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close this bookThe Courier N 121 March-april 1990- Dossier Refugees - Country Reports: Botswana - Zambia (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
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close this folderBotswana: Careful pays dividends
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View the documentInterview with President Quett Masire: “Maintaining economic progress”
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View the documentInterview with Thorvald Stoltenberg, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: “Refugee work is not charity ... but part of our own future security”
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The curier’s mailbag

The gap between workers and thinkers

Technology does not often loom large in The Courier. Yet in societies as extensive and as complex as those of the South- and the North too- the consequences of the gap between the workers and the thinkers are vast.

We used to talk about the technology gap and indeed it is still there, particularly (but by no means only) in the matter of application.

The jobs of assistant surveyor (one year’s training) and topographical draughtsman (two years) and the professions of land surveyor (three years) and master surveyor (four years) form a branch of scientific and technical training which is never mentioned as a means of bridging the technology gap.

“Surveyor” covers a wide range of duties. It combines a variety of activities with achievement and responsibility and it is a profession calling for depth, care and meticulousness and an opportunity to wield initiative and put ideas into practice. And, above all, it provides great scope for creativity.

All public improvements of every kind have always been the result of the work of surveyors- who should have an essential part to play both in and for the developing nations, constantly improving the land, the region and the country, as a necessary link between theory and speculation and the work itself.

What do Courier readers think?

Henri Lefort, Brussels, Belgium

The role of the NGOs

NGOs have begun to be viewed as prominent and desirable agents of development in the rural areas of’ third World countries.

At present, they are said to be graduating from the areas of relief and welfare towards actual development and institution-building.

But what exactly are NGOs? It is intriguing that the concept is girdled with controversy and confusion. To many people, NGOs represent a confused and diffuse universe. They are seen as diverse entities with ambigous characteristics. It is good to note that the confusion and controversy over their definition is a result of their heterogeneity in terms of their origins and activities.

It is our contention that NGOs emerge as an answer to the various problems that hinder people from accomplishing their goals. NGOs, therefore, are a product of peoples’ perception of a need and their subsequent organisation of a structure to meet that need. In other words, NGOs are organisations set up by people (or by motivations of a single individual) on voluntary bases and committed to the achievement of goals for the benefit of their constituencies.

The debate on the importance of NGOs as agents of development has been focussed on their advantages over other agencies of development. Stressing that NGOs are closer to the grassroots and therefore better situated to appreciate the needs of the local people, some theorists and practitioners of development have called for the NGOs to be vitalised and be given the necessary support. Others have argued that NGOs recognise people as the protagonists of development and therefore involve people at all basic stages of the development projects, with a view to empowering them.

NGOs themselves have claimed that they use participatory “bottom-up “ processes of project implementation and help poor people to gain control of their lives. They work with and strengthen local institutions. Further, they claim to carry projects at low costs and that they are innovative, flexible and experimental.

We need to note that even though the interest placed on the importance of NGOs as agents of development has been increasing, there is very little knowledge about their activities. In Kenya, their role and actual contribution to development has not been properly documented, let alone thoroughly analysed. The actual number of NGOs operating in Kenya is not even known. There also has been no viable machinery to monitor their activities. In reality there has been a lack of reliable data on the extent, location and the exact activities of NGOs.

Surprisingly, scholarly literature on NGOs in Kenya and elsewhere is very thin. Systematic and scholarly study and evaluation of NGOs in Kenya is long overdue and merits even greater attention. Those researchers who have evaluated NGOs’ role in development hardly circulate their findings. Their results hardly’ find their way to members of the public, maybe because the:’ are critical of the NGOs’ operational styles, or perhaps, they are sponsored and supervised by NGOs themselves.

This lack of research data on their activities has hampered our understanding and knowledge about their operations. Basic issues such as the types of development activities the NGOs are involved in and whether they involve people in designing and implementing projects that reflect peoples’ priority, call for in-depth research.

There is dire need to question whether NGOs’ micro-development policies augur well with national micro-development policies. NGOs’ “small is beautiful” approach may be militating against the whole concept of national development. Their “articles of faith “ may be facilitating imbalanced rural development.

It is essential to investigate whether NGOs have the capacity to create sustainable projects, and whether they endeavour to create, improve and promote local capacity for self-reliant development. It may turn out that projects initiated with NGOs’ support are doomed to collapse once the NGO pulls out because the project beneficiaries are not “ trained “ on how to maintain the projects and because the NGO does not bother to create the necessary “support institutions”.

Kanyinga H. Karuti, Nairobi, Kenya