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An eye-opening look at corruption in Africa

How NGOs are as complicit as the Kleptocrats

By on Friday, 5 October 2012

Kenya Africa Religion vs Poachers

It is now getting on for five years since I lived in Kenya, but the memory of Africa is with me still. Kenya is a land that delights the eye, even when, like me, urban landscapes may be your preferred pleasure. There is nothing, I feel, as beautiful as the view over the Rift Valley which one suddenly comes upon as one drives out of Nairobi towards Lake Naivasha. Likewise, the astonishing mass of flamingos at lake Magadi, in the early morning sunlight. I could go on.

These memories were brought back to me by reading a recently published novel, Ten Weeks in Africa, by JM Shaw. There is a review of it here.  It is a very good book, and quite possibly an important one too.

Though the book is fiction, and set in a fictional country, it is all too clear to me that the place that Shaw has in mind is Kenya (though there are elements of Uganda as well). The plot focuses on one of Nairobi’s vast slums which a British NGO is planning to help by building schools and clinics and other infrastructure. However, the money the NGO has paid out has been stolen by the minister’s nephew. So far, so very predictable. But what is really jaw-dropping, and also has the sad ring of truth, is that the paymasters in London do not really mind that their money has been pinched by the lords of misrule. In one of the key scenes our hero goes to London to explain to the British government minister that the money has gone astray, and that all his efforts to help the poor are being frustrated by the “Batangan” government – but the British are not interested, just as the corrupt African minister predicted. The money will continue to flow whatever happens.

Now, why is this?

The book, if I read it rightly, portrays the aid industry as just that, an industry: if they confront the problem of theft, the money supply will be cut off at source, and they will be out of a job. Thus the NGO’s are every bit as guilty as the African kleptocracy, and the kleptocracy view them with contempt – because they know their money is being stolen, but cannot bring themselves to do anything about it. The relationship between donors and African governments is an abusive one, but like battered wives, the NGO’s do not want to face up to the truth about their abusive partners.

I have said it before now: the Department of International Development should be shut down. It does far more harm than good, keeping greedy despots in power. This sort of aid is not part of the solution, it is one of Africa’s continuing problems.

The book is delightfully Graham Greene-ish in tone, and there is some truly great comedy in the portrayal of the corrupt government minister, Pamela Abbasi. But it is comedy of the very darkest sort. Mr Shaw writes well about the horrors of Africa (and goodness, this would make a super film) and he is of course correct in identifying the underlying cause of all the problems of a country like Kenya – namely the competition between various tribal groups for power and resources, the chief resource being foreign aid, of course. Perhaps if that dried up, Kenya’s politics would be a little less murderous.

I lived in Kenya for four years. I do not know how long Mr Shaw spent there, but his research has been thorough, and his fictionalisation of fact is masterly. This book is a real eye-opener, a revelation of an evil that the British government happily tolerates.

  • Benedict Carter

    Kenya is a hell-hole.

    I was living in it until two weeks ago when an attack on my compound by up to ten pistol and machete-toting characters led to a forced entry of my house itself, four locked doors being smashed to matchwood on their way to me, and then an interrogation from these gentlemen about the location of “the money” (what money?) wherein I was put on my knees, a torch shone into my eyes and a machete laid against my head.

    I heard the next day that a neighbour nearby had shot and killed seven armed intruders into his house only two months ago. 

    I got out and will never be going back. 

    The government is utterly criminal and cares nothing for the people. Crime is growing rapidly as many fall outside the means of survival and turn to other means to get what they want or need. A new Constitution designed to move the country forward is being wittled away by an appallingly venal set of parliamentarians and inter-tribal violence on a large scale is growing. The Nairobi middle class is being squeezed and many are falling back into poverty.

    Bloody awful place, despite the glossy brochures.

  • Peter

    That is why aid ought to go directly to Pontifically supported and approved charities such as:

    1.  The Missionary orders
    2.  The Association for the Propagation of the Faith (APF)
    3.  Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)
    4.  The Society of St Peter the Apostle (SPA)
    5.  Twinning agreements between UK parishes and African parishes.

    The recipients of these charities are clergy and religious in the beneficiary countries and funds are dispensed locally.

  • Jeannine

    I would do a little homework regarding the missionary orders. Some are &/or were involved with Liberation Theology.———Some in the past participated in the revoltionary activities of South America.

  • Peter

    Even though this is an article about Africa, could you please elaborate on the revolutionary activities of the South Amercan missions?

  • Kevin

    Jeannine is suggesting we do a little homework, and I would agree.

    I recall being troubled by an appeal at Mass from a missionary priest that seemed devoid of any evangelical content. I have just done a brief search on the Web for relevant writings and have found the following text in an obituary entitled “A man of action” (and referring to “a leading exponent of liberation theology”) published on what purports to be the Australian Web site of the St. Columban’s Mission Society:

    He went to Latin America to be part of a church with a future, not to save it from
    Communism and/or Protestantism.

    I would not read a statement like that as supportive of the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    I have personally preferred The Little Way Association and ACN for international aid. This is a critically important discussion.

  • Peter Smith

    Corruption is found not only in Kenya. What about the island of Malta? We have the most corrupt Government in the Maltese History. While the maltese people were given a few cents per month as an increase in their payroll, the Prime MInister and his fellow ministers gave themselves 500euros per week and this behind the people’s back. Many Maltese are comparing the current Prime Minister to dictators like Ceucescau or Pinochet.

  • Andrew Cardona

    I agree 100% Mr Smith. It’s becoming a hell in Malta. 

  • Guest

    As part of their responsibilities, DFID Ministers tackle corruption and misuse of funding,on behalf of the British Government; taxpayers and donors. NGOs( Cafod,Oxfam,Sciaf et al) co-operate to ensure the best possible response in urgent situations ( DEC: Disaster Emergency Committee appeals etc.) We need to be confident in giving support and campaigning, for the UN World Food Programme, Aid to the Church In Need:- the full spectrum of development charities. 

  • Confused of Chi

     Mary’s Meals for me!!

  • EndTimes101

     Glad you made it out alive Benedict. Where do you find yourself now?

  • Benedict Carter

    In UK now, but returning to Russia very shortly to work & live again. Before Africa, I was in Russia and a couple of Central Asian ex-Soviet States for twelve years. 

  • EndTimes101

     Really, that’s really interesting. Central Asia?! A friend of mind is really encouraging me to travel there with him. I would love to hear more about it… i don’t suppose your in London?

  • Benedict Carter

    Some way off I’m afraid. I worked in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. never got to Uzbekistan which is more interesting than either (it has Samarkand and Khiva). Kyrgyzstan – have been there several times too, nothing there. 

  • Isaac

    Sad to hear that. I pray our Lord will heal and strengthen you, and grant unto the intruders the grace of repentance and conversion.