Monday, 3 March 2014

Regulating the (I)NGO Sector - Zambia

Zambia has committed to reviewing the new NGO laws they've just passed in response to NGO complaints. The review is unlikely to change the fact that the Zambian government, like many other developing world governments, particularly in East and Southern Africa, is increasingly determined to regulate and to some extent control the NGO sector.

This affects two groups directly. Local NGOs being controlled by government creates questions around the ability of civil society to play a critical and watch-dog role. But what about INGOs? There has been plenty of discussion about the changing role and projectory of INGOs based on many factors. To what extent, I wonder, have INGOs begun to pay attention to the shrinking space specifically for their work in these countries? Whatever the rhetoric, it's generally fairly widely accepted in these countries that part of the purpose of these laws is to shut out or at least control the activities of INGOs. In fact, there is muttering from local NGOs in some of these countries that the new laws imposed on them are the fault of the INGOs.

Humanitarian organisations - at least those who work in the worst of world situations - are fairly used to the frustration of having to negotiate for access from controlling, unwilling governments. Development INGOs who work in relatively stable, mostly fairly democratic countries have had to deal with far less of this. This coupled with the fact that it is quite a lot more difficult to argue that a relatively stable, democratic, developing country desperately needs expat skills than to argue the same in a conflict or natural disaster situation. What are the implications of forcing INGOs to negotiate access with developing world governments? How will this change their relationship with anti-government/opposition movements in these countries and their appetite for supporting or acting parallel to governments' development plans?

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