Sunday, 24 November 2013

Unmasking Non Governmental Organizations in Kenya

NGOs world over are arguably the best paying employers and provide dream jobs for majority of the graduates who are fond of the phrase ‘I want to work in an NGO’.  The move by the government to control their funding to 15% is beyond retrogressive and has elicited sharp reactions from the NGO community and other stakeholders. Meanwhile, the government has also come after the media in a bid to gag their freedom. The two are guilty of putting the government in check and if the bills are assented to law, it will greatly curtail two powerful entities that contribute significantly to good governance. 

Currently, it is difficult to tell the number of NGOs in Kenya given that not all of them duly register with the NGO Coordination Board but all the same they are many. However, most of them receive their funding from foreign donors. They have been recognized for their pivotal role in complimenting government efforts in realms of social and economic development. They actively take part in poverty reduction/eradication, health, water & sanitation, relief, agriculture and other humanitarian aid. Some have been able to positively transform the lives of people in the communities that they work, for instance sinking boreholes in water scarce areas giving huge relief for the locals.

Conversely, on the flipside, NGOs have come under criticism on how they conduct their projects and what they actually achieve despite the fact that there is the NGOs Coordination Board that plays sort of a supervisory role but doesn’t have complete control on how the NGOs spend their funds. As much as they receive millions in grants to fund life changing projects, some of them have little or nothing to show for it. They have been reduced to money making scheme where people draw hefty salaries and allowances.  Take the case of Turkana county which perhaps hosts the highest number of NGOs in the country supposedly working (or so we think) on various projects which ideally are meant to improve the quality of life or we are meant to believe so. Nonetheless, Turkana has continued to feature in the news headlines for some problems that the NGOs are supposedly working on and would therefore be able to mitigate.

Cases of briefcase NGOs which draft award winning grant proposals and upon receiving them, they disappear never to be seen again have become all too familiar while other genuine ones waste a lot of money in paying themselves exorbitant salaries and ludicrous allowances yet they are charity organizations whose core value is compassion and not wealth accumulation. As a result, they leave little money for the project and in the end it fails. In addition to that, some fall short to conduct proper project feasibility and sustainability studies which also lead to collapse of the projects. Graham Hancock in his book Lords of Poverty cites several instances of NGOs setting up projects that are not sustainable especially in poor communities.
Others have been accused of sheer arrogance as they come implement the project without involving the community members because they imagine that they are ignorant or illiterate. Take the case of an NGO that built a water point in Nandi County but the residents preferred to fetch water from the river  since they could chat as they go and the was left there untouched. That particular NGO in their own wisdom thought that it wasn’t necessary to consult the locals. 

Lastly, given that NGOs largely depend on donor grants, they tend to duplicate projects as they compete to win grants and also be seen as the most active. This has continued to be the case despite the fact that there is an established body that seeks to coordinate the projects and hence avoid duplication. The duplication of projects prompted the Governor of Homabay County, H.E Cyprian Awiti to give a directive that all the NGOs operating in the county to coordinate their projects through his office to avoid duplication. Granted, there is need for tighter controls but not controlling funding of the NGOs as Cabinet Secretary Ann Waiguru proposes so as to bolster transparency, coordination and accountability among the NGOs in Kenya.