The charity sector in Uganda has attracted a number of innovative thinkers spurred on to make a difference by the plight of so many disadvantaged, vulnerable people within different communities. It also attracted a number of people spurred by the chance to become 'somebody' in their community, in Uganda and even internationally. Often these people will be the same.
The evident wealth and success of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the UN and even successful homegrown charities such as TASO also provides motivation as a way of making a decent living. There are few positions in Ugandan society where you have access to the resources we take for granted in the West and working for a large NGO or development agency is one of them.
During my first weeks in Uganda I commented on the large number of 4x4s I saw flying around. “Those ones are in government, UN or work for NGOs. Those are the ones that eat all our money,” was the response I got from my UYWEFA chaperone. It does not, however, rile people as much when they see white people driving, or being driven, around. Seemingly the greatest crime for Ugandans is when they see one of their own enjoying the riches of development funds
The consequence of a combined charitable spirit and pursuit of funds has been the establishment of thousands of NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) littering cities, towns and villages up and down the country with signs with long names and ridiculous acronyms. Sectors such as HIV/AIDS where there has been a relative abundance of donor support have attracted the most interest of aspiring charity entrepreneurs.
It is easy to be cynical and so I am. It is not that doubt the sincerity of many of the organisations, though there are some that are complete scams, it is more that they lack any clear objective beyond "helping the poor needy women in our community", "assist the vulnerable orphans in our community" or "help those living with HIV/AIDS". When you question a little deeper as to what they are doing to meet those objectives or even why they want to do this answers are often hard to find. Most are set up by people who see them as a necessary accessory to their successful political or business career. The triad of politician, businessman and director of NGO is the ultimate goal for most Ugandans wanting to make a difference and those wanting to make money.
While it's easy to criticise larger NGOs for extravagance and a lack of efficiency, the level of scrutiny they are now under at least now means most have clearly laid out objectives and a clear plan for meeting those objectives. If, as seems to be the current development trend, financial support is to be moved to 'grassroots' organisations at community level then it will be interesting to see if they are subject to similar scrutiny and what arises from some inevitable conflict when they are.
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