NGOs: Agents of capitalist imperialism

Some few years ago I had a conversation with a colleague who bluntly told me how he passionately hate Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

His vehemence was surprising. NGOs are far from revolutionary organisations, but their work still seemed more helpful than not. Political differences with them aside, it seemed dogmatic to denounce free health care and anti-poverty programmes. Short of more radical measures, NGOs seemed to serve an important interim function.  NGOs have proliferated across the globe. First deployed in dominated countries, they have now become a staple of the political landscape in the imperial core as well. Today, the reasons for my colleague’s hatred of NGOs is clear. NGOs are destructive, both in their current work and in their preclusion of an alternative future beyond the capitalist present. Here are some reasons why NGOs are a tool of imperialism. Military invasions, or the threat of invasion, still play an indispensable role in aiding imperialist countries in their quest to extract and exploit resources and labour in the global periphery.

But the “boots on the ground” tactic has more and more become a measure of last resort in a broader, more comprehensive strategy of control that today also includes less costly and socially disruptive methods. NGOs, like missionaries, are used to penetrate an area to prepare favourable conditions for agribusiness for export, sweatshops, resource mines, and tourist playgrounds. While these days military action is usually characterised as humanitarian intervention, the ostensibly humanitarian character of NGOs seems to justify itself. But it is essential to apply the same critical eye to NGO interventions that we do to military interventions.

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