments have nurtured on the Island, has deterred or threatened to reduce the investment going into mainland African nations by allocating it, instead, to Mauritius.

Not only does this fatally miss the point, generally – and specifically, in the case of Mauritius – about the benefits that flow from creating a jurisdiction of value and substance which international investors want to invest in. But, it also fails to understand that a well run jurisdiction like Mauritius will invariably act as a magnet for investment which can be translated into meaningful investment in railways, schools and hospitals right across the African continent that, in turn, transform the lives of millions.

Finally, it conveniently overlooks the task, right across Sub-Saharan Africa, facing many governments across the region that might benefit from taking a long hard look at their existing governance structures, and the effectiveness of their tax collection techniques, in order to fuel the delivery of essential public servicesto their voters.

Why does this matter to NGOs, I hear you wondering? Well, the reality is that there are some NGOs out there – not all of them, equally, of course – that find it much easier to knock successful economies for being successful than to do the intellectually more honest but, of course, also more challenging thing, of holding to account governments with poor governance structures and worse delivery of public services to their peoples.

But, then, that would also mean NGOs having to shame under-performing governments into proactively improving the opportunities and livelihoods of their peoples.

Like turkeys, NGOs won’t be rushing to vote for Christmas. Too many may be fearful of the consequences of seeing an early alleviation of the continent’s problems which they’ve spent years developing powerful campaigning and fundraising techniques to talk up in order to justify their own crusading work.

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