The activities of foreign aid agencies, charities, and non-governmental organisations operating in Africa have come under renewed scrutiny.
Many commentators on African socio-political affairs have slammed the continent’s nearly exclusive dependence on foreign aid. A few are even of the opinion that the activities of many international aid agencies operating within Africa could in fact produce a net negative effect.
For example, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State in Nigeria’s troubled northeastern region is one of the growing number of critics unimpressed by the activities of many international aid agencies.
In January, Governor Shettima declared that only eight of 126 registered agencies in Borno state were there to genuinely help and that those agencies were only there to profit “from the agony of our people.” He ended his address to the press by saying that they should leave.
Shettima also criticized the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which also operates in the region, due to the significant amount of funds it spends on the purchase of what he called “white flashy bullet-proof jeeps.” Shettima questioned the need for such vehicles since he, himself, does not use them.
Expatriate staff of the UN and a number of other international aid agencies are known for moving around in convoys of bulletproof cars, with each one costing about $50,000.
Shettima said spending such amounts on cars, alone, needlessly increased the cost of operations for most agencies without necessarily improving the lives of the masses.
“The huge chunk of what they are budgeting for Borno goes to service their overheads. I, as a governor, don’t ride in bullet proof cars, but they spend more than $50,000 buying bullet proof cars for themselves,” Shettima said.
“They will construct five toilets in Gwoza and fly in helicopters more than seven times [the amount] to inspect the toilets. We are in the post-conflict phase of insurgency era, where we are concentrating on recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. But the foreign NGOs have near fixation on the IDP camps.”
After years of unrest, occasioned by the Boko Haram crises, Maiduguri, Borno state’s headquarters, can boast of relative tranquility as the Nigerian army’s renewed offensive has pushed the insurgents further in to their stronghold in the Sambisa Forest. Consequently, residents who fled the town in the wake of the crisis are returning in their thousands.
There has also been an influx of several local and international aid agencies in to Maiduguri to attend to the thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons.
New reports, however, say that the influx of international aid agencies funded in hard currencies has served to disrupt the local economy, especially the real estate market.
Residents of the city say the cost of renting basic housing or office accommodation has become unbelievably expensive as the NGOs gobble up the best of what is available.
In fact, the cost of a year’s rent in some parts of the city has risen as high as 18 million naira ($58,000), which is about 1,000 times as much as the minimum wage.
Istifanus Zira, a local painter who has been refurbishing properties, told local newspaper the Daily Trust, “You cannot rent a good property now along Damboa road, the type an NGO would like, unless you have their kind of money.”
However, in many cases, the “NGO kind of money” Istifanus is talking about is not exactly available to local and expatriate workers, alike.
In May 2016, Kenya’s NGO Coordination Board, a government body that regulates the sector, released a circular that showed that foreign NGO workers earned about four times as much as their Kenyan peers.
The circular said many of the agencies fail to transfer jobs to local workers, with many of the foreign workers remaining in Kenya as lifelong “career expats.”
Many of these foreign workers live in gated compounds and exclusive neighborhoods and send their children to international schools, with a retinue of domestic servants to attend to their every wish.
In a follow-up press briefing in Nairobi, Fazul Mahamed, the head of the NGO board, told reporters, “You cannot tell me that in the whole country we [do not] have a Kenyan who can fill the space of the expatriate. We have overqualified Kenyans in this country. They need to be given first priority in the NGO sector.”
In a country where 42 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and one in five Kenyans of working age are unemployed – a situation that is representative of much of the rest of the continent – giving those positions to Africans would go a long way.