Thursday, February 22, 2007

Liberia Debt Relief, who's relieved?

If you think the NGO Staffers are saints, then you risk being offended by reading on. Stop now. On the other hand if you want to wade through the misconceptions and mass media manipulation, read-on.

The United States government's announcement last week to forgive Liberia's $391 million debt will free up more funds for reconstruction and development. This is good news. As we read about debt relief, let us not forget how difficult it was to spend nearly 400 million in the first place. Remember the NGO Chief of Logistics, Operations, Station, Regional Director, Whatever, Bossman. Remember the drop of sweat that rolled down his face as he realized the extent of his own naiveté. How through mismanagement and corruption the materials needed for the operation had vanished as quickly as the OAU carpet from the Unity Conference Center. The more money that came into the programs, the more things unraveled.

No problem, because by evening he was at his old jojo bar with a growna girl on each arm. Don't forget the dreamy days spent at the beach. Like a benevolent sovereign, snapping his fingers for a fresh round of Club Beers for his expatriate friends. Oh, and the trips to the Lebanese grocery to stock-up on European delights before a lounging leisurely by the U.S. Embassy pool.

As these NGO Staffers caroused with one another in their insular Monrovia enclaves, Liberians hung on for dear life. The audacity as they wrote home about all their good deeds, when by their mismanagement and lack of control the very people they had come to save were victimized.

During those terrible years there was an alphabet soup of NGO's who ate money at a prodigious rate with their primary funding coming from donor governments. Debt Relief! Who is relieved? Perhaps it is the NGO Staffers who squandered their budgets through mismanagement for years. Instead, we smugly say that we forgive the Liberians.

Moral conviction is relative when all you believe in is your own "goodness". When after a time in Liberia your mind is twisted, and your worldview paradigm has shifted. When you realize that "Third World," is just a convenient phrase when the real problem stems from the fast that there is just one world with many impoverished folks paying the way for the comforts of a relative few.

No doubt the NGO's had a difficult and complicated job. Becoming an expert of rationalization is a job hazard for the NGO Staffer. Even that is a rationalization. No, even the NGO Wonk is not relieved. He has no need for absolution. It was always someone else's money anyway. Their nightmares of mismanagement are as easily forgotten as they were disguised in the first place.

Is debt relief just the premise to another round of NGO mismanagement and corruption?

J. Carl Dealy

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At 2:24 AM, Anonymous Martin Toe said...

What a brilliant piece! I'm glad there's someone like you who can see through the facade of neo-colonial whitewash in Liberia. Keep up flashing the torch.

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