NGO-ers go home – can we learn anything from it?

David Livingstone memorial at Victoria Falls, Wikipedia

The exploration,development and colonization of Africa was a complicated, complex and lengthy phenomenon.  It was driven, according to the famous missionary explorer David Livingstone, by three forces, the three Cs he called them, Christianity, commerce and culture.  The 18th and 19th explorers, missionaries and capitalists were ambitious, adventurous and curious, but they were arrogant above everything else.  First, they all believed, as did the common citizens and government leaders in the countries they represented, that the “white race’ was superior to all other races and represented the most advanced stage of human evolution.  Because of that belief they saw all others and Africans in particular as inferior and nearly subhuman.  Second, they believed their god and their religion was the true religion, leaving all others as false or simply idol worshiping.  The individual sects may not have accepted each other as being part of the true religion, but they did accept all christian sects as being part of the right path as opposed to the false believers.  And third, they believed they deserved to profit from their superiority – they had no real obligations to the native populations and anything they did in exploiting, enslaving and converting them to the true religion was a benefit and they should be thanked for bringing good to the primitive lands of the world.

Now, for the most part that thinking is part of previous, less sophisticated and less tolerant times.  There may be some truth in that statement, but those attitudes and actions are still bearing fruit all over Africa and the Middle East.  And under our facade of sophistication, we still harbor a belief that we are superior.  Of course we don’t say (at least not aloud or in mixed racial company)  that our race is superior, or that our culture is superior – but we do preach a message of superiority, our way of government and our way of commerce is the world’s best.  It is isn’t it?  We are certain of that; and we have not given up trying to convert and improve the heathens either;  most christian churches are still sending missionaries to all of the countries that will allow them in – the Islamic countries usually will not.   But we have found a way to preach another of religions, democracy – NGOs.

The subject burst onto the public stage this year when the Egyptian government arrested members of some non-government organizations – NGOs.   They have just been released – for a $5 million bail payment – and allowed to go home.  Egypt, or the generals if you will, accused those arrested of intentionally stirring up discontent in the country.  Here is a case when both sides can be right – the NGO guys deny any wrong doing, they are just there to teach democracy (the true democracy) and encourage the people to seek it (and maybe give them a little tactic and financial assistance).  On its side, the government is equally right, that simple mission has and is stirring up trouble.

The raids came amid growing unrest against the generals, as the authorities suggested that the regime’s opponents were being directed by foreigners, playing on abundant suspicion in the country of foreign plots, particularly U.S. and Israeli. Fayza Abul Naga, the international cooperation minister believed to have sparked the probe into the groups, told investigating judges that the NGOs were part of an American conspiracy to spread chaos in Egypt. Al Arabyia, 3-2-12

The International Republican Institute (IRI) said in a statement it remained very concerned about the situation “and the impact it will have on Egypt’s ability to move forward with the democratic transition that so many Egyptians have sought.” Al Arabyia, 3-2-12

The problem lies both in our current arrogance – “our way is the best way” – and our previous arrogance – “our race is superior to yours” – while stealing an entire continent.  The people in Egypt remember the colonial activities and in some cases still suffer from it.  So it is not surprising they do not wish to repeat that lesson, nor want any outsider preaching the true political, religious or commercial belief.  What surprises me most is our own arrogance, why to do still believe we are superior and our way is always the best way?  It is the best way for us, but that does not make the best for everyone on  the planet, does it?


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March 2012
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