NGO Politics – A Scenario in Bangladesh

In the notion of developing economy, Bangladesh has become a model for the largest non-governmental organisations (like BRAC, Grameen Bank etc). This model is now well projected in elite Indian academic institutes as an alternate to address poverty and deprivation without handling the structural cause. The agenda is clearly to promote neo-liberal capitalist development where the government could easily refrain from its responsibilities of majority population unprotected from hunger, job insecurity, health crisis and destitution. This is actually the part of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) project (since World War II) to design the postcolonial economies aligned with the global capitalist system.

In 2016, Bangladesh has 2457 NGOs registered under the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016 of which the USA-based are the highest number followed by UK, Japan and other European countries. Petras who has studied efficiently on NGOs in Latin America observed that growth of NGOs has not lowered structural unemployment or massive displacement of peasants; neither have they addressed the huge army of informal labours. In fact, the NGO model of development turned out to be an alternative to avoid structural solutions to poverty and basic crisis. During the growing period of neo-liberal reforms (early 90s), NGOs were made an integral part of the policymaking process in the banner of “Participatory development” where it was campaigned that the representation from grass-root level can easily participate in the “decision-making and implementation process. In reality the NGOs with pre-defined objectives and goals and vocal about “people’s democratic participation” have acute undemocratic processes in their internal structures. Claiming themselves charitable organizations, they reject any trade union rights and employ contractual workers without paying minimum wage and in the process helped the entire agenda of privatization. Even if one or two would have honest intention of grass-root level implementations, the bureaucratic network of the Bangladesh government machinery creates a huge barrier. Added to it, the problematic power structure practiced by the NGOs has a definite objective to weaken the local power structures that hinder peoples’ initiatives and power. In this context, it won’t be bad to quote Arundhati Roy – “In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among… It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance …Real political resistance offers no such short cuts. The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9–to–5 job.” In last four decades, the big NGOs in Bangladesh became an integral part of the ruling elites in the national level and at the local levels, the organization remain dominated by the vision and authority of one person or powerful family in rural areas. Further, donors and international moneylenders prefer to keep the NGOs as active delivery agencies in almost all government programmes and course of time, they are involved in policy formulation processes.

From an economic perspective, the case of Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) which started its own microcredit programme with group formation (of rural poor) in early 1974 can be considered. Initially it concentrated on community development through village development programmes that included agriculture, fisheries, cooperatives, rural crafts, adult literacy etc. Within five years, in 1979, BRAC entered the health field by establishing a nationwide Oral Therapy Extension Programme (OTEP), a campaign to combat diarrhoea, the leading cause of the high child mortality rate in Bangladesh. In 1998, BRAC’s Dairy and Food Project was commissioned and it launched an Information Technology Institute the following year. In 2001, BRAC established a commercially run private university called BRAC University. According to Guardian (2008), BRAC coordinates $300 million budget and a staff of 108,000 from a 19-story building in the heart of downtown Dhaka. BRAC has been working with the US oil giant Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) and seed company Monsanto. It has moved into hybrid seed production and other retail sector.

The dominant capitalist development strategy in post World War II situation singled out capital scarcity as the major determinant of underdevelopment of the postcolonial countries. The theory had been well implemented through this NGO model used to rationalise export of capital and flow of foreign “aid” from developed capitalist countries. Muhammed Yunus and his Grameen Bank which was neither the first nor the largest microfinance lender in his native Bangladesh can be topic of discussion in future.

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